Friday, December 05, 2014

The Different Types of Nurses

Most of us think we have a pretty clear idea of what nurses do. In a doctor’s office, they are usually the ones who take your vitals and medical history before you see your doctor, and they may even administer medication.

In a hospital, nursing home, or hospice setting, they usually take care of all the things that doctors don’t have time for, like taking patient temperatures, administering medication, and changing bed pans.

Nurses do all of these things, but they also do much more. Also, there are different levels of nursing, and each level has different responsibilities.

The Levels of Nursing

In the United States there are generally three different types of nurses: non-degreed, degreed, and those with advanced degrees.


• Non-degreed nurses are professionals who have not completed a college degree program. These nurses include Certified Nurse’s Aides (CNAs) and Licensed Practical Nurses or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LPNs or LVNs). While these types of nurses don’t have degrees, they do have to complete intensive training course and pass either certification or licensing exams to get their titles. CNAs usually have to complete an eight-week program, and LPNs usually have to complete a year-long program.


•Degreed nurses have either associates or bachelor’s degrees.

•Degreed nurses usually become Registered Nurses (RNs) and, like their non-degreed counterparts, have to take a certification or licensing exam once they complete their program.

Whether the RN has an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, the work tends to be similar. In addition to many of the responsibilities of the CNA and LPN, the RN also has the ability to choose a specialty, such as pediatrics or geriatrics. RNs might also have a greater range of responsibility when it comes to administering patient care.

One big difference between the bachelor’s and associate’s degree is that RNs with bachelor’s degrees tend to have more career opportunities; which is why some RNs start out with associate’s degrees from one institution, and then go on to another school to complete their bachelor's. Or, they start their careers and then finish up their bachelor's through an accelerated online program, like the one offered at Gwynedd Mercy, a great nursing school in PA.

Those with Advanced Degrees

Nurses with advanced degree have completed a bachelor’s program, and then gone on to complete a master’s or PhD program in a specialty field. These types of nurses can include Nurse Practitioners (NP), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs), and Nurse Epidemiologists.

Nurses with advanced degrees can have a variety of jobs, depending on their area of specialty. For example:

• Nurse Practitioners perform many of the same functions as medical doctors including ordering screening tests, diagnosing patients, and prescribing medication for minor illnesses. You can often find nurse practitioners at urgent care centers, or those medical clinics you find in grocery stores and drug stores. They might also work in rural communities, and other areas where medical doctors are scarce – such as a public health clinic in a mountain town. Nurse Practitioners usually work under the supervision of a medical doctor, although the doctor might not be on-site.

• Certified Nurse Midwives perform many of the same functions as obstetricians and gynecologists in that they provide care throughout all stages of pregnancy, including routine gynecological care during the pre-pregnancy stage, prenatal care during pregnancy, performing the delivery, and caring for the mother and child during the postpartum period. Like Nurse Practitioners, they can often be found in areas where the services of a medical doctor might not be available. They are also an alternative for women who prefer the services of a midwife over a hospital birth.

• Nurse Epidemiologists are a combination of nurses and research scientists. They perform regular nursing duties but they also conduct investigations, review patients for infection risks, and help develop protocols for preventing infection. Nurse epidemiologists can usually be found in hospitals and public health centers. They can also be found in the field, during disease outbreaks, providing care to the infected and working to prevent the spread of the disease. For example, Kaci Hickox, who was detained in New York in November 2014, was a Nurse Epidemiologist in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis.

These are just a few of the jobs that nurses can do with advanced degrees.


Nursing is so much more than just bedpans and thermometers. You can find nurses with advanced degrees in almost every aspect of the medical field, from the research and development in the private and academic sector, to community education.

This is a blog post by Nancy Evans.

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