Written by Lisa M. Davila, BSN, MS
Lisa M. Davila, BSN, MSLisa received her bachelor's degree in nursing and spent the first fifteen years of her professional career as a registered nurse. Her main specialty area was critical care. She also worked in a busy medical practice and as a visiting nurse for home intravenous therapy patients.

When it comes to the world of nursing, the letters that follow your name can represent your academic degree, type of license, type of certification, or a combination of these.

 
Which degree is which?

Academic degrees can prepare you for nursing licensure or help you advance your career. Here’s the rundown:

ADN: an associate degree with a nursing concentration. Also called ASN (associate of science) or AAN (associate of arts), these are granted by community or junior colleges. A full-time credit load takes about two years to complete. This degree prepares you to take the RN licensure exam and work as an RN.

BSN: a bachelor of science with a nursing concentration. This undergraduate degree can be obtained from a college or university with a nursing program. A full-time class load takes about four years. A BSN prepares you to take the RN licensure exam, enables you to work in many professional roles and settings, and acts as a springboard to a graduate education.

BAN: a bachelor of arts with a nursing concentration. Less commonly offered in colleges and universities, a BAN curriculum focuses more on liberal arts or humanities. You typically take the same nursing courses as BSN candidates, but your electives may be in subjects such as history and literature. With regard to advancing your education or profession, there is essentially no difference between BSN and BAN.

MSN: a master of science with a nursing focus. This graduate degree prepares you for a specific career path in nursing, such as a nurse practitioner, anesthetist, clinical specialist, educator, or researcher. You can complete a master’s program in about two years with a full-time credit load.

MAN: a master of arts with a nursing focus. Less common than the MSN in the academic and professional world, the MAN typically prepares you for a career in education or administrative leadership.

DNP: doctor of nursing practice. This is a relatively new graduate degree available to nurses who want to be at the highest level of their specialty. The DNP may eventually be the required degree for nurses who want to enter advanced practice specialties. A DNP focuses on clinical nursing practice and although it requires no dissertation, it does require a the completion of a scholarly project, and can take two or three years to complete.

PhD: doctor of philosophy. This degree prepares nurses to conduct research, become professors in universities, or be high-level administrators or policy developers. In place of PhDs, some schools offer DNS or DNSc (doctor of nursing science) degrees, which have a similar research-focused program. All of these require a dissertation, and take about two or three years to complete.

EdD:  doctor of education.  With a focus in nursing, this degree prepares nurses to conduct research and become professors in universities.  Program requirements and duration are typically similar to a PhD program.

Licensure, certifications, and scope of practice

Depending upon your license or certification, your scope of practice will differ.

CNA: certified nursing assistant. Also called nursing aides, you can prepare for this role at some high schools, vocational schools, and community or junior colleges. The work involves patient care under the supervision of nurses or doctors. To be certified or not depends on where you want to work—most nursing care facilities, for instance, require that you be certified to work there. Achieving certification usually involves at least 75 hours of training and successful completion of a competency exam. Some states have additional requirements.

LPN/LVN: licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse. The terminology is determined by the licensing state—Texas and California, for instance, use LVN whereas most other states use LPN. To prepare for your licensing exam you need to receive a diploma from a training program (usually one year in duration) from a vocational/technical school or community or junior college. The work involves caring for patients in settings such as hospitals, nursing care facilities, doctor’s offices, home health care, or in a private-duty capacity—all under supervision of a doctor or nurse. In some states, LPNs can administer prescription medications, start IVs, and care for ventilator-dependent patients.

RN: registered nurse. Along with basic patient care duties, RNs have an expanded scope of practice that includes complex patient treatment and decision making, as well as patient and family education, advocacy, and emotional support. Most RNs work in healthcare facilities, but they can also apply their professional skills in home care settings, doctor’s offices, schools, private businesses, or government services. Having your RN license makes you a versatile professional and enables you to advance your education or practice in many specialties.


What does a “C” mean?

RN acronyms with a “C” such as CCRN (critical care RN), CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist), CRNP (certified registered nurse practitioner) or RN-C indicate certification in a particular specialty. To become certified you need additional experience, training, and successful completion of a certification exam.