RN is the liscense awarded by the state that allows you to practice.
There are multiple educational pathways to gain this liscensure, which is where the confusion comes in.
1. Apply to a community college or trade school for an associates degree in nursing (ADN). This typically takes about 3 years between pre-reqs and core nursing courses. The main advantage is that it is usually less expensive and schooling is slightly less time. One can then bridge to a BSN program in typically 9-12 months time while working as an RN.
2. Apply directly to a BSN program. In a traditional BSN program one attends a college or university, the first 2 years of study are mostly focused on generalist education, and the latter 2 years focused on the nursing major. It can vary some between schools. Some schools start nursing theory course work alongside pre-reqs and general education in the first year. In either case after 4 years one graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and eligibility for RN liscense.
3. There are also direct-entry Masters in Nursing programs
- typically for individuals who already have a Bachelor's degree in another field. The coursework in most cases runs 1-3 years depending on program and leads to eligibility to qualify for RN liscense.
In your case, you will most likely want to go the BSN route, as you will need a BSN in order to apply to PhD programs. However if cost is an issue the ADN route may be more economical. If you live in an area where nursing programs are highly competitive for admission, it may make sense to apply to both ADN and BSN programs in order to give yourself the most options of acceptance.