People are living longer, mainly due to changes in lifestyles but also because of incredible advances in health care. One of the results is the need for more healthcare professionals, including nurses. One way the industry is changing is by offering career choices in the form of more educational opportunities and options.

The Associate’s Degree in Nursing has only recently become an option, though it’s quickly gaining favor in the health care industry. While there are naturally some differences in the training for an associate’s degree as opposed to a bachelor’s degree, many health care agencies – including hospitals and doctor’s offices – are recognizing the fact that those graduating with associate’s degrees can perform many of the same duties and handle many of the same responsibilities as those with bachelor’s degree. But is there really a difference?

There has to be some difference simply by the difference in time requirements for the two degrees. An associate’s degree is typically accomplished in two years. This is sometimes called a “fast track” and there are many associate’s degree programs available. Most are available through community colleges or technical training schools, though some four-year universities are now offering fast track degrees as part of their training programs.

By comparison, a bachelor’s degree in nursing usually takes four years. Some who go into college with at least a few hours of college behind them and a solid plan can accomplish it sooner, especially if summer school classes are used to hasten the process. But as a rule, it takes a full four years to complete college with a bachelor’s degree in any field, including nursing.

If you can achieve an associate’s degree in only two years, why would anyone go on for the bachelor’s degree? Most health care facilities seem willing to accept either degree, but most make a pay differentiation. Those who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree can often expect to be paid more than those with an associate’s degree. One of the positive points is that a nurse with an associate’s degree can usually go to work earning a good wage and pick up classes toward the bachelor’s degree to increase their worth.

So what’s the difference in the actual study required? One important point noted by proponents of the associate’s degree is that the four-year university requires a “well rounded” education before conferring a degree. That means that graduates are required to complete requirements in history, communication, physical education and other subjects that some say aren’t relevant to a nursing degree. There are also some math and science courses that are typically above those required for a two-year nursing degree.

By comparison, an associate’s degree program will often use a “block” format. Instead of taking an algebra class and a chemistry class, those in the associate’s degree program may take an afternoon class that combines the two, focusing on the way algebra and chemistry apply to their chosen field.

Some say there’s no substitute for the bachelor’s degree and that nurses should all be required to go through the full program. As long as there’s a demand for nurses and others in the health care field, there’s no doubt that faster training – as long as it’s adequate – will be in demand.

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