Nursing Degrees: The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Several mentally stimulating academic paths can result in a nursing diploma or degree. These pathways include the diploma in nursing, associate degree in nursing (ADN), bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), and the direct-entry master of science in nursing (MSN). This piece will explore the associate degree in nursing. Nurses Announcements Archive Article


Registered nurses (RN), of which more than 3 million exist in the United States, are multifunctional professionals who have completed an approved nursing program and attained state licensure to care for patient populations across all stages of the life span. Some of the RN's duties and responsibilities include assessment, development of the plan of care, collaboration, patient advocacy, health promotion, disease prevention, psychosocial support, client and family education, documentation, evaluation, performance of procedural hands-on skills, and reinforcement of spiritual needs.

Persons in the US who want to become RNs have up to four intellectually stimulating educational paths from which they shall select. Pre-nursing students may apply to for admission to diploma programs, associate degree nursing (ADN) programs, baccalaureate degree (BSN) programs, or entry-level graduate (MSN) degree programs. Persons who successfully complete any of the four types of prelicensure nursing degree programs will need to pass the same national test, called the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), to receive licensing to legally practice as an RN.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Path

This piece will focus on the associate degree in nursing (ADN), which is the the most popular mode of entry into a nursing career in the US at the time of this writing. In fact, more than half of all newly graduated RNs produced by US schools of nursing every year possess various types of associate degrees in nursing. The associate degree in nursing (ADN) is very similar to the associate of science degree in nursing (ASN) and the associate of applied science degree in nursing (AAS) because the nursing courses and clinical practicum requirements are nearly identical. The defining difference between the three types of associate degree holders is the fact that nurses who possess AAS degrees may need to take more general education courses to to fulfill the core curriculum requirements for attainment of a baccalaureate degree in nursing at many schools.

In general, students who have earned the ADN have an adequate level of readiness to engage in safe nursing practice at the minimally competent level. Most associate degree nursing programs require an average of 72 semester credit hours prior to completion. Moreover, some of these credits might need to be earned as prerequisite courses prior to initiating the application process. Typical prerequisite courses that might need to be completed prior to applying to the school of nursing may include anatomy, physiology, English composition, Microbiology, speech, psychology, and lifespan growth and development. Some ADN programs enroll students once per year, whereas other schools admit a cohort twice yearly.

ADN Coursework

The nursing coursework is comprised of a conflation of theory and hands-on clinical practicum to sufficiently educate and train generalist nurses for entry level employment in all types of healthcare settings. The curriculum normally consists of subjects such as:

  • Dosage Calculations
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing (Adult / Pediatric)
  • Hands-on Clinical Practicum
  • Psychiatric / Mental Health Nursing
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Obstetric / Maternal Health Nursing
  • Pharmacology
  • Gerontological Nursing
  • Nursing Fundamentals

Associate degree nursing programs were first created in the 1950s and are typically offered at community colleges, vocational schools, state universities and technical colleges. Numerous ADN programs have formed articulation agreements with an array of colleges and universities to facilitate smooth transfer of credits and enable enrollment in baccalaureate nursing degree completion programs.

What Jobs Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Nursing

Anyone with an ADN can find jobs in the following areas...

  • Doctor's Offices
  • Insurance Providers
  • Retirement Communities
  • Health Practitioners Office
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Centers


VickyRN. (2009, July 30). Entry Into RN Practice (Part1): Associate Degree Nursing (ADN). Retrieved April 19, 2014, from

I am entering an ADN program this Fall, for me the decision was about cost. I was accepted into Duke's ABSN program but unfortunately I would have had to borrow every bit of the money. At my age (turning 59 this August) it didn't seem wise as Duke is very expensive. Without a doubt I would have been thrilled to have gone. However, I am proud to be going to a fine public community college, ACEN accredited, here in NC (College of the Albemarle).

Some observations from my previous two careers: My first career was in the USMC, I was an officer, NO ONE cared where you went to school (except Naval Academy guys) only if you could do your job. After retiring I spent 18 years in public education, half in Special Education classrooms and half in Administration. Again...NO ONE cared where you went to school only that you were good at your job. Honestly I didn't care when I hired teachers, I didn't care about their GPA's, Praxis scores etc. I only cared that they could teach and maintain order and that they genuinely liked kids. Now I may be in for a rude awakening, if so it won't be my first but I hope to find that NO ONE cares I have an ADN, only that I do a good job.

