Finding your Place: What Are the Types of Nursing Positions and Specialities Available?
By: American Nurses Association
A career in nursing offers many different opportunities. The wide variety of positions and specialties available to you mean you can shape your progress however you want. You can work on progression up the hospital hierarchy, aiming for roles like Nurse Practitioner, or concentrate your work on a nursing specialty you’re passionate about, such as Oncology.
Whether you’re already a nurse and are looking to redirect your career, or are just starting out and want to plan your progression, it’s good to get a handle on what each of these different types of nursing positions entail. To get your started, we’ve pulled together key information about common nursing positions to help you decide what’s right for you.
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Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Certified Nursing Assistants are also known as Nursing Assistants, Patient Care Assistants (PCAs), Patient Care Technician (PCT), or Nurse’s Aids. The focus of a CNA is on day-to-day patient care in a medical or long-term care facility. Their duties are carried out under the supervision of a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Registered Nurse (RN). Responsibilities of a CNA often include:
- Bathing, feeding, and caring for patients
- Turning and repositioning patients
- Dressing wounds
- Preparing rooms and gathering supplies for RNs and physicians
- Assisting with medical procedures
Many people pursue a CNA position while training for the role of LPN or RN. The position lets you get used to the operating procedures of a hospital and other medical facilities while giving you hands-on experience with patients and procedures. If you are just getting started in your nursing career, consider working as a CNA before or during your study to build up your practical expertise and bedside manner.
Qualifications: State-certified 6 to 12-week CNA certificate program
Median average salary: $28,530*
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), also known in some states as a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), takes care of basic duties in institutions such as hospitals, care homes, and long-term care facilities. LPNs work under the supervision of RNs and physicians to provide excellent levels of care for patients. Responsibilities commonly include:
- Monitoring and measuring patient vital signs
- Giving and monitoring medication
- Helping patients eat, dress, and bathe
- Updating doctors and nurses on patient statuses
- Maintaining patient records
Working as an LPN lets you get involved in the healthcare profession without the rigorous training required of RNs and physicians. In this role, you’ll be working very closely with your patients, not only contributing to their medical care but helping to improve their day-to-day comfort.
To find out more about being a Licensed Practical Nurse, visit our LPN career page.
Qualifications: National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)
Average median salary: $46,240*
Registered Nurse (RN)
The overarching theme of what Registered Nurses (RNs) do is patient care. Whether they work in hospitals, rehab facilities, care homes, outpatient centres, or other healthcare settings, this central element will underpin the responsibilities of the role. RNs support physicians in providing care and treatment to patients. Key responsibilities often include:
- Observing patients and recording information
- Collecting patient histories
- Interpreting patient information and medical data
- Conducting research to improve patient outcomes
- Consulting with supervisors and physicians to develop patient treatment plans
- Supervising CNAs, LPNs, and other healthcare professionals to deliver care plans
- Performing exams and diagnostic tests
- Educating patients about treatment plans
Being an RN gives you more responsibility for planning your patients’ care. You have more opportunity to impact the treatment patients will receive and will be more involved in diagnostics working alongside a physician.
If you want to find out more about Registered Nurse careers, you can take a look at our career page.
Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Average median salary: $73,550*
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
APRNs are nurses who have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Post-Master’s Certificate, or practice-focused Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP). Through their additional experience and qualifications, APRNs are able to complete a higher level of tasks and handle cases with greater independence than regular RNs. APRNs can fall into one of four specialist roles:
- Nurse Practitioners (NP): NPs take on additional responsibilities for administering patient care. They can prescribe medication, examine patients, and diagnose conditions. In 20 states, NPs can conduct this work independent of physicians. In others, they still need to obtain permission for certain things.
- Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS): CNSs are heavily involved in the planning and optimizing of practices when it comes to patient care. They concentrate much of their time on educating patients and families on how to manage conditions, researching best practices, and analysing patient data and outcomes to improve processes.
- Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs): CNMs undertake similar roles to OB/GYNs. They provide healthcare to women, including family planning, gynaecological care, and prenatal services. They also help women deliver babies safely and naturally. In these cases, CNMs can work independently of physicians to assist with births. If there are complications, or the birth is a c-section, a physician is still needed.
