Career Levels in Nursing

Nurses working at a hospital

Once you have reached the decision to become a nurse, the next step is to determine what kind of nursing degree program to enroll in. This choice can be challenging because there are many specialized fields and levels of qualification within the nursing field, each requiring a different type of education or degree.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) may also be known as a nursing aide. CNAs assist nurses in the daily activities of a medical facility. They work closely with all medical staff and patients. In a hospital setting, CNAs may bathe patients, help them get dressed, feed them and help them move around. They may also check vital signs and help patients in and out of beds and wheelchairs. Some states also permit CNAs to dispense medication. Outside hospitals, CNAs are typically employed in residential care facilities and nursing homes. Becoming a CNA requires completing a CNA program and passing a state certification exam.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) may also be known as a licensed vocational nurse. LPNs work even more closely with patients than CNAs and are certified to perform additional medical monitoring, though they still work under the supervision of a registered nurse. An LPN can administer basic healthcare in the form of tasks like taking blood pressure, starting catheters and changing bandages. In some states, an LPN can start IV lines for patients. An LPN can also communicate with patients about the plan of care following a medical visit or procedure.

LPNs must complete a program that leads to a practical nursing diploma. They must then attain their license by passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-PN). After that, they have the option of earning additional certifications to specialize in areas such as IV therapy, childbirth or care of patients with disabilities.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses (RNs) play significant roles in patient care. Their responsibilities include recording medical histories and monitoring symptoms. They must know how to operate medical equipment, administer medication and perform diagnostic tests. They collaborate regularly with doctors in establishing the plan of care for a patient. Because of the additional education they had to go through to become RNs, they generally oversee the LPNs and CNAs on staff.

Either of two educational paths can lead to becoming an RN. The first begins with earning an associate degree in nursing. The second begins with earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After the chosen degree, both paths entail taking the NCLEX-RN Exam and completing any additional state-specific requirements. Once on the job, RNs can specialize in a specific area of healthcare delivery such as cardiac care, medical/surgical care, or intensive care. RNs can further specialize by obtaining a certification in nursing specialty such as wound care, home healthcare or telehealth.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Experienced nurses can earn their master's degrees and become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Advanced degrees give nurses the option to work independently as well as to become supervisors of other nurses. APRNs can diagnose and treat conditions and refer patients to specialists. They may become nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives or certified nurse practitioners. They may also choose to become nurse educators and help train up-and-coming nurses in their BSN or MSN degree programs.

To become an APRN, a nurse must first become an RN. The next step is to choose a specialty to pursue, which may include additional requirements such as clinical experience or certification. Some states then require APRNs to pass certification exams.

Grand Canyon University offers a wide range of nursing programs. Future nurses just starting out can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Those looking to take their nursing careers to the next level can advance from an RN to a BSN. And those looking to earn terminal degrees can become advanced practice registered nurses. To learn more about the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, click on the Request Info button at the top of this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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