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. Formally called an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN), this type of nursing degree ordinarily takes two or three years to complete. The associates degree in nursing is offered at technical schools, community colleges, or universities. For a prospective nurse, obtaining an associate’s degree can lead to a title of Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), or Registered Nurse (RN). The following provides a guide for the associate’s degree in nursing, the types of courses involved, and the job outlook for people who obtain this degree.

Why Pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing?

An associates 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, or 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 perform nursing duties and provide excellent care to patients. An associates degree is typically less costly and less time-consuming than a bachelor’s, with similar results, so it is sometimes preferred for those who wish to save money and time. After obtaining their associate’s, 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 further advancement opportunities for leadership positions.

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 a 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 in high school. No prior work experience is required to get an associate’s degree of nursing.

Prospective nursing students should have a genuine desire to help others, good communication skills, and physical and emotional stability. They should also be strong students, especially in the fields of biology and other sciences. A career in nursing can be physically and emotionally draining, often with long hours and unstable schedules, but it can also be extremely rewarding. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills will be the most successful in the 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, but an ADN student will typically cover general education requirements first. Then, students can expect 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

In addition to the coursework listed above, students in ADN programs also learn hands-on skills that will help them in their future practice. As a part of their clinicals, they typically learn and practice the skills they will use in the real world, such as taking vital signs, drawing blood, and administering intravenous therapy (IV). For example, prospective nurses may 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 before dealing with real patients later. They may also practice on real patients during their clinical studies, 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 their regular coursework, before graduating from the program.

The courses taken to obtain an ADN will give students a taste of various nursing fields, and hopefully provide some direction in choosing a field they might wish to pursue as a career. Often, students in these programs are expected to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to graduate with an associate’s degree in nursing.

Career Opportunities for Graduates of an Associate Degree Program in Nursing

Graduates of an ADN program will need to get licensed before being hired, typically with an exam called the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). To become a registered nurse, ADNs will take the NCLEX-RN and to become an LPN or LVN, ADNs will take the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX covers the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for entry-level nursing practice and tests the critical thinking ability of the candidate. It is a highly individualized test, meaning that the computer selects each question based on how the previous one was answered. Most questions are multiple-choice, but there are also a few format questions, which may be open response-style, or others that may ask test-takers to identify a body part.

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 $65,470 in 2012.1 LPNs and LVNs made a median salary of $41,540 in the same year.2 The outlook for RNs, LPNs, and LVNs is promising, but LPNs and LVNs will likely be in slightly higher demand. Overall though, there are many more RNs employed in the US, and many hospitals and clinics prefer to hire RNs over LPNs/LVNs. Licensed practical and vocational nursing jobs are projected to increase by 25% through 2022, while registered nursing jobs are expected to increase by 19%, still significantly faster than other occupations.1,2 This increased demand is due to 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 in rural areas will have an advantage in the job market. Longer-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 National 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. Check with the individual school to see if they offer an online program before applying.

Should I be a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) with my associate’s degree of nursing?
While this decision is entirely up to the individual, there are some differences between RNs and LPNs. In hospitals, LPNs typically have more limited responsibility than RNs, and less chance for advancement. In some states for example, LPNs cannot administer medications or intravenous (IV) drips, but in other states they can. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a higher growth rate for LPN (and LVN) positions in the coming years, but the majority of these may be in assisted living and nursing homes as opposed to hospitals.1,2 Talk to your academic advisor or admissions counselor for more insight into your school’s program and your state.

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm