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What are the different types of nurses?

Nursing is the largest profession in the health care field. And when it comes to the duties a nurse is able to perform, the standards are produced and governed by each state's board of nursing.
Nursing is the largest profession in the health care field. And when it comes to the duties a nurse is able to perform, the standards are produced and governed by each state's board of nursing.
Photodisc/Thinkstock

As professions go, nursing is pretty new. Until just more than 150 years ago when Florence Nightingale provided the building blocks for the field -- which included a training school and a nursing guidebook -- anyone who found themselves in the role of caregiver could be considered a nurse [sources: Bostridge; Nightingale]. In fact, Nightingale once said that "every woman must at some time or other of her life become a nurse" [source: Nightingale].

Of course, that was back in the mid-19th century. Over the years, nursing has become a highly respected occupation that requires specific education and training. Not only that, but nurses also provide a wide spectrum of services to patients of all kinds.

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The level of care a nurse provides depends on what kind of preparation he or she has had. Nursing generally falls into three categories: non-degree, degree and advanced degree.

Non-degree: The nurses in this category include Certified Nurse's Aides (CNAs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). While these professionals don't have degrees in nursing, they do have to undergo training and receive certification to perform their duties. A CNA usually has to complete eight weeks of instruction, while an LPN (sometimes referred to as a Licensed Vocational Nurse, or LVN, in some states) must take a yearlong program.

Degree: This category most commonly refers to Registered Nurses (RNs). RNs can have an associate's degree in nursing, a bachelor's degree in nursing or a diploma from a special hospital-based program. RNs with bachelor's degrees tend to have more career opportunities than those with associate's degrees.

Advanced degree: Advanced-degree nurses must have successfully completed master's or doctorate-level work. Those with master's degrees are known as Advance Practice Nurses (APNs) and include Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNLs), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). Nurses with doctoral degrees are Doctors of Nursing Practice (DNPs) or nursing PhDs.

On the next page, we'll look at how the practice of nursing varies.

As we mentioned, there are three primary categories of nursing. Each level has its own requirements and responsibilities. For example, non-degree nurses like CNAs and LPNs usually perform health assistant duties and are often needed in home health care and assisted-living settings.

Registered nursing, which requires an academic degree, is a large, flexible occupation that allows RNs to specialize in a particular medical field, like pediatrics or psychiatry, for example.

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Nurses who have advanced degrees are able to take their training even further. APNs, who have master's degrees, generally serve as primary or specialty care providers; whereas DNPs and PhDs often focus on the research end of health care.

When it comes to the duties a nurse is able to perform, the standards are produced and governed by each state's board of nursing. For RNs and non-degree nurses, the certification guidelines and job duties tend to differ only slightly from state to state. APNs, however, can face a wide variety of practice regulations [source: Citizen Advocacy Center]. This is because advanced-degree nurses often provide care without the assistance of a doctor. NPs, for example, can serve as primary care providers in many areas, and in some states they can even prescribe medications to their patients.

To learn more about nursing, check out the next page for lots more information.

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Sources

  • AllNurses.com. "CNA to APRN: The Various Levels of Nursing." June 3, 2009. (April 24, 2012) http://allnurses.com/nursing-news/cna-aprn-various-397311.html
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. "Your Nursing Career: A Look at the Facts." May 3, 2010. (April 24, 2012) http://www.aacn.nche.edu/students/your-nursing-career/facts
  • Bostridge, Mark. "Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend." Viking. 2008. (April 24, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?ei=OSqWT9vFO6T66QGh9am-Dg&id=NCEfAQAAIAAJ&dq=Florence+Nightingale%3A+the+woman+and+her+legend&q=child#search_anchor
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become a Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse." March 29, 2012. (April 24, 2012) http://stats.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm#tab-4
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses." March 29, 2012. (April 24, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nurse." March 19, 2010. (April 24, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/k12/help04.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Registered Nurses." March 29, 2012. (April 24, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm
  • CareerOpportunities. "Different Types of Medical Nurses." (April 24, 2012) http://www.career-opportunities.net/articles/view/different_types_medical_nurses
  • Citizen Advocacy Center. "Scope of Practice FAQs for Consumers." (April 24, 2012) http://www.cacenter.org/files/SOPaprn.pdf
  • Nightingale, Florence. "Notes on Nursing." D. Appleton and Company. 1860. (April 24, 2012) http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/nightingale/nursing/nursing.html
  • Nursing World. "State Law and Regulation." (April 24, 2012) http://nursingworld.org/statelawandregulation

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