Associate’s Degree in Nursing


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LPNs earn your ADN or BSN degree online in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs. All applicants must be either an LPN or LVN to apply.

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Roles for Nurses with an Associate Degree

students walking together on college campus
students walking together on college campus

If you’re pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), you’re probably thinking about all of the coursework ahead. But the most exciting part might be deciding what kind of registered nurse (RN) you’ll want to be and where you’ll want to work. You can expect many choices.

Many Jobs to Choose From

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RN jobs are expected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030, close to the same rate for all jobs combined.

Moreover, according to Joseph Dunmire, a board member of the National Association of Healthcare Recruitment, the U.S. will face a nursing shortage of nearly 1 million by 2024—from entry-level positions suitable for newly-minted grads to senior nursing jobs usually held by highly experienced and skilled specialists.

What Kind of Work Does a Nurse with an ADN Do?

nurse leaning on desk and looking pensive

According to the American Nursing Association, RNs are the backbone of healthcare. In virtually every healthcare setting, a nurse is present.

Nurses with ADNs and Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degrees (BSNs) both qualify to be an RN and do similar work when they start their careers. “Actually, ADNs are just as likely to work in the same medical settings as BSN-educated RNs,” Dunmire says. “Primarily, if not almost exclusively, new BSNs and ADNs both work in less intense areas” of healthcare such as “medical, surgical, rehab, orthopedics, or psych/behavioral health.”

RNs with ADNs are generalists and handle a wide range of basic tasks such as taking health histories, giving medication, ordering tests, providing instructions to patients, and assisting doctors with exams.

And while some hospitals may prefer registered nurses with BSNs, they will be hiring nurses with ADNs as well to fill many roles, Dunmire says.

New RNs with ADNs are generalists and handle a wide range of basic but critical tasks, such as taking health histories, administering medication, ordering tests, providing instructions to patients, helping patients prepare for procedures, and assisting doctors with patient exams.

With some experience, they may also become specialists in key health areas like women’s health, pediatrics, and gerontology. They may also supervise less-skilled coworkers, including certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

Common Career Paths and Workplaces

There are a wide variety of jobs and workplaces for nurses with ADNs. Here’s a sampling.

Travel Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Those who crave new places and new faces, like to travel, and prefer the variety of short-term assignments in different locations
  • What You’ll Do: Work wherever assigned as a staff nurse or specialty nurse—at home or abroad—to help cover during staff shortages, peak needs, crises, or emergency events
  • Where You’ll Work: Hospitals, regional medical centers, long-term care facilities, and rural medical clinics

Community Health Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Nurses with a strong desire to give back to the community and meet the needs of underserved populations
  • What You’ll Do: Work with an entire community or individuals —from infants to seniors—to provide health education, basic care, inoculations, nutrition counseling, and other services
  • Where You’ll Work: Public health centers, campus clinics, neighborhood outreach programs, and volunteer organizations

Psychiatric Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Unflappable, empathetic, no-nonsense nurses who know when and when not to nudge patients forward
  • What You’ll Do: Care for patients of all ages with a range of symptoms—from mild panic attacks to severe incapacitation
  • Where you’ll Work: General hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric clinics, and private practice

Long-Term Care Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Those with a gentle but firm hand who are good at multi-tasking and prefer established routines
  • What You’ll Do: Provide care for patients of all ages—from babies to seniors—who are living with serious conditions, recovering from major surgery, and fighting major illnesses like pneumonia
  • Where You’ll Work: Nursing homes and long-term care facilities

Hospital Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Flexible nurses open to rotating assignments in different hospital units
  • What You’ll Do: Care for medical or surgical patients who are stable but recovering from serious surgeries or illnesses
  • Where You’ll Work: Hospitals, urgent care clinics, emergency rooms, student clinics

Home Health Nurse

Rehab Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Those who are patient and even-tempered, and who radiate hopefulness and possibility
  • What You’ll Do: Care for those who struggle with addiction and are working to recover
  • Where You’ll Work: Substance abuse clinics, recovery centers, hospitals, and public health clinics

