While an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program prepares students for rapid entry into the workforce, the scope of the coursework is often limited to hands-on clinical tasks. Nurses who pursue a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree program build upon their foundational knowledge and focus more intently on in-demand skill sets sought by employers, including those related to nurse management and leadership, research, and community health.

What Subjects Does an ADN Program Cover?

Students enrolled in an ADN program can spend up to one-third of the time earning general education credits. The remainder of the curriculum typically concentrates on the following nursing basics and topics:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Nutrition
  • Pharmacology
  • Intravenous therapy
  • Patient health assessments

ADN graduates are eligible to pursue RN licensure and then provide entry-level patient care. While accumulation of new skill sets and knowledge can occur as they gain experience in the workplace, nurses with an associate degree may find their upward trajectory and breadth of learning opportunities limited as most employers now view a bachelor’s degree as the preferred minimum education level.

How Do RN to BSN and ADN Curricula Differ?

Although ADN and RN to BSN curricula have similarities, there are substantial differences in coursework, objectives and anticipated outcomes. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), “Baccalaureate nursing programs encompass all of the coursework taught in associate degree and diploma programs,” plus expand to cover:

  • Physical and social sciences
  • Nursing research
  • Public and community health
  • Nursing management and leadership
  • Humanities

These courses have been carefully researched and chosen to ensure nurses have the necessary skills to thrive in an increasingly complex, diverse and technology-driven patient care environment. A 2014 Nurse Educator study summarized the differences in learning outcomes between ADN and BSN programs, reinforcing the critical nursing skills that are missing from associate curriculum.

The study found that nationally accredited ADN programs met only 42 of 109 baccalaureate outcomes and mainly centered on information management, professional values and generalist nursing practice. The 67 outcomes not met included organizational and systems leadership, evidence-based practice, healthcare policy, interprofessional collaboration, and population health — subjects comprising the bulk of RN to BSN coursework and instrumental for nurses to be competitive in the current healthcare landscape.

Employers recognize the benefits associated with hiring BSN-prepared nurses. Nearly half of all employers now require the degree as a condition of employment and 88.4 percent strongly prefer it, according to AACN. The growing demand is largely due to research like the 2017 BMC Health Services Research study linking BSN degree completion to higher nursing productivity as well as improved patient outcomes, reduced mortality, and lower failure-to-rescue rates.

What Else Will I Learn in an RN to BSN Program?

In addition to the classes above, the online RN to BSN program at Nevada State College offers an even more expansive curriculum to equip graduates for a broader, holistic scope of practice. In the Theory of Caring Science course, students explore the Caritas Processes, which assist in the formation of more meaningful patient relationships honoring mind, body, and spirit. The Theory and Practice of Conscious Dying course considers the healing impact that a mindful, personalized nursing approach has on a patient’s well-being during end-of-life care.

During the experiential learning practicum, RNs integrate several coursework concepts to demonstrate their professional and clinical growth. Using critical-thinking skills alongside nursing theory and research, students collaborate with members of a designated nursing site in order to design and implement a project that improves patient outcomes.

Evolving Professionally

Although an ADN degree provides a strong knowledge base for entry-level nursing, it is only a jumping off point for many nurses. An RN to BSN program delves deeper into key topics affecting today’s nurses and prepares them to be successful in an increasingly diverse and complex healthcare setting. From leadership and community health to evidence-based practice and caring sciences, the online RN to BSN curriculum at Nevada State readies nurses for a broader scope of practice grounded in holistic methodologies.

Learn more about Nevada State College’s online RN to BSN program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice

BMC Health Services Research: Rankings Matter – Nurse Graduates From Higher-Ranked Institutions Have Higher Productivity

Nurse Educator: Baccalaureate Outcomes Met by Associate Degree Nursing Programs