When it comes to a career in nursing there are so many options to choose from. It can be difficult to wrap your head around the different avenues available to you. You can divide nursing into categories like education level, specialty, work environment, and so on. The thing to remember is the fact that nursing as a profession is pretty wide open because of a nationwide shortage of qualified professionals. If you’re interested in pursuing a nursing career you will have no trouble finding work once you graduate and earn your license.
For the purposes of helping you understand the many different types of nurses, we’ll discuss a little bit about education levels and then move into different work environments. For the most part, it’s the work environment that determines a nurse’s career path. Once you find the work environment you enjoy you can always further your education if it’s required for career advancement.
There are four basic categories of nurses in terms of education level:
- licensed vocational nurse (LVN)
- registered nurse (RN)
- registered nurse with a bachelor of science degree (BSN)
- nurse practitioner (NP)
The licensed vocational nurse is the entry-level nurse whose education puts her above a certified nursing assistant (CNA) but below a registered nurse. The LVN typically will earn an associate degree in a two-year program at a community college or nursing school. There are also many LVN programs that offer 12 to 16 month certification courses. Once in the profession, the LVN can provide all the basic level care to patients like bathing and grooming, checking vital signs, and administering some medications. More complex tasks will be off-limits to the LVN. Because vocational nurses don’t have as much training as a registered nurse, the LVN salary is significantly lower than RNs.
The registered nurse might also have an associate degree but will have taken extra courses and learned additional skills. Sometimes the registered nurse has a four year degree as well. The registered nurse is capable of almost all nursing tasks at the clinical level. She is more apt to work in a large hospital or commercial environment than a nursing home or private practice office.
The registered nurse with the Bachelor of Science degree (BSN) definitely has a four year degree and is prepared to be a floor nurse as well as a supervisor. He or she has added responsibilities no matter the work environment.
Finally, the nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with several years of additional education allowing him or her to perform many of the same tasks as a physician. Nurse practitioners often work in private practice offices as assistants to physicians as a means of making the caseload more manageable. Nurse practitioners can diagnose patients, prescribe medications, and layout a treatment plan in most cases.
Private Practice or Office Nurses
Quite often the nurses we interact with on a regular basis are those who work in the private practice doctor’s office. These are the friendly and helpful ladies who greet us as we come in, measure our height and weight, check our blood pressure, and inquire as to the reason for the visit. They also take specimens, give vaccinations, and help the doctor with in-office procedures. Depending on the size of the practice the office nurse may also be involved in handling paperwork and office administrative duties.
Hospital and Clinic Nurses
Public health clinics and hospitals employ an entire army of nurses to handle the many varied types of patient care necessary. These positions are oftentimes more demanding than that of the office nurse simply because of the larger volume of patients and the wider range of medical problems. In a public clinic setting the duties of the nurse are very similar to that of a private practice nurse except on a larger scale. The one exception is that the clinical nurse probably won’t be performing office duties.
In a hospital setting the duties of the nurse are wholly dependent on the department she works in. For example, the emergency room nurse will be heavily engaged in first aid, trauma, and assisting doctors in life-and-death situations. On the other hand, the obstetrics nurse will concentrate on delivering mothers and their babies. They help in labor and delivery, infant care, and parent education. While not necessarily as stressful as working in the emergency room, the obstetrics department offers special challenges of its own.
Because the departments in a hospital are so numerous and different, it would be impossible to give details about each one. But rest assured there are specialized nurses in every department including pediatrics, oncology, radiology, immunology, cardiology, intensive care, and even hospice.
Assisted Living Nurses
Our next category of nurse is the one who works in the nursing home or assisted living facility. These nurses might have the most difficult job of all due to tight budgets, long hours, low pay, and patients who can be very difficult to deal with at times. More often than not the nurses working at such facilities are LVNs. Thankfully the vast majority of them are extremely professional and dedicated to providing quality care to their patients. Their typical duties include all facets of daily patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse.
A relatively new phenomenon in the nursing industry is that of the traveling nurse. Because there is such a nationwide shortage it’s difficult for medical facilities to replace nurses who might be out for vacation, maternity leave, or some other purpose. Medical staffing agencies provide temporary nurses to fill those staffing needs so that medical facilities don’t have to worry about a replacement. The traveling nurse is in a unique position, if for no other reason than the ability to travel and see new places.
The traveling nurse industry needs professionals with all levels of education and specialty. Nurses will take temporary assignments lasting anywhere from 3 to 12 months before moving on to the next one. The pay is competitive when you take into account a staffing agency normally pays travel expenses and provides housing. Being a traveling nurse is a great way to see the country, or even the world if you like, while practicing a profession you love.
Home Health Nurses
An occupation similar to that of the traveling nurse, but on a local scale, is the home health nurse. The home health nurse provides routine daily care to a variety of patients who are home bound. This nurse typically works in concert with home health aides and CNAs to provide as much care as the individual patient needs. Some nurses prefer this type of work because of the freedom of being out of the office. At the same time the unpredictable nature of treating patients in their homes can make it a bit taxing.
Occupational nurses are those who provide care in the non-medical workplace. For example, nurses at public schools and company first aid offices are considered occupational nurses. These nurses can be LVNs or RNs depending on the needs of the particular environment. They are there to perform first aid in the event that a worker or student is injured or falls ill. In some cases they might also offer counseling services to workers or students with health concerns.
We’ve given you just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the types of nurses and some of the things they do. Rest assured there’s a whole lot more to the nursing profession than what we’ve discussed here. For more information about nursing as a career consider talking to family and friends already in the profession, contacting one of the nursing programs close to you, or even visiting some nurses at your local hospital or doctor’s office. We also cover a whole lot more information on specific nursing types through this website.