Levels of Nursing

Levels of nursing

Are you considering a career in nursing? If so, you may know that there are many different levels of nursing and types of nursing careers to choose from. Depending on the educational path you take, you can become a nursing assistant/ nursing aide, licensed practical nurse (LPN)/ licensed vocational nurse (LVN), registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Nurses work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, physicians’ offices, extended care facilities, schools, community centers, and private homes. Learn more about different nursing careers to determine which opportunity is the best fit for your personal and professional goals.

Nursing Aides and Assistants

Nursing aides help provide basic care to hospital patients and residents of long-term care facilities under the supervision of nursing staff. Their duties might include cleaning and bathing patients, helping patients get dressed and use the toilet, and turning, repositioning, and moving patients to different beds or wheelchairs. Nursing aides must pursue a postsecondary certificate and pass a competency exam.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of nursing assistants is expected to grow by 20% from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than average for all occupations. In 2012, nursing aides earned a median annual wage of $24,240.

Becoming a nursing assistant is the fastest route to a career in nursing, and training programs take as little as four weeks. However, there are little to no advancement opportunities without pursuing further education, and the turnover rate is high owing to the emotional and physical demands of the job, as well as low pay.

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs)

Becoming an LPN/LVN is a great way to start off if you are looking for a relatively quick path to a career in nursing with greater responsibility and expanded career opportunities. An LPN/LVN provides basic nursing care under the direction of nurses and doctors. Tasks that an LPN/LVN may perform include checking patients’ blood pressure, changing bandages, inserting catheters, keeping records on patients’ health, and reporting the status of patients to nurses and doctors.

In order to become an LPN/LVN, you must complete a state-approved educational program, which usually takes about one year. After getting a certificate, LPNs/LVNs have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of LPNs/LVNs is expected to grow 22% from 2010 to 2020. After becoming an LPN and gaining some work experience, you can enroll in an LPN-to-RN program to build your credentials, increase your job responsibilities, and expand your employment opportunities. The median annual wage of LPNs/LVNs was $41,540 in 2012.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

Registered nurses provide and coordinate patient care, give patients emotional support and advice, and educate the public about various health conditions. Tasks that an RN may perform include giving patients medicines and treatments, setting up plans for patient care, teaching patients how to manage their illnesses or injuries, and helping perform diagnostic tests and analyzing the results.

The three educational paths that one can take to become an RN are pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing, Bachelor of Science in nursing or a hospital-based nursing diploma. Upon completing a nursing education program, you must pass the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed registered nurse.

There are many opportunities for RNs to pursue additional training and specialize in a specific area of nursing. Examples of specialist RNs include critical care nurses, cardiovascular nurses, and neonatology nurses. Some nurses have jobs that do not involve working directly with patients, such as healthcare consultants, researchers, and public policy advisors.

RNs have opportunities to work in an array of settings and with people from all walks of life. Becoming an RN is a great way to qualify for well-paid nursing jobs with a variety of responsibilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs earned a median annual wage of $65,470 in 2012. The employment of RNs is expected to grow by 26% from 2010 to 2020, which is a rate that is faster than average.

Advanced Practice Nurses (APRNs)

Some RNs may choose to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), who work independently or in collaboration with physicians, providing primary care and even diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications in some states.

APRNs have advanced knowledge, skills, and scopes of practice. An APRN works in a specialist or generalist capacity, functioning as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. You must have at least a master’s degree to become an APRN and also need to sit for additional certification exams. By 2015, all APRN training programs will be required to convert their master’s degree into a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

As an APRN, you can expect to earn an above-average salary. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nurse practitioners earned a median annual wage of $89,960 in 2012. The BLS also reports that all four types of APRNs are expected to be in high demand, especially in medically underserved areas like inner cities and rural towns.

Choosing Among the Different Types of Nursing Careers

Nurses are a vital part of the healthcare community, and nursing is a rewarding job that offers a breadth of employment options. If you are a compassionate person with strong math and science skills who is committed to helping people, consider pursuing a career in nursing.

Deciding on the type of nursing career that is right for you depends largely on the time and financial investment you are willing to make in your education. Some nurses will start out as LPNs to get their foot in the door, and then pursue further education down the line in order to become an RN, while other nurses go to school for their bachelor’s degree in nursing from the start. Continue exploring the different levels of nursing careers available to determine which path is right for you.