The Difference Between Associate Degree and Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing

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Increasing clinical understanding and the rising complexities in the health care technologies today requires that professional nurses be educated and competent to the baccalaureate level. Nurses with their RN can be educated to the level of associates degree or to baccalaureate degree. According to the Grand Canyon University Baccalaureate Curriculum Model, the associates degree level nurse differs from the baccalaureate level nurse in three main competencies; client, nurse, and nursing education.

One of the different competencies between associate degree (ADN) and Baccalaureate degree (BSN) is type of client or patients they are prepared to treat and the care setting which they are allowed to work in.

“ADN nurses are educated to provide nursing care to persons with similar health alterations in structured setting, whereas BSN-prepared nurses are educated to engage in independent thinking and to provide nursing care to persons with complex and differing health alterations within a variety of settings, including the community” (Hood, 2010, pg. 18).

Health care is not only centered as inpatient hospitals but throughout the community as preventive care as well, leaving ADN nurses in a disadvantage.

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Nurses now a day have to be able to practice across multiple settings. Contrasting the graduates of an ADN program with the graduate of a BSN program; the BSN nurse is prepared to practice in all health care settings; ER, critical care, public health, community health, and mental health. Another difference in competency between the ADN and BSN is the type of expertise and skillfulness each nurse develops.

Some skills like communicating and assessing are shared between ADN and BSN nurses.

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Others are not like spiritual perspective, liberal/critical thinking, and leading/managing are not. Some of that curriculum is in the Grand Canyon University philosophy of nursing which focuses on spiritual perspectives, among others. This is a competency that is apart of the BSN curriculum. This is taught to the BSN student to develop a holistic knowledge base to manage every aspect of the patient. This understanding of care is not necessarily apart of the ADN’s core curriculum. BSN nurses are taught to think differently than ADN nurses.

“Knowledge and skill derived from a liberal education enhance the nurse’s ability to adapt knowledge and skills to novel situations through the use of global rather than narrow thinking”(Hood, 2010, pg. 17). The BSN nurse is able to think outside the box while the ADN nurse remains task oriented in their thinking. Nurses who possess a BSN degree have more opportunity for advancements in employment. It opens the doors and allows higher responsibility in their career such as, role as a manager, leader, and coordinator of patient care as well as provides the first step for even higher education.

Hood (2010) wrote assuming the roles of ADN and BSN nurses, “associate [degree] preparation on the entry-level hospital setting and nursing home practice, baccalaureate [degree] on the hospital-based management and community-based practice. ” Nurse employers express a clear preference for hiring experienced BSN graduates for nursing management positions. This reminds me of a hospital setting that I worked at once. It was a small hospital, where I worked in the ER. Te hospital was attached to a community college. The school had an ADN nursing program and countless numbers of its graduates were hired straight out of school to this hospital.

Many of the units and floors were staffed by all ADN prepared nurses. Even most of the charge nurses and managers only had their associate degree. To say the least, it was a poorly run hospital that was spiraling out of business. This situation would be completely different if some of the nurses had formal educational training. The nurses would be trained to be managers with their BSN degree and the floors and the hospital would be run a lot more organized. This hospital was in such a need for BSN nurses that they would promote any BSN nurses straight to management if they could hire them.

This hospital and most employers know that a BSN trained nurse is more competent and is able to lead and manage better. Finally the Baccalaureate Curriculum Model shows a competency difference in the level of nursing education. Patient safety and quality of care are improved with the level of nursing education. “Because nurses make decisions that affect clients’ lives, nurses need intellectual capability to master scientific concepts, understand the impact of self on others, use this information in clinical practice and understand potential consequences” (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2007).

In other words the baccalaureate level nurses have a broader body of knowledge than the associate degree nurse. While the ADN nurse goes to school to focus on just skills the BSN nurse goes to school and focuses on many different competencies. “The associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) consists of 2 years of concentrated study focused on clinical skills in the community college setting… Baccalaureate degrees in nursing (BSNs) offer 4-year nursing degrees in institutions of higher learning.

Along with education focused on the art and science of nursing, BSN programs also emphasize the importance of a liberal education, nursing research, and community health nursing” (Hood, 2010, pg. 15-16). Due to the shortage of nurses during WWII, the ADN level of nursing was developed in response. It was a momentary solution to the nursing shortage but was not planned to replace the level of nursing education. Nursing is a dynamic profession and education is indispensable for nurses to stay up to date with the healthcare needs of today and tomorrow.

The ADN program was designed with the minimal competencies needed to practice safe nursing. The BSN is the full curriculum intended for a professional nurse. Continued education to the Baccalaureate level will prepare nurses to deal with more types of patients, be a more complete nurse, and a more educated one as well. Reference List American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2007). The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice. Washington Dc: Author. Lucy J. Hood and Susan Leddy (2010). Leddy & Pepper’s Conceptual Bases of Professional Nursing. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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The Difference Between Associate Degree and Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing. (2016, Sep 24). Retrieved from

The Difference Between Associate Degree and Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing
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