Nurse Types / Levels of Nursing
The hierarchy of nurses may not be clear to the layperson. Just like any other career, however, nurses have the option to progress through the ranks as they develop their careers. The levels of nursing are dictated by a combination of advanced degrees, nursing licenses, experience, and type of nursing work being performed.
Below are 6 different levels of nursing you may experience throughout your career.
1. Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
CNAs provide a wide variety of services to their patients. The main activities they help patients with are bathing, eating, and mobility. They also help nurses check patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure and pulse rate.
Before entering a CNA program, you must have your high school diploma or GED. Most CNA programs take between 6-12 weeks to finish but could take up to six months depending on the level of education you wish to receive.
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2. Licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN)
LPNs are licensed nurses who provide care such as helping patients with feeding, dressing, hygiene, transfers, measuring and recording vital signs, and treating basic wounds or changing dressings.
In order to become an LPN, you must finish a practical nursing course and pass the NCLEX-PN exam. Experience is also helpful as most of the duties are learned on the job.
3. Registered nurse (RN)
Registered nurses‘ job duties vary significantly from one nurse to the next. Depending on the department and specialty, they may supervise other nurses and oversee patient care, or serve as a direct caretaker for patients. RNs may also be responsible for administering medication, drawing blood and collecting lab work, and monitoring patient vitals and progress.
In order to become an RN, you need to have completed an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing and pass the NCLEX exam. Gaining experience in the specialty in which you would like to practice is also an important part of the process.
4. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
APRNs are registered nurses with a higher level of autonomy, who have extensive experience education – typically a master’s degree in nursing. Different types of advanced practice registered nurses include:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
- Certified Nurse-Midwife
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Practitioner
In many states, APRNs can prescribe medication and practice without oversight from a doctor or other supervisor. It can take about six years to become a licensed APRN. The BSN to MSN and RN to MSN bridge programs can help you earn your master’s degree faster.
5. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is the highest level of education a nursing professional can obtain. DNPs possess extensive knowledge of nursing best practices and focus on working in nursing administration roles or patient care.
Nursing professionals with DNPs can work in health informatics, nursing management, or organizational leadership. Some hold thought-leadership positions shaping state and national health policies.
To become a DNP, you must complete up to 8 years of nursing education. The number of years required to complete your degree depends on where you are starting from in your career. If you are starting from scratch with no schooling or work experience, expect to spend the full eight years completing the program if attending school full-time. Most DNP programs require applicants to have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), while others prefer a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. If you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, there are bridge programs that help cut time in school:
- BSN to DNP – 3-4 years
- MSN to DNP – 1-2 years
6. Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)
Think of a Chief Nursing Officer as the CEO of a nursing department. Their primary role involves communicating with and overseeing nursing departments to ensure all team members follow nursing best practices. CNOs can handle any nursing issues that arise. They also manage business matters to keep the hospital’s nursing department operating efficiently.
Becoming a CNO takes extensive education and training. Nursing candidates who wish to work in this role must obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or higher, with a secondary focus on business administration. As the highest administrative role within the nursing profession, chief nursing officers have all the same skills as nurses, plus leadership and management training. Many aspiring CNOs work in mid-level nursing management as charge nurses or as nursing unit directors before becoming CNOs. This allows nurses to gain the experience needed to run a nursing department.
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