Commuter I always enjoy reading your posts! Thanks.

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
nikkley said:
Do 2 year nursing degrees have any value these days?

My 2-year associates degree has been rather valuable to me. My yearly salary is in the high five figures. Most other 2-year degrees will not result in that kind of salary.

My best friend, who happens to be another holder of a 2-year nursing degree, is a director of nursing services over a skilled nursing facility and earns a six-figure salary.

So as long as your heart is not set on working in the acute care hospital, a 2-year associate degree in nursing can result in plenty of value.

Just depends on everyones interpretation of value. I personally don't place salary figures in the same category as value. What i hope to add to patient care and my role as a nurse is what i will value my degree/experience at.

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
excited1 said:
What I hope to add to patient care and my role as a nurse is what I will value my degree/experience at.

Then again, I don't work for free. If my employer were to suddenly stop paying me for my contributions to patient care and my role as a nurse, I would look for another job in a heartbeat. My ideals are not lofty and my conscience is not that active. I'm not Mary Martyr. My identity is not wrapped up in my career.

An AA degree in English that has very little demand in the job market is less valuable to me than an AS degree in nursing that enables me to earn a comfortable living.

Specializes in Primary Care; Child Advocacy; Child Abuse; ED.

Where I live there is little difference in the pay of an asn compared to a bsn. We all had equal chances at the same jobs. I received job offers at every hospital I applied to. I think it really matters where you live :)

Camwill said:
Where I live there is little difference in the pay of an asn compared to a BSN. We all had equal chances at the same jobs. I received job offers at every hospital I applied to. I think it really matters where you live ?


Really? Well I can now agree that an LPN program is harder than a BSN and a MSN is much harder than a PhD. I have 2 girls and it pained me to say that I will not encouraged them to become nurses. All the bickering and senseless academic competition is really disheartening. PAs and MDs have better working and academic relationships. SAD!

I am an ADN nurse and I have never worked anything but acute care, mostly ICU. I do have a BS and MS in other, related fields, but no BSN. I worked full time at my prior career, M-F while I went to ADN school in the evening and on the weekends. I was warned that not having a BSN would hinder my opportunities, but there was no part time or evening/weekend BSN program available at that time in my area. I managed to earn my ADN in less than 2 years while supporting myself on a full time professional salary.

If I were to do it again, I'd do it the same way. Maybe I'll bridge eventually, maybe not.

To the poster who asked if there was any value in a 2 year nursing degree, heck yeah! I think the bigger question is whether the increase in cost and time involved in getting a BSN vs ADN is worth it in your area, for you. You have to consider your background, and where you want to go with your career.

Yes in a perfect world more education and improving yourself is always better, but most people do not have unlimited time and funds to do that.

The times they are a changin', in California, that is.

Folks with a two-year RN degree who now work in a hospital setting can be grand-fathered in and remain employed at their facility. However, in the future, most hospitals are not going to be hiring any RNs without a BSN, leaving folks with a two-year degree to be left working only at nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities. If you crave the hospital setting, go for your BSN. Im lucky enough to be part of a bridge program that will supply my BSN after finishing my community college two-year RN program. Best wishes to everyone on their path.

How long have you been a nurse? There are no evening or weekend classes where I live which makes it difficult for a single mom to go to school. Was thinking of going for LPN, work for a while then the LPN to RN route, but my community college no longer offers just the LPN.

Hi mkl8955, I'm 55 and it's very encouraging to see others my age pursuing nursing. Sometimes I think I should give it up because I'm too old.

I have been a nurse 20+ years and times are changing. Remember when we worked (I am an ADN with BS in another field) side by side with LVNs in acute care? no longer.. When there was a REAL nurse shortage they did the same as teachers did to solve their shortage in Texas.. made a fast track with ADN.. Nursing shortage is OVER and the competition means hospitals can choose what they want. Since all hospitals want Magnet status and there is a % BSN quota to obtain it.. BSN is the answer. Nursing has good pay compared to other fields and the fast track did it's job. You see this scenario played out as I said in teaching. In New York you must have a masters to teach.. Nursing will eventually go that way as well. Good bye diploma nurses...good bye LVNs..good bye ADNs... Dont forget the explosion in Advance Nursing degrees.. how often are you seeing a nurse practitioner in any healthcare setting compared to 20 years ago? Stay in school, kids !!