Occupational Health Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Nurses with an interest in and knowledge of physiology, physical therapy, and sports medicine
  • What You’ll Do: Care for patients working to regain motion after serious injuries, illnesses, or medical conditions—or who need to learn new movements after elective surgical procedures
  • Where You’ll Work: Occupational recovery clinics, physical therapy clinics, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and large health organizations

Outpatient Care Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: RNs comfortable with a range of tasks, from admitting new patients to assisting in surgery and monitoring patients in post-op recovery
  • What You’ll Do: Care for patients who undergo outpatient diagnostic procedures and surgeries
  • Where You’ll Work: Ambulatory surgical centers, orthopedic clinics, hospitals, diagnostic centers, and large health networks

Hospice Nurse

  • Who this Job Is Best For: Nurses with a large dose of empathy, a generous heart, and deep respect for the end-of-life journey
  • What You’ll Do: Provide comfort and care to patients and their families through the final months and days
  • Where You’ll Work: Hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes

How Do RNs Compare to Other Entry-Level Nursing Careers?

RNs

  • Trained to handle more complex nursing tasks, including initial health assessments and triage
  • Work under the supervision of a doctor and order tests, administer medications, provide treatments, and counsel patients on discharge instructions
  • May supervise CNAs and LPNs

LPNs

  • Perform a range of nursing tasks under the supervision of an RN or doctor
  • Often responsible for the comfort of patients. (LPNs change bandages and insert catheters, for example.)
  • In many states, LPNs also administer medication, start IV drips, and may supervise CNAs

CNAs

  • Assist nursing teams with the basic care of patients, performing both medical and nonmedical tasks
  • Supervised by an LPN or RN
  • Duties might include taking vital signs, recording health concerns, and helping patients bathe or dress

What Can I Expect to Earn?

 Salaries vary widely nationally and depend on many factors, including:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Where you live
  • Where you work
  • Your position

How Can I Advance My Career?

In addition to gaining clinical experience, you can advance your career by earning a BSN and by specializing.

“ADN programs generally focus more on nursing fundamentals and clinical skills, whereas BSN programs focus on the clinical skills plus education related to evidenced-based research, leadership, and management,” says Dunmire. “Ultimately, an RN with a BSN has more opportunities to advance in clinical leadership and by pursuing more diversified career opportunities in areas such as management, administration, research, and informatics.”

However, says Dunmire, many nursing students “find beginning with the ADN more financially feasible, as ADNs are usually secured through the community college system, which is much more affordable than the university system. From there, an ADN can secure initial employment while pursuing a BSN via online education.”

Specializing as a Nurse

masked nurse looking at laptop

Specialty certification can help advance your career and boost your income. It can also help you stand out when you apply for jobs.

While you can focus on a specialty as soon as you start your career, to earn a certification you’ll need to meet specific requirements.

Specialty certification can help advance your career and boost your income. It can also help you stand out when you apply for jobs.

For example, according to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), to qualify to take the exam to become board certified in medical-surgical nurse (RN-BC), you’ll need:

  • A current, active RN license
  • Experience equivalent to two years full time as a registered nurse
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in medical-surgical nursing within the last three years
  • 30 hours of continuing education in medical-surgical nursing within the last three years

Top Specialties for RNs with ADNs

ADN graduates can earn specialty certifications for roles in a variety of healthcare settings. They include:

SpecialtyCertification
Critical CareCritical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
DialysisCertified Dialysis Nurse (CDN)
GeriatricsGerontological Nursing certification (RN-BC)
Medical-SurgicalMedical-Surgical Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
OncologyOncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
Pain ManagementPain Management Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
PediatricsCertified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
Psychiatric HealthPsychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
TraumaTrauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN)

You might have a lot of decisions and choices ahead, but no matter which path you choose, there will be jobs to pursue.


sheila mickool

Written and reported by:

Sheila Mickool

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Joseph Dunmire

Board Member, National Association for Health Care Recruitment (NAHCR); and Vice President—Workforce Solutions, Qualivis