What Can You Do with an Associate's Degree in Nursing?
By Anna Heinrich on 11/20/2017
At this point in your life, you may be considering becoming a nurse. You’ve heard tales of heroic deeds these healthcare heroes do on a day-to-day basis, and you long to don scrubs and put your passion into practice.
You may know that there are several levels of nursing. From licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to nurse practitioners, there are plenty of potential career options. But what about education? You have heard of a Diploma, Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and even a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). How are you supposed to know who does what and what you can do with which degree?
We know it’s confusing, so that’s why we’re here to help you sift through the information and make the best decision regarding your blossoming nursing career. If you are thinking of becoming a nurse and have already ruled out being an LPN, your next option would be to obtain an ADN. So what can you do with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing? Read on to find out.
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Associate’s degree requirements
Before jumping into anything, you may be wondering how long it would even take you to obtain an Associate’s degree. You’re in luck—while both an ADN and BSN pave the way to becoming a registered nurse, the ADN takes considerably less time.
In the end, it depends which program you choose, but you can expect to spend 21 months in school before graduating with an ADN.1 Compare that to the four years it takes most students to obtain a BSN, and you can see why an earning an Associate Nursing degree is perfect for those who want to quickly get started in nursing.
While you earn your ADN, you’ll learn crucial nursing skills like patient care, confidence and clinical decision making, and you’ll gain a well-rounded perspective on nursing and healthcare.
After you earn your degree, you’ll be required to take the NCLEX-RN exam before actually becoming a registered nurse. The exam ranges from 75–265 questions and it covers a lot of the information you’ll need to know to be a nurse. Specific test categories include Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity and Physiological Integrity.
Where do ADN nurses work?
Once you graduate with an ADN and pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you may be wondering what your options are for employment. The good news is that as a registered nurse, you’ll have plenty. We used real-time job posting analysis software to look at some of the top locations where nurses with ADNs work.2
Here are a few places you can work as an RN with an ADN:
- Home healthcare services
- Insurance carriers
- Nursing care facilities
- Doctor’s offices
- Outpatient care centers
- Colleges, universities and professional schools
- Offices of other health practitioners
- Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities
- Specialty hospitals
While you may have heard of the recent push for all nurses to have a BSN, that doesn’t mean an ADN nurse is out of luck.
“You could likely find work more easily in post-acute settings such as ambulatory care, home care, hospice, long-term care and similar,” says Brittney Wilson, BSN, RN, and blogger at The Nerdy Nurse.
ADN job outlook
While it’s true that some hospitals prefer nurses with BSNs over ADNs, registered nurses who hold an Associate’s Degree in Nursing are still in demand. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of registered nurses overall to grow 6 percent from 2021–2031.
That projected employment growth isn’t just for BSN nurses, either. Our analysis of registered nurse job postings bears good news for ADN nurses—68 percent of job postings analyzed require at least an Associate’s degree, while 28 percent of postings require a Bachelor’s degree.2
It is important to note that if you’ve got your heart set on working in a hospital setting right out of college, it may be more challenging for an ADN nurse to land a position. That said, it’s still possible for ADN nurses to find a hospital jobs in some areas.
“Though there are many hospitals that will hire ADN-prepared nurses, you just might have to expand your search into more rural areas,” Wilson says.
If you choose to go the ADN route right away, it is worth your time to see if your employer may be willing to help when the time comes to earn a BSN. Wilson explains that many hospitals may provide some form of tuition reimbursement for ADN nurses to go back to school and obtain a BSN.
ADN vs. BSN
After learning a little about the ADN requirements, you might be wondering how it differs from a BSN degree. For many nurses, a BSN is the next logical step for continuing their education and gaining more job opportunities.
Earning a BSN typically takes four years, though it can be completed in less time if you are already an RN with an ADN. Nurses with a BSN have some opportunities that RNs don’t, such as the ability to advance to leadership positions in nurse management.
If you decide you want to earn a BSN after you have an ADN degree, you can. You won’t even have to give up your job to go back to school. Many schools offer online RN to BSN programs that can be completed in as few as 18–24 months and that are fully online.1 If you’re not comfortable committing to the time and schooling it’d take to complete a BSN program, obtaining an ADN is a great way to get your feet wet first.
Ready for your ADN?
So what can you do with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing? As you now know, ADN nurses have many opportunities, whether or not they go on to earn their BSN. No matter what route you choose to take, know that you’re taking the first step toward a rewarding, well-respected career.
If you think you’re ready to get started, visit our Professional Nursing degree page. If you still need a little more information before deciding which nursing educational path you’d like to take, you’ll want to check out our infographic, “ Types of Nursing Degrees: Diagnosing Your Ideal Healthcare Career. ”
1Completion time is dependent on the number of accepted transfer credits and the number of courses completed each term.
2Burning-glass.com (analysis of 1,697,744 nursing job postings, Sept. 01, 2016 – August 31, 2017)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in May 2015. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2017.