Anyone interested in a career within the field of nursing may be perplexed as to all the various initials and degrees or certifications necessary to become a nurse on any level, within any category. Whether you are a young person searching for a career with a future or someone who is interested in switching professions midstream, nursing offers layer upon layer of opportunities based on the level of education and number of years’ experience. If you landed here to learn about what it takes to become a nurse, understanding these categories and subsequent levels is the place to start.
A Quick Rundown
Sometimes the confusion is the result of various ways to approach a category within nursing. For example, Registered Nurses do not always need to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Some registered nurses take a two-year course at a vocational school, for example, and although they fall within the same category, that of a registered nurse, they are not exactly on the same level as one who holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing, BSN.
Also, pay rates will vary between the two levels within the category. Obviously, nurses with a four-year degree warrant a higher starting base rate than one who completed two years at much less the time, effort, and cost. That is not to say that RNs with an associate of science in nursing or a vocational RN certification is any less prepared to take on the duties within the scope of their job. With that said, one difference is often the specialization curriculum available within a 4-year degree.
A BSN Via an Alternate Route
Before getting a closer look at the three main categories, let’s look again at a nurse with a BSN. Since we began with looking at the two main ways of becoming a registered nurse, it is probably good to get a look at that alternate route available. It is also possible for someone who holds a Bachelor of Science in another discipline to take an accelerated nursing program online. This is a somewhat abbreviated way to get that degree in that the student only needs to take the core courses within nursing. It usually takes about 62 credit hours and can be accomplished in less than a year, or equivalent to two semesters.
For example, the accelerated nursing program online offered by Baylor University is available for anyone in any state but living outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area. These students are encouraged to register for on campus classes. With that said, although it’s thought of as ‘abbreviated,’ it really is in addition to the four years an applicant has already completed in another discipline. Even so, it makes switching careers easier because the student can continue in their current profession until graduation and state boards.
Finally – Those 3 Categories!
Now, here is the information you were all waiting for. The three main categories within nursing consist of:
- Certified Nursing Assistant
- Registered Nurses
But wait just one minute! What about NPs, nurse practitioners? Actually, that is a level within the category of registered nurses which we shall discuss in a moment. Those are the three main categories to choose between when considering a career in nursing, so let’s look at each a little closer.
Certified Nursing Assistant
This is the most basic of nursing careers and some nurses began their journey toward becoming a registered nurse at this level. Typically, it takes between 4 to 8 weeks to complete the training at a state recognized school or facility. Upon