- Certified Nurse Anaesthetists: A Certified Nurse Anaesthetist plays a big part in patient pain management, alongside overseeing recovery. In locations across the US, particularly those away from large hospital complexes, Certified Nurse Anaesthetists are often the main providers of anesthesia for those undergoing surgery and in recovery.
Working towards an APRN position allows you to take more responsibility in your role and opens up greater earning potential. It allows you more independence in your work and more control over how you operate.
For more in-depth information about how to pursue the APRN positions in your career, visit our APRN page for guidance.
ADN or BSN
MSN or higher degree
Average median salary: $113,930*
A Nurse Educator helps to educate the next generation of nurses. In this role you would work in hospitals as well as colleges and other educational settings. Key duties include:
- Planning and delivering a curriculum to meet course aims
- Supporting nursing students throughout their study
- Overseeing lab and clinical work of students
- Delivering lectures on a wide variety of topics
Nurse Educator positions are perfect for those who have developed extensive nursing skills throughout their career and education. In this role, you’ll be able to guarantee quality care for patients for many years to come, passing on important values and considerations to a new generation of student nurses.
If you want more information about the steps you need to take to become a Nurse Educator, we’ve put together more detailed information together for you on our career page.
ADN or BSN
MSN, PhD, or DNP
Average median salary: $78,470* (based on the salary of Post-Secondary Educators)
When it comes to types of nurse, it’s not just their position in hospital hierarchy that can set different roles apart. As a nurse, you’ll find lots of roles open to you that allow you to specialize by subject or area of care. One example of this is med-surgical nurses. Medical-surgical nursing is the biggest nursing specialty in the US. Medical-Surgical Nurses primarily care for hospitalized patients and are responsible for coordinating care for a wide variety of medical conditions. In their role, Medical-Surgical Nurses also assist patients recovering from surgery. They are fantastic multi-taskers. Key responsibilities of the role include:
- Effective and efficient provision of quality patient care
- Co-ordinating patient care plans
- Demonstrating a compassionate approach to patients
- Developing a strong understanding of a wide variety of medical and surgical issues
In this role you will be supporting around 5 to 7 patients at any one time, so you have plenty of opportunity to help a range of patient and develop a speciality.
ADN or BSN
Average median salary: $71,730 (Registered Nurse)
An ER Nurse is an RN, responsible for patient care in the Emergency Room. This role is varied, fast-paced, and allows nurses to treat a huge range of ailments for people of all ages and backgrounds. The role requires quick thinking and fantastic teamwork skills under pressure. Key responsibilities include:
- Monitoring health conditions and vital signs
- Administering medicines
- Using medical equipment
- Performing minor medical operations
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Triaging patients and treating symptoms in order of life-threatening priority
ER nursing is a great opportunity for those who thrive in fast-paced environments. No two days in ER nursing will ever be the same, so the job is full of adrenaline rushes and opportunities to learn.
ADN or BSN
Average median salary: $71,730 (Registered Nurse)
Oncology Nurses specialize in treating and caring for patients who have been diagnosed or are suspected of having any form of cancer. Oncology Nurses work in a range of different settings including hospitals, cancer centres, clinics, physician offices, and hospices. Oncology Nurses are RNs with specialist responsibilities including:
- Educating patients and their families about disease
- Screening patients referred by physicians
- Monitoring patient health throughout treatment
- Developing in-depth knowledge of the expected side effects of cancer treatment
- Co-ordinating patient care
- Administration of cancer treatments
Oncology Nursing can be challenging as you’ll be working with people through trying times. With the continuing advancements of cancer treatments, you’ll also find yourself part of some of the highest points in patients’ lives. Oncology nursing allows you to make a real and significant impact on your patients and their families.
ADN or BSN
Average median salary: $71,730
The types of nurses discussed above should provide some insight into opportunities offered by nursing and where you could move onto if you are already in the sector. There are many other positions and specialties open to you within a career in nursing. If you are passionate about providing care in a specific area, or want to influence policy in a particular sphere, there is ample opportunity for you to do so as you accrue experience and expertise.
For further information about opportunities in nursing sign up for our Nurse Focus newsletter, with up to date advice and information from American Nurses Association.
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