An Introduction to Nursing Careers

If you think all nursing careers are the same, it’s time for you to think again. There are hundreds of different types of nurses working all over the country in hospitals, clinics, colleges and universities, public schools, corporate settings, doctors offices, optometrist’s office, and on and on. Not only that, there also are different levels of nursing before you even get into individual specialties. There are so many choices that many nurses in America find their career constantly evolving as they close the door on old opportunities and open doors on new ones.

In the following paragraphs we’ll give you an overview of the different levels of nursing along with a handful of specialties that might interest you. Keep in mind that this information is by no means comprehensive. If you do research on all the different types of nursing jobs available you could literally be at it for weeks, if not months. This is designed to simply whet your appetite and get you thinking about nursing in general. If you have specific questions you would do well to contact a nursing school or speak to someone already in the industry.

Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

The licensed vocational nurse is considered an entry level nurse in the healthcare field. He or she is the individual you typically see when you go to your family practice doctor for a routine checkup. The LVN checks you in, takes your height and weight, escorts you to the examination room, takes your vital signs, and does a preliminary interview. He or she will then consult with a registered nurse or nurse practitioner (if there’s one on staff) or directly with the physician.

An LVN earns his or her license by completing one of the many available LVN programs. These programs typically take no longer than one year. These programs teach students the basic concepts of nursing and gives them hands-on experience in completing routine, everyday tasks. There are some medical courses involved, but they are not as stringent as RN programs. LVN graduates will be required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) in order to graduate. Some states require a second state licensing exam on top of the NCLEX-PN. Once the student passes the state boards, she/he is able to begin working within their scope of practice. The average entry level LVN salary is quite a bit lower than that of registered nurses.

Registered Nurse (RN)

The registered nurse is the most common type of nurse in the industry. You can become a registered nurse by earning either an associate of science in nursing (ASN) or Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) degree. The ASN program is the shorter of the two, being eligible for completion in two years. ASN students learn the same things as LVN students with an extra focus on day-to-day tasks. It’s not uncommon for registered nurses to get their ASN degree first, then go to work while they’re finish their education for a DSN or master degree (MSM).

An RN who completes a four-year BSN program will study liberal arts, day-to-day nursing tasks, and more advanced medical courses. He or she will have more opportunities upon graduation and will generally have a higher starting rate of compensation. If you’re thinking of a career in nursing you need to know that a BSN degree is fast becoming the bare minimum employers will accept.

Nurse Anesthetist

A nurse anesthetist is an advanced degree nurse specializing in the area of anesthesiology. The duties of this type of nurse vary from state to state, with some allowing such individuals to administer anesthesia under the supervision of a physician or certified anesthesiologist. Other states only allow this type of nurse to assist in administering anesthesia. In either case, the nurse anesthetist monitors patients while under anesthesia and might help in providing care during recovery.

In order to become a nurse anesthetist one must first complete a BSN program. From there the candidate must also undertake graduate level education specific to the requirements of each state. Finally, the nurse must receive board certification from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). In order to receive that certification, candidates must demonstrate they have completed their course of study and pass a certification exam.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

The clinical nurse specialist is also an advanced degree nurse who has earned at least a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a clinical nursing specialty. Many clinical nurse specialists go as far as getting a doctorate degree as well. Becoming this type of nurse requires a high commitment of time and financial resources — to the tune of eight to ten years of heavy duty, full-time study. Once the master or doctorate degree is earned the nurse is fully prepared for the tasks that lie ahead.

Clinical nurse specialists do participate in the direct care of patients according to their area of specialty. How much they participate however, is a matter of the particular position the individual holds. It could be as comprehensive as the duties of a BSN registered nurse or more of a supervisory and consultancy role.

Some clinical nurse specialists do not perform the daily, routine tasks you would expect to see in an emergency room or a doctor’s office at all. Instead, these individuals are professionals whose goal is to advance the nursing profession and increase the quality of patient care. They do so by concentrating on such things as:

  • methods to improve the performance of nurses in the field
  • helping individual nurses pursue career advancement goals
  • developing ways to improve the overall effectiveness of healthcare delivery systems

To make it as simple to understand as possible, the work of the clinical nurse specialist is more philosophical than practical. His or her job is to take the resources available and use them to help improve the nursing profession as a whole. It’s quite a departure from what we normally think of when we consider nursing as a career.

Nurse Practitioner

Perhaps you’re already familiar with the nurse practitioner from your own primary care physician’s office. This type of nurse also has an advanced degree, either at the master or doctorate level. The nurse practitioner has national accreditation and generally concentrates on a single specialty such as family practice, pediatrics, or oncology. The most striking difference between the nurse practitioner and lower degree’d nurses lies in the types of tasks he or she is able to perform.

For example, a nurse practitioner in a family practice is allowed to provide much of the care that would otherwise be provided by a physician. He or she will examine a patient, formulate a diagnosis, and even suggest a course of treatment. Nurse practitioner can write prescriptions, order tests, make referrals, and supervise the total care of a patient. In 25 states they can practice independently without the requirement of a supervising physician.

We’ve given you here just an overview of the nursing profession. We encourage you to check into other sources of information if you’d like to know more. Suffice it to say, nursing is an exciting and expanding career choice with plenty of opportunity. If it is the career choice for you, we wish you well!