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Associate’s Degree in Nursing

For those considering a career in nursing, pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing can be a good starting point. Typically called an associate of science in nursing (ASN) or an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), this type of nursing degree ordinarily takes two to three years to complete. The associate’s degree in nursing is offered at many technical schools, community colleges, colleges, and universities. Earning an associate’s degree is the first step to becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), or Registered Nurse (RN). This page provides a guide to the associate’s degree in nursing, including the types of courses involved and the job outlook for people who obtain this degree.

Why Pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing?

An associate’s in nursing prepares graduates for a solid career in nursing, whether that is as an RN, LPN, or LVN. Nurses care for patients at hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices, as well as within patients’ homes. A nurse’s job duties vary from dressing wounds to checking blood pressure to administering medicine. An ADN will qualify a person to earn licensure while preparing them to perform entry-level nursing duties and provide excellent care to patients. An associate’s degree is typically less costly and less time-consuming than a bachelor’s, so it is sometimes preferred for those who wish to save money and time. After obtaining their associate’s degree, graduates will need to become licensed in their state before getting a job as a nurse.

While an associate degree combined with licensure will prepare graduates to enter the workforce immediately as nurses, it can also be a springboard for further education. Someone with an ADN may go on to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) for example, which may provide advancement opportunities and leadership positions. A growing number of schools are offering dedicated RN to BSN programs, which allow associate’s degree holders to transfer their study towards a bachelor’s degree as part of a nursing career ladder.

Associate Degree in Nursing Requirements and Prerequisites

While the requirements to enter an associate’s program in nursing vary by school, a high school diploma or GED is typically the minimum requirement. Each school will also have minimum requirements based on standardized test (ACT or SAT) scores, high school grade point average, and the overall strength of the college application (including the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation). Some programs prefer students to have taken courses in biology or chemistry prior to applying.

Prospective nursing students should have a genuine desire to help others, good communication skills, and physical and emotional stability. They should also have strong academic backgrounds, especially in the fields of biology, chemistry, and other sciences. A career in nursing can be physically and emotionally draining, often involving long hours and rotating schedules, but it can also be extremely rewarding. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills are typically the most successful in this field.

Associate’s Degree in Nursing Coursework

For an associate’s degree in nursing, the coursework required will vary depending on the school and program. However, an ADN student will typically complete general education requirements prior to beginning nursing courses. Students can expect to take courses in subjects like anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Specific classes may include:

  • Nursing Basics
  • Foundations of Professional Nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Microbiology
  • Clinical Nursing
  • Psychiatric Nursing
  • Maternity and Newborn Nursing
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Medical-Surgical Practicum
  • Advanced Clinical Assessment

Students in ADN programs will learn hands-on skills that will help them in their future practice. As a part of their clinical rotations, student nurses typically learn and practice the skills that they will use in the real world, such as taking vital signs, drawing blood, and administering intravenous therapy (IV). Prospective nurses commonly practice technical skills on a “dummy” patient or human patient simulator (HPS). This way, real-life emergency situations can be simulated in a controlled, safe environment, allowing students to practice what they have learned prior to applying that knowledge in situations with live patients. They may also practice on real patients as their clinical studies progress, giving supervised care at hospitals or clinics.

Usually, students will be required to complete a certain number of hours of clinical work in addition to classroom coursework before graduating from the program. Students are also commonly expected to maintain a minimum GPA in order to graduate. The courses taken to earn an ADN will give students a taste of various nursing fields, and hopefully, provide some direction in choosing a specialty area of care in which to focus a career.

Career Opportunities for Graduates of an Associate Degree Program in Nursing

Graduates of an ADN program will need to be licensed before being hired. All 50 states require prospective nurses to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). To become a registered nurse, ADNs will take the NCLEX-RN; to become an LPN or LVN, ADNs will take the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX tests the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for entry-level nursing practice and also measures the critical thinking ability of the candidate. It is a highly individualized test, as the testing program selects each question based on how the previous one was answered. Most questions are multiple-choice, but there are also a few alternative format questions, including open response-style.

Nursing is one of the most popular job fields, and it is in relatively high demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earned a median wage of $68,450 in 2016.1 LPNs and LVNs made a median salary of $44,090 in the same year.2 The outlook for RNs, LPNs, and LVNs is promising, with projections calling for 16% job growth nationally for all three levels through 2024.1,2 However, there are substantially greater numbers of RNs employed in the US, and many hospitals and clinics prefer to hire RNs over LPNs/LVNs.1,2 There is also growing support in many states for gradually phasing out LPN/LVN practice in favor of adopting RN practice as the entry level of nurse licensure.

The increasing demand for nurses in the US is driven by the aging of the baby-boomer generation, growing rates of chronic illnesses among the general public, and the retirement of many nurses in the coming years. Nurses who are willing to work in medically underserved and/or rural areas may have an advantage in the job market. Long-term care facilities are expected to have a greater need for nurses than hospitals, and home healthcare is also expected to see an increase, so ADNs who apply for these jobs may have a better chance.

Additional Resources

The Organization for Associate Degree Nursing – Established 30 years ago, this organization exists to support those who have associate’s degrees in nursing. Find furthering educational opportunities, news and networking opportunities on their website.

Nursing World – The American Nurses Association is a professional organization for all registered nurses. Membership provides opportunities in networking, advancement, and education.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) – Visit the NCSBN’s website to find out about the exams offered, practice analyses, and testing locations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get an associate’s of nursing degree online?
Yes. Associate degrees in nursing are offered at many colleges and universities, some of which can be completed online if you already hold an LPN or LVN credential. Even if you are not currently licensed, some schools offer partially online programs. Check with the individual school to see if they offer an online program before applying.

Should I set out to be a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) with my associate’s degree in nursing?
While this decision is entirely up to the individual, there are some differences between RNs and LPNs. LPNs have more limited responsibility than RNs and typically see fewer chances for advancement. In some states, for example, LPNs cannot administer medications or intravenous (IV) drips, but in other states, they can. Talk to your academic advisor or admissions counselor for more insight into your school’s programs and the nursing trends in your state.

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm