Your Guide to Registered Nursing Programs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Preparing for a career as a registered nurse means completing the necessary education requirements that will make you a desirable candidate. By taking the time to research the different degree levels, programs and what they can offer you in terms of education and industry-related skill, you can determine which RN program is right for you.

In this article, we define registered nursing programs, discuss when you should consider a registered nursing program, the types of programs offered at each degree level and common nursing certifications.

  • What are registered nurse programs?

  • When to consider different registered nurse programs

  • Programs to become a registered nurse

  • Nursing diploma programs

  • Associate Degree programs in Nursing (ADN)

  • Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree programs (BSN)

  • Master's Degree programs in Nursing (MSN)

  • Accelerated nursing degree programs

  • Online nursing degree programs

  • Common nursing certifications

Related: Learn About Being a Registered Nurse (RN)

What are registered nurse programs?

Registered nursing programs are collegial education programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels that offer prospective or experienced nurses with basic and advanced skillsets to apply in real-life situations.

Related: 10 Highest Paid Nursing Jobs

When to consider different registered nurse programs

There are many reasons to consider a registered nursing program. If you have just graduated from high school and are interested in nursing, you can apply to an associate or bachelor's degree program to gain the basic knowledge that will be required of you in the field.

You might also consider a registered nursing program for career advancement. If you are a seasoned professional with an Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Nursing and you want to receive a higher salary while completing advanced tasks, then you might consider going back to school.

Related: Registered Nurse Resume Samples

Programs to become a registered nurse

In order to choose the right program, you must first review the variety of options that are available to you. The following list will review the different types of nursing programs and relevant degree titles that can help you start or elevate your career as a registered nurse.

  • Nursing diploma programs

  • Associate Degree programs in Nursing (ADN)

  • Bachelor's of Science in Nursing Degree programs (BSN)

  • Master's Degree programs in Nursing (MSN)

  • Accelerated nursing degree programs

  • Online nursing degree programs

Related: Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

Nursing diploma programs

Prerequisites: High school diploma, courses in biology, anatomy or chemistry.

A nursing diploma program takes two to three years to receive. This program can be offered through hospitals and other healthcare institutions, as well as some colleges and universities. An advantage of attending this type of nursing program is that there is often a great deal of clinical experience acquired, especially through hospital-based programs.

Common courses

Common courses taught in diploma programs for nursing include:

  • Nursing concepts

  • Anatomy and Physiology

  • Pharmacology

  • Public health

  • Clinical experience

Associate degree programs in nursing (ADN)

Prerequisites: High school diploma, courses taken in anatomy, physiology, biology and chemistry.

An associate degree is a two-year program that can qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become a registered nurse. It can also be used as a starting point for more advanced degree programs. Those with an Associate Degree in Nursing can achieve their (BSN) easily, through an RN-BSN program approach.

Common courses

Common courses taught in associate degree programs for nursing include:

  • Ethical dilemmas of the profession

  • Basic patient care

  • Pediatric patient care

  • Complex patient care

  • Obstetrics

  • Immunology

  • Surgical nursing

  • Clinical experience

Related: Registered Nurse Cover Letter

Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree programs (BSN)

Prerequisites: High school diploma, courses taken in anatomy, physiology, biology and chemistry.

A bachelor's degree program is a four-year commitment that provides prospective RNs with in-depth knowledge on a number of industry topics. It's not common for RNs to have a degree at the bachelor's level, so having one can increase your marketability, help you earn a higher salary and create a foundation for higher learning.

Common Courses

Common courses taught in bachelor's degree programs for nursing include:

  • Public health

  • Health assessments

  • Nursing trends and issues

  • Labor and delivery care

  • Medical research practices

  • Emergency and critical care

  • Nutrition

  • Clinical experience

Related: Interview Question: "Why Do You Want to Be a Nurse?"

Master's degree programs in nursing (MSN)

Prerequisites: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), clinical experience as a licensed RN.

A master's degree program is typically two years in length and can be full- or part-time to accommodate for different life responsibilities and schedules. MSNs typically open opportunities for an individual to achieve administrative roles within nursing and receive higher pay. This degree level also allows for registered nurses to pursue careers as nurse practitioners (NP).

Common courses

Common courses taught in a Master's Degree in Nursing program include:

  • Management tactics

  • Specialty theories

  • Medical equipment operation

  • Advanced biochemistry

  • Healthcare policies

  • Advanced pharmacology

  • Clinical experience

Accelerated nursing degree programs

Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree, Courses such as anatomy and physiology I &II, nutrition, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, microbiology, statistics, developmental psychology.

Accelerated nursing degree programs are both cost- and time-effective ways for those with bachelor degrees in another area to earn a Bachelor Degree of Science in Nursing. These programs are typically 11-18 months in length and provide students with the core courses and clinical experience they need to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become a registered nurse. There are online options for accelerated nursing programs as well.

Common courses

In addition to clinical experience, accelerated nursing degree students might complete in-class study in the following areas:

  • Community health

  • Nursing research

  • Nursing as a profession

  • Pharmacology

  • Health assessment

Online nursing degree programs

Prerequisites: High school diploma, collegial degree depending on degree level being pursued, courses such as algebra, biology, chemistry and English.

Online nursing degree programs are offered at the associate, bachelor's and master's degree levels. These programs are offered through colleges and universities and focus on core courses that can be built upon through clinical experience. Those enrolled in an online nursing degree program are expected to complete their clinical experience requirements in their local area.

Online programs can be a beneficial option for those who are already an RN and wish to pursue a degree at the bachelor's or master's degree level, as they can gain clinical experience at their current job while taking courses online.

Common courses

Courses can vary in difficulty and depth depending on the degree level or specialty you are pursuing, but there are a few common courses you might encounter in an online degree program:

  • Nursing ethics

  • Public health

  • Pharmacology/ advanced pharmacology

  • Leadership and management

  • Pathophysiology

Related: 8 Non-Nursing Job Options for Nurses

Common nursing certifications

Certifications are a great way to enhance your resume and stand out to employers. Below are a few certifications that you can pursue to gain more industry insight, in addition to the knowledge gained from a formal nursing degree program.

  • Licensed Registered Nurse (RN): Earned after taking and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, this is a mandatory credential for recent nursing program graduates and allows you to begin working as a registered nurse.

  • Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN): This is an optional certification offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. In order to qualify, you must hold a degree at one or more collegial levels and have clinical experience with pediatric care.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC): This credential is offered to those who have completed a Master's of Science in Nursing Degree that qualifies them to become a nurse practitioner. They must also have 500 hundred or more hours of supervised clinical experience and should pass an examination in order to become a licensed family nurse practitioner.

Explore more articles