What is the difference between a RN diploma and an Associates degree?

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    I took a RN diploma course and have been wondering, just what are the differences between the Associates degree and a diploma....they are both 2 year programs but am I missing something with just a diploma that I couldve had with an Associates degree?
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    An RN is an RN. Once licensed, there is no practical difference between a diploma RN or ADN - or BSN for that matter. Diploma programs run by hospitals were once the primary source of RN's but that distinction has since gone to ADN programs. As you probably know, many hospitals have done away with their diploma programs already. The present trend is to require the BSN as the minimum educational credential for RN's. When (or whether) this will actually occur is the subject of some very heated debate but the hiring of new nurses in most parts of the US has changed from "BSN preferred" to "BSN required".

    While the associates programs are typically called 2-year programs, that is is misleading. In most cases, it will take somewhat longer than 2 years to earn the ADN since you need to satisfy not just the nursing requirements (which usually require a number of science prereqs such as chem, bio, A&P, math and nutrition) but also the other courses required for the degree such as English, history, social science and other electives (e. g., religion or other humanities courses). The differences between a diploma RN and and ADN really relate to these additional courses and would be important only if you elected to continue your nursing education. So if you decided to pursue a BSN as a diploma RN, you would need to find a RN-BSN program that would give you academic credit for your nursing courses (my understanding is that many, if not most will do so) and you would also need to take the other courses in the sciences, humanities, social sciences and liberal arts that are needed for the baccalaureate. An ADN would have have many of these non-nursing requirements already covered and so would be able to earn the BSN more quickly.
    Getting To Great likes this.
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    I went to a hospital-based diploma school, and I've taught in ADN programs since then (I continued my education, obviously). My diploma program was three years, not two, of full-time study -- "full-time" meaning we got two weeks off at Xmas and two weeks off in the summer, and the rest of the time we were in school five days/week. 33 months of full-time study, total.

    My own experience has been that I got a much more comprehensive nursing education, and came out of school knowing a whole lot more about nursing, than is the case for any of the ADN or BSN programs with which I've had any experience since then.

    One big difference between diploma schools and ADN programs used to be that none of the coursework from a diploma program could be transferred into colleges or universities if/when you wanted to further your education. However, in recent decades, most diploma programs have developed partnerships with local colleges so that that's no longer a problem in most cases.

    From my own perspective, I can't imagine anything one would be "missing" by attending a diploma program instead of an ADN program. In fact, I would recommend the diploma program over an ADN program to someone considering that decision.
    ChristineN and HazelLPN like this.
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    Just to be clear, I wasn't trying to imply that a diploma RN was in any way inferior to an ADN/AAS or BSN RN. As lumbarpain notes, the reverse is probably the case. In fact, if you look at the NCLEX pass rates, diploma nurses are almost always on top.

    The reality is though, that nursing competence has taken a back seat to pseudo-importance of college degrees. Everyone wants BSN's now, regardless of the fact that diploma RN's are arguably better nurses. My advice to anyone contemplating nursing school is to find the best BSN program you can and go with that. I write this as an AAS(N) from a well-respected program with very good NCLEX first-time pass rates whose graduates are finding it very tough to find jobs . . .
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    Quote from chuckster
    just to be clear, i wasn't trying to imply that a diploma rn was in any way inferior to an adn/aas or bsn rn. as lumbarpain notes, the reverse is probably the case. in fact, if you look at the nclex pass rates, diploma nurses are almost always on top.

    the reality is though, that nursing competence has taken a back seat to pseudo-importance of college degrees. everyone wants bsn's now, regardless of the fact that diploma rn's are arguably better nurses. my advice to anyone contemplating nursing school is to find the best bsn program you can and go with that. i write this as an aas(n) from a well-respected program with very good nclex first-time pass rates whose graduates are finding it very tough to find jobs . . .
    i am happy to see the discussion about diploma rns. i can tell you that personally having a diploma and also a bs degree in a non nursing field,that the nursing profession has missed a great opportunity.

    instead of blending the talents of the diploma and bsns, by requiring the bsn alot of good mentors with years of experience have been tossed out.when the bsn movement started years ago, it was no surprise.
    many healthcare fields started to require a college degree.


    for nursing, we all select our specialty or specialties and bring in our individual talents.
    no matter what level of education, it takes years of experience to grow in confidence and skills.

    currently, there are numerous experienced rns who would love to be working and gladly share their knowledge, but employers do not now favor diploma grads.
    if the profession had guided the transition effectively both bsn and diploma could combine talents to provide a unique and cost effective approach to patient care. in time, even though the transition to bsn would
    continue the only entry level, the experience of diploma nurses would
    be passed on...


    i wish the magnet status would reconsider and give a second look to experience and not just degrees..

    (ps i am one of the potential mentors who has been tossed out.
    and many of my friends who meet me at starbucks for coffee
    each week. we are all pursing other interests and having a lot
    of fun..........but truth is, that if the situation were different
    we would come running back to nursing in a heartbeat...
    it was our passion.....)
    Last edit by jahra on Dec 3, '11
    sallyrnrrt and HazelLPN like this.


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