It takes a whole team of professionals to tend to the nation’s health care needs, and nurses are the linchpin that keep the health care system running. They provide the bulk of daily care, serve as liaisons between patients and physicians and, in some cases, even fill the role of doctors. There are many different types of nurses, however, and their titles indicate what training they have received, what they do and where they do it. This guide is a one-stop resource for readers who want to learn more about different nursing jobs, including their roles, education, earnings, and how in-demand they are in today’s market.
Nurses’ responsibilities vary by specialization or unit, but most share more similarities than differences. Nurses provide and monitor patient care, educate patients and family members about health conditions, provide medications and treatments, give emotional support and advice to patients and their family members, and more. They also work with healthy people by providing preventative health care and wellness information.
Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses are entry-level nurses; which title they use is dictated more by geography than job function. LPNs and LVNs provide basic patient care, though specific duties are dictated by each state’s board of nursing. They might feed or bathe patients, monitor patient vitals and check and apply bandages. Some states also permit practical nurses to administer certain medications. Practical nurses must usually complete certificates or associate degrees and the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses, or NCLEX-PN
Registered nurses are the most prevalent nurses in the profession and often serve as a fulcrum of patient care. They work with physicians and communicate with patients and their families. They engage in more sophisticated care than LPNs. Board certification allows RNs to become highly specialized in areas like critical care, oncology, geriatrics, neurology and other key health disciplines. All states require RNs to earn at least an associate degree, but some employers prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees. RNs must also be licensed to practice, a process that requires that they complete an accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses, or NCLEX-RN.
As some of the most advanced nursing professionals, nurse practitioners make more decisions when it comes to exams, treatments and next steps. They go beyond the reach of RNs and may work with physicians closely. Some states with large rural populations or shortages in primary care physician have even passed legislation allowing NPs to stand in for physicians in certain situations. Nurse practitioners typically earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or, increasingly, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). They also earn additional certifications in specialized disciplines such as critical care, family medicine and pediatrics.