Working in the medical field can prove especially rewarding. While spending both the time and money on becoming a doctor may not offer the right path for everyone, nursing offers a different avenue for work within the industry. There are different nursing careers, which in turn require different levels of college and training. For anyone interested in following their passion to work with others and enter the medical community as a nurse, understanding the difference between these kinds of nursing titles may dictate exactly the kind of education and time an individual must put in to reach their desired nursing level.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Education: High school diploma or GED. Nursing Assistant Training is necessary to obtain certification.

For individuals who want a preliminary step into the medical field, a CNA, or certified nursing assistant position offers this. The CNA is available through local community colleges and some vocational training locations and takes around six to 12 months to complete. In general, a certified nursing assistant works everywhere from nursing care facilities, hospitals and other destinations where routine elderly care is required. The certification provides training in checking vital signs, running medical equipment and how to offer emotional support to patients. Of all the different nursing careers, this is the easiest to obtain due to not requiring an associate or bachelor’s degree and the ability to obtain the certification in less than two months. However, of the different nursing jobs available, these positions usually pay the least.

Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN)

Education: Vocational training or course offered by local hospital/community college

Very little differs between an LPN and an LVN. Realistically, the main difference here lies in where a student obtains their education. Local hospitals and community colleges may provide LPN courses while vocational training schools offer LVN programs. This is a step up from the CNA program. There also is generally not a CNA to LPN/LVN transition program due to the limited training for a certified nursing assistant.

These programs are streamlined and fast-paced, allowing individuals the ability to complete their education and obtain a license often in one to two years. Generally, these kinds of nursing positions are designed for those who already work another job but want an entry step into the medical industry. Becoming an LPN or LVN may also prove beneficial for students who wish to continue on with different nursing degrees as many schools do prefer nursing applicants to have some medical work experience (many schools only accept a select few out of hundreds of applicants, so already having an LPN or LVN on the resume can help boost the chance of acceptance).

Registered Nurse (RN)

Education: LPN-Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) Program

  • Associate RN Program
  • LPN-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program
  • Bachelor RN Program

Becoming a registered nurse (RN) is the next level of nursing and opens up a host of different nursing jobs. Now, there are several different levels of RN and several ways to go about obtaining the degree.

For individuals with a current LPN/LVN, there are bridge programs that allow what the LPN/LVN has learned previously and put it towards becoming an RN. The first is an LPN to Associate’s of Science in Nursing degree. An Associate’s Degree in Nursing generally takes two to three years. For students who already have an LPN/LVN, it may only take an additional year to obtain. These kinds of programs are excellent for students who wish to work while attending school. This way, they can obtain different types of nursing degrees as they go (which is also helpful for students who need to take time off in between different nursing levels).

For students who wish to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, they can either enroll in a four-year university or training school for this. It typically takes around four to five years to obtain the BSN. For students who already have their LPN and wish to bypass the ADN in favor of the elevated BSN, there are LPN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs available. This may take an additional three or four years to accomplish.

Both individuals with an Associate’s of Science in Nursing or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing are considered Registered Nurses. However, an individual with a BSN is typically given more responsibility, may manage other nurses and will earn more money.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Education: Specialized Training Course after obtaining Bachelor’s Degree

After receiving a BSN degree and becoming a higher-level RN than those with an Associate’s Degree, the next step is to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing. Abbreviated as an MSN, receiving an MSN takes usually around 18 months to two years to finish (on top of the time it took to become a BSN). A Master of Science in Nursing does differ from other nursing degree programs though as there are specialized degree programs, depending on what a BSN is interested in.

Many different types of nurses and descriptions fall under the MSN platform. A clinical nurse specialist or an advanced practice nurse are both positions where an individual received their BSN and then continued on for a Master of Science in Nursing with a focus on subjects such as advanced clinical training or research. In addition to this, there are some who decide to obtain a Master’s Degree in a non-medical field, such as hospital administration or public health. Doing so helps increase the job market for the BSN holder.

There is no limit to the number of MSNs an individual goes after. Due to this, after a nurse obtains their BSN they have the capability of going after both a specialized medical degree (such as the advanced clinical training) and a non-medical degree.

For current nurses, there are joint degree programs (MSN/MBA), as it allows the current nurse to obtain both the specialized nursing degree and the non-medical degree at the same time in about two years. However, this is an extremely demanding and time-consuming program as it provides two high-end degrees upon completion.

Doctorate Nursing Degree

Education: ND program takes three to five years to complete (following a Master’s Degree) while a DNP takes around three full years.

For nurses who want to move into the clinical practice side of the medical industry and who are prepared for the additional three to five years of education, a Doctorate Nursing Degree may prove beneficial. It is one of the newer degree opportunities and helps train students in oriented leadership for high-end positions within clinical and educational settings.

The DNP program is designed specifically with working nurses in mind as most courses work around the schedule of a practicing nurse. The ND program, on the other hand, is a full-time degree program (including summers) that can last up to five years.

There are other variants of the Doctor of Nursing programs. This includes a Doctor of Nursing Science and Doctor of Philosophy. The Doctor of Philosophy program trains nurses in the theoretical foundation of nursing and how health care is delivered. The Doctor of Nursing Science program (DNSc) trains nurses in clinical, investigative skills and teachers leadership skills in order to work in the upper tier of the healthcare industry.

Additional Nursing Variations

There are varying nursing career options, each with slightly different educational and certification requirements. Most of these variants take an RN or a nurse with a BSN and offer specialized work opportunities. The different types of nurses and nursing degrees in order include:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Nurse Case Manager
  • Intensive Care Registered Nurse
  • Travel Registered Nurse
  • Home Care Registered Nurse
  • Operating/Medical/Surgical Room Nurse
  • Staff Nurse/Nurse Supervisor
  • Emergency Room Registered Nurse
  • Labor and Delivery Registered Nurse
  • Oncology Registered Nurse
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Registered Nurse
  • Dialysis Registered Nurse
  • Post-anesthesia Care Unit Registered Nurse

Nurse Practitioner

Additional Education Past RN: Bachelor’s degree in nursing, Master’s degree, then pass Nurse Practitioner certification examination.

A nurse practitioner is an elevated nurse with a higher-level educational background. First, an individual must become an RN, earn a bachelor’s degree, work in the field, obtain a Master’s degree and then seek out training and certification within a specific area. With the higher-level degree, they are able to work more jobs and earn more money than those types of nurses with a more standard RN.

Nurse Case Manager

Additional Education Past RN: Varies, but typically includes four-year bachelor’s degree, certification through Commission for Case Manager Certification or American Nurses Credentialing Center. Due to high demand, more nurses obtaining a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree with a focus on case management.

A nurse case manager monitors a patient’s overall health, from the moment the patient enters the facility and the medical services the patient receives during their stay all the way until they are discharged. This individual first becomes a registered nurse and either works for an extended period of time within a location and moves up, or they receive a Master’s in Nursing. There are some who receive a Doctorate in Nursing for the position as well.

Intensive Care Unit Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: Two years on the job experience, then Critical Care Registered Nurse certification

Whether referred to as an ICU nurse or a critical care nurse, this is a position where the professional works alongside patients who are in a critical condition. This is one of the most in-demand nursing positions on the varying types of nurses list, yet the position is not for everyone. It requires much more in way of quick thinking in an extremely fast-paced environment over the other positions.

Travel Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: None. Must pass NCLEX-RN exam and work for at least in a hospital setting. Having a higher-level degree does help with landing certain travel RN positions. After completing the year it is possible to begin applying and interviewing with travel RN agencies.

Becoming a travel registered nurse is favorable as it allows individuals to move about not only the country but also the world, working as a nurse. This opens up a world of job possibilities. It also allows an RN to see more of the world, which may be desirable. A travel RN typically takes short-term positions around the world in locations where nurses are in a premium. This is also one of the higher paying RN positions as well. It is possible to work essentially as a freelance travel RN, although there are specific travel nurse organizations that make connecting with new destinations after a current position timeframe is up easier. In terms of additional types of nursing courses, a travel RN doesn’t need extra education, but instead just on the job experience prior to applying with a travel RN agency.

Home Care Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: None. After passing NCLEX-RN certification it is possible to begin working as a home care RN.

A home care RN is an individual who typically works outside of the hospital setting and within the home of a patient. This can be for both short-term and long-term care situations. Short-term may be for individuals who have suffered a broken bone that prevents them from getting around easily. Longer-term requirements include individuals suffering from cancer or Alzheimer’s.

Operating Room/Medical/Surgical Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: Work experience in ICU or recovery room is desirable, although not always required. Master’s degree in nursing, internship and then Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Examination is needed.

For nurses who want to assist doctor’s in both scheduled and emergency surgeries, an operating room nurse, also known as an OR nurse or surgery nurse, is the desired position. Due to the need to work with varying kinds of patients, often with little notice and in a hectic environment, this is a high demand position that does require additional education beyond that of a traditional RN.

Staff Nurse/Nurse Supervisor

Additional Education Past RN: None.

A staff nurse is referred to by a number of other names, including a nursing sister, nurse supervisor or a “charge nurse.” This individual is typically in charge of other nurses within a given department. They help organize everyone, make sure the right nurse is directed to the necessary location, all while working similar roles as other nurses on staff. Additional education is not always required for this kind of position as it is more about personality type and experience within the workforce. Most staff/charge nurses work within the given field for at least three years before applying to open positions.

Emergency Room/Critical Care Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: Varies. Specific certifications are not required but desirable for individuals who want this position. After working in an emergency setting for two years, an individual qualifies to take the Certified Emergency Nurses Examination.

Known as both an ER and a critical care RN, this position is for individuals who often work in high-stress environments where patients need emergency medical assistance. The ability to work with varying kinds of medical situations within a single shift is a must, typically with very little warning. This kind of position may also bring about extremely long hours while doing everything from providing first aid and transfusing blood to delivering babies and setting broken bones.

Labor and Delivery Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: None, although voluntary certifications for labor and delivery specialties are available, which can make obtaining this specific job easier.

As the title suggests, labor and delivery RNs work in the delivery room and with women who are pregnant or going into labor. Ideally, this is a position for nurses who prefer working in a similar surrounding, although they will work with premature births and other pregnancy issues. In general, for nurses looking to work in this ward of the hospital, going after the state offered labor and delivery certifications can help land the position.

Oncology Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: On the job experience and eventual Oncology Certified Nurse exam. For RNs looking to become an oncology nurse practitioner, completing a Master of Science in Nursing degree is necessary.

Oncology RNs generally work along with cancer patients. This is for both critically ill and chronically ill patients. It is important to understand that with this particular position, a good number of patients will not survive, and due to the extended connection between patient and nurse, for some this can prove extremely difficult (yet also rewarding when patients beat pack their disease).

Neonatal Intensive Care Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: Must be an RN with a four-year bachelor’s degree. After this, certified in Neonatal Resuscitation or/and Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing. Some hospitals do have a minimum number of experience years in a hospital or clinical setting.

This is a nursing position for RNs interested in working with the care of newborn babies. Essentially they take over the position for the labor and delivery RNs (there might be some overlap depending on the hospital in question, although typically each are in their own ward). Some of the nursing jobs also include working will sick and premature babies. For the neonatal ICU RNs, these are nurses who work exclusively with seriously sick newborns.

There are three levels to the ICR RN position. Level 1 works with healthy infants. Level II works with premature babies while Level III works continually monitoring the premature infants.

Dialysis Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: None, although work experience within the nephrology, nutrition and pharmacology departments can help land the position.

A dialysis RN works with individuals who suffer kidney disease and failure and others who suffer from renal failure. They work with individuals before during and after a kidney transplant as well.

Post-anesthesia Care Unit Registered Nurse

Additional Education Past RN: None. Although in order to earn a certification as a PACU RN, an individual must complete 1,8000 hours of clinical experience. The certification must be renewed every three years.

Nurses in this position will work with patients who have gone under anesthesia. They will monitor the anesthesia throughout surgery and work with patients post-operation to make sure they are awake and safely reacting as the anesthesia wears off.

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