Learn about Careers and Types of NursesEdited by Elizabeth Binsfield, BA, RN
Aspiring nurses have a range of career options available to them. Those who wonder what types of nursing jobs are available can explore multiple opportunities depending on their level of education and experience in specialty areas.
Nursing is a growing profession that provides a wide range of diverse and flexible working environments and responsibilities. There are also numerous ways to obtain the appropriate degree and certification. Prospective students who research different types of nursing can make an informed decision with step-by-step actions for finding the best path toward their future career goals. Students can learn more about a career as a CNA, LPN, RN, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, neonatal nurse, pediatric nurse, and travel nurse below.
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) reports to either an LPN or a registered nurse (RN). They focus on general patient care in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, long term care facilities, and in-home care. Their responsibilities include taking patients' vital signs, helping them with personal hygiene, managing medical equipment, and moving patients to different areas. To become a CNA, students should complete a nursing assistant certificate program at a community college or vocational school, and then take the appropriate certification exam required by state law.
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is an entry-level nursing position that involves extensive direct patient care. In California and Texas, this designation is called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Although the names may differ, the roles and responsibilities are the same. Students pursuing an LPN certificate should expect to spend a year taking classes, after which they may take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses, or the NCLEX-PN exam. Becoming licensed will enable them to begin practicing in settings such as physician’s offices, long-term care facilities and hospitals.
Students can pursue a career as an RN by earning an associate degree in nursing (ADN). This two-year program is offered at community colleges and vocational schools. One can also become an RN by earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Students who complete either program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and fulfill their state’s licensing requirements may then begin practicing as an RN. Common career paths include working in an emergency room, in an intensive care unit, at a skilled nursing facility, or at a physician’s office. RNs can gain management experience by overseeing LPNs and CNAs.
A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse who has received additional training and a higher degree to take on more advanced patient responsibilities. In fact, with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at minimum, NPs typically perform many of the same duties as a physician, including diagnosing patients, prescribing medications, and providing other treatments. They often function in a supervisory role. In addition to earning an MSN or higher, prospective NPs must be licensed by their state and certified by a national certification board.
Becoming a nurse anesthetist (CRNA) requires at least a master’s degree. Students must also pass a national exam before launching their career. After successfully completing these qualifications, nurse anesthetists can work in a range of settings, from hospitals to dentists’ offices. CRNAs are responsible for administering anesthesia to patients for pain management in surgical and medical procedures. They must also review patients’ medical backgrounds to ensure the appropriateness of various pain management options. CRNAs also communicate the potential for side effects of anesthesia to patients and monitor their vital signs as the medicine is being administered.
A neonatal nurse works in hospitals, clinics, and neonatal intensive care units to oversee the health of newborns. Some neonatal nurses focus on healthy babies, while others gain specialization in ill or premature babies. Aspiring neonatal nurses can gain up to three levels of specialty depending on their experience and responsibilities with seriously ill infants. To become a neonatal nurse, students with at least an ADN or BSN can become an RN by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Neonatal Nurse Practitioners must have an MSN or higher.
A pediatric nurse is a type of specialized registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). These nurses are trained to care for children from infancy through adolescence and they work in a range of healthcare settings, such as a physician’s office or at a hospital. Primary responsibilities for pediatric nurses include performing physicals, taking vital signs, and ensuring that pertinent diagnostic tests are ordered. Those with advanced training may also help develop and implement treatment plans for young patients.
A travel nurse is a type of nurse (usually an RN, but sometimes an LPN, CNA, or APRN) who takes on short-term contracts in different locations and travel to various parts of the country as needed. Travel nursing developed because of the increasing demand for nurses throughout the U.S. Travel nurse contracts can last anywhere between one and six months. In addition to earning a competitive salary, travel nurses may also receive a housing stipend to help manage the expense of moving frequently. Common work destinations include hospitals and critical access facilities.
How to Choose a Nursing Career
Those who are thinking about becoming a nurse should consider a number of factors to determine the best career path. First, aspiring nurses should think about the time available to devote to their education. While entry-level nursing positions require completion of a one- or two-year college program, more advanced jobs tend to require degrees that can take four or more years to complete. Programs can take even longer if students choose to study part-time rather than full-time.
The cost of a nursing program is also an important factor, especially when compared to salary averages in the student’s desired field and geographic location. Prospective students might wonder about the kind of role the nurse plays in a work setting and what their duties and obligations are, so it is important to review and understand the responsibilities that come with each certification.
Some nursing jobs require long shifts during non-traditional hours, especially when working in a hospital or emergency care environment. Aspiring nurses who want a more traditional work schedule may choose a career path in a physician’s office. Each nursing option also opens the door to different specializations. Prospective nurses who want to pursue a particular area of focus should pick a program that allows them to reach their desired level of specialization.
What Kind of Nurses Get Paid the Most?
Generally speaking, nurses who hold more advanced degrees can expect to earn better pay than those who do not. There are a few specializations in particular that come with increased salary expectations. A CRNA, for example, is usually among the highest paid nurses. NPs are also among the highest paid group of nurses because their duties are often similar to those of a physician. RNs with specializations in gerontology and pain management are also better positioned to earn more than other nurses.