What Are the Different Types of Nurses?

In the health care industry, nurses are indispensable. Not only do they take care of patients, but they also manage employees, make important decisions, and fill in when physicians are not available. Knowing what are the different types of nurses helps you better understand the satisfying career. 

As the health care industry continues to evolve, so do the types of nurses, who are categorized by the amount of education they need and where they spend the majority of their time. If you looked closely at what are the different types of nurses, you would find more similarities than differences as their overall goals are to provide top-notch patient care. 

Becoming a nurse is not easy. The career requires several years of schooling, and specialized roles require even more training and certification. Before you choose the type of nurse you would like to be; it is helpful to know what options you have. 

Four Types of Nursing Degrees and Certifications

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In a nutshell, there are four main categories of nursing degrees. After earning one or more of those degrees, the opportunities open up. 

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

The CNA is directly involved in patient care but does not make decisions about the care they receive. Instead, they assist nurses with basic tasks like taking vitals, transferring patients from wheelchairs and beds, and some will dispense medication. 

Most CNAs work in residential care facilities and nursing homes rather than hospitals and physicians’ offices. 

People who want to work as a CNA must complete a program and pass a certification test. Technical schools, community colleges, and nursing homes offer CNA programs which last between two to four months. High school career training schools also offer CNA training programs.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

An LPN also takes care of patients, but in more precise ways than CNAs do. An LPN will work under the supervision of an RN. LPNs are responsible for tasks like inserting catheters, bandaging wounds, and taking vitals. 

LPNs work with patients and their families by offering information about their care. They also can administer medication in some states. LPNs do not make decisions about patient care; instead, they follow instructions from the RN or physician. 

If you want to become an LPN, you will need to attend classes at a community college or career training school. It usually takes about 12 months to become an LPN and pass the licensing exam through the National Council Licensure Examination program. There are study guides available to help with passing the challenging test. 

After you pass the licensing exam, you will need to take more classes and certification programs to become an official LPN. Most LPNs choose a specialty so they can work in the labor and delivery, neonatal, pain care, or IV therapy areas of the hospital. 

Registered Nurse (RN)

When you think of a nurse, you probably think of an RN. They are the most visible of all nurses, and they work hard to care for their patients. Their roles are vast and include tasks like recording medical histories, administering medication, making decisions about care, and working with physicians. 

Along with caring for patients, they also supervise LPNs and CNAs in their units. It is commonplace for nurses to have specialties both in and out of direct patient care. Some choose to only work with young children or pregnant women, while others might want to work in public health care or research facilities. Some even choose to write about health care

Becoming an RN takes time. You can become an RN with an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree. The minimum amount of schooling is 18 months, but if you want to take the RN to a BSN, you will need to add 18 months of education. 

In today’s world, many hospitals and doctor’s offices want nurses with bachelor’s degrees. So, those additional months of schooling can pay off with more job opportunities. Some health care providers will pay RNs to become BSN. 

No matter what choice you make, you will have to pass the licensing test as well as a state-level licensing test. 

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)

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The highest paid of all nurses is the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. Nurses with advanced degrees can not only do the same work as an RN, but they can make more health care decisions, refer patients to specialists, and order tests and review results. Some can even evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. 

APRNs often specialize in one of four areas. They become certified nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives. Some choose to become nurse educators, while other APRNs decide to take on leadership roles directors of nursing at health care facilities. 

Earning an advanced nursing degree involves first getting the certification as an RN or a BSN. After the associate’s or bachelor's programs, the next step is to obtain a Master's in the Science of Nursing, which takes at least another two years of training. Most degree programs require candidates to have clinical experience, too. 

Like all other nursing programs, the APRN candidates have to pass their certification and licensure exams. States have varying requirements, so be sure you know what is expected before you begin the program. Most states require APRNs to renew their certifications after several years.

Different Specialities for Nurses

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The four types of nurses have other opportunities, too. Nurses can combine their education, experience, and certification to move into specialties. If you are curious about what are the different types of nurses, take a look at this list: 

Nurse Practitioner

Even though most nurse practitioners do work with physicians, they are becoming more autonomous. Many do what physicians do, especially when it comes to evaluating, diagnosing, and treating illnesses. Many also prescribe medication. They do not perform surgery. 

Because nurse practitioners do not need the same amount of education as physicians, this nursing career option is growing in popularity. It pays well and on-call hours are not as demanding as those of physicians. To be a nurse practitioner, you must have at least a master’s degree. 

Operating Room (OR) Nurse

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OR nurses are also called perioperative nurses, and they work alongside surgeon taking care of patients in all steps of surgery. Perioperative nurses communicate with family members of those having surgery, and they also help patients and their families understand postoperative care. An OR nurse should have at least a BSN.

Someone interested in advanced medical procedures while providing empathetic patient care would enjoy working as an OR nurse.  

Nurse Case Manager

If you prefer doing more clerical and research work, this would be a good position for you. Nurse care managers work with patients to help them maintain their health. They often work in geriatrics or cancer wards because of their long-term goals with patients. You get to know your patients and their families well. 

To work in this field, you should have at least a BSN and have strong communication skills. 

Emergency Room Registered Nurse

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Where the nurse case manager builds long-term relationships with their patients, emergency room registered nurses do not. These are nurses who deal with traumas that require immediate care. They have to be flexible and work under high-stress situations. 

An emergency room registered nurse does need to have at least the RN degree, and many have more degrees so they can make treatment decisions without having to consult with a superior. 

Travel Registered Nurse

Most people do not connect travel and nursing, but RNs, BSNs, and APRNs can work as travel nurses. They usually hold their positions for a short period, between a few months to a few years. Some work in underserved areas around the world, while others work on cruise ships or in large resorts. 

Home Care Registered Nurse

If you prefer to stay close to home, home care registered nursing positions might be right for you. Like the nurse care managers, home care nurses usually work with geriatric patients or other patients who require care in a residential facility. Some work with new mothers helping them with breastfeeding and caring for their new babies. 

Labor and Delivery Registered Nurses

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If you prefer to work with patients at the beginning of life rather than at the end of life, working in the labor and delivery unit might be the perfect choice for you. Nurses who work in the labor and delivery unit provide care during labor and as they are giving birth. Some are also trained to provide epidurals and check patients' dilation progress. 

Labor and delivery nurses also work with pediatric nurses after the baby is born. As the labor and delivery nurses are busy caring for the new mom, pediatric nurses are caring for the baby. 

Neonatal Care Registered Nurse

Sometimes new babies need extra care, and this is where the neonatal unit and the nurses step in. Neonatal care registered nurses can save the lives of babies who are born prematurely or with life-threatening conditions. 

Author: Rose Boettinger

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