Nursing is a stable, high-paying position in the healthcare field. The nursing profession can require anywhere from one month of study at the CNA level to more than 5 years to obtain a doctoral level nursing degree. Potential nursing students should note that the time required to earn a specific qualification, salary and examination requirements for certain roles may vary slightly by school or state.
Certificate and Diploma Level
Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA)
The CNA is the ideal level to begin in the nursing profession. The Certified Nurse Assistant handles patient care needs. The CNAs duties primarily include personal care, such as bathing and managing bodily fluids in cases of incontinence or dialysis. They can work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities as well as hospitals. CNAs typically make about $1,500 per month.
CNA programs are usually offered at the community college level and can be completed in one semester/two quarters of study. Some programs at the undergraduate degree level require nurses to complete a CNA course as part of their studies. In fact, it is considered a good idea by nurses and health professionals to get accustomed to working with bodily fluids, gain experience in the healthcare field and earn income while completing a nursing degree. CNAs must take an exam at the state level to earn certification prior to practicing as a nursing assistant.
LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse)
A Licensed Practical Nurse (or Licensed Vocational Nurse in some states) performs all of the essential functions of a nurse. The only difference is that LPNs do not gain leadership roles, make less income than other nurses and are not able to perform administrative duties. Becoming an LPN usually requires 12-14 months of study. Additionally, LPNs must take the National Council for Licensure Exam for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN) to earn certification as a nurse. LPNs typically earn about $3,000 per month.
RN (Registered Nurse) Diploma
Very few programs still exist that provide RN training without conferring a degree. Registered Nurses that participate in a diploma program usually require three years of study. The role is similar to the LPN role, as nurses with a diploma are not likely to be granted administrative or leadership roles without additional training. The RN diploma program is offered and completed exclusively at hospitals. Upon completing the program nurses must take the NCLEX-RN to become a Registered Nurse.
At the undergraduate level, students can pursue either an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) or BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) to become a Registered Nurse. Typically, the more education a nurse receives, the more they will earn. The BSN has become the industry standard for nurses that would like to be considered for additional opportunities in administration or management. Nurses in leadership roles may complete scheduling or manage floor assignments. The minimum starting salary for an RN is usually $4,00 monthly, though it can largely vary either way depending on years of experience and location. RNs with years of experience that work in specialty areas can earn upwards of $100,000 annually.
At the Graduate Level, a nurse can choose a role as an APRN. The four main roles include Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Anesthetist and Nurse Midwife. Nurses are required to obtain certification to become an APRN.
Nurse Practitioners usually work within a given specialty, such as pediatrics, oncology, women’s health or with the family. They may perform certain aspects of the role which are usually exclusively reserved for doctors. For example, in a doctor’s office, a patient may elect to make an appointment with the NP if the doctor is too busy or perhaps unavailable. NPs can diagnose conditions and prescribe medication.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
A CRNA works with doctors and other health professionals as part of an anesthesia-focused healthcare team. Anesthesia is used anytime a patient requires a procedure when they must be treated while they are in an unconscious state. CRNAs are responsible for medicating patients appropriately during surgery, and therefore have a more intensive career that warrants higher pay, commonly in the six digits.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
A Clinical Nurse Specialist works within in a specialty area as do Nurse Practitioners. Common areas of practice include Acute Care, Geriatric or Adult. Historically, a CNS served in acute care settings, though in present day, a CNS commonly works in non-acute healthcare situations as well.
Certified Nurse Midwife
Nurse Midwives have become popular with the rise in home births and other alternative healthcare for women. The CNM is a women’s health professional, primarily focuses on pre-natal care and delivery. The CNM may also work with general women’s health needs and provide care in the post-partum process. CNM programs are among the least common in the four APRN areas.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
There are two types of doctoral degrees for nurses. The Doctor of Nursing Practice is termed a practical degree. Nurses with this degree primarily hold positions in a healthcare setting, usually in a leadership role managing an area of the hospital or a department. The coursework for the DNP is composed of a case study or paper, rather than a research project most often.
PhD in Nursing
The Nursing PhD is primarily an academic role in which nurses hold a professorship at a university, conduct research or both. They may also work with governmental organizations or nonprofits seeking to make changes to nursing policy. Nursing PhD programs usually require an intensive research project and specialization in an area of study
A select few programs offer a combined DNP and PhD in Nursing degree program. Both programs can take an average of five years or longer to complete if pursued on a part-time basis.
Nurses have a variety of options to accommodate their career preferences. Many educational programs cater to the working nurse, thus allowing nurses to work while they pursue career advancement. For prospective nurses wandering what type of nurses are there, the options are plentiful and in many cases can be further specialized to work with the population or in the specific clinical area of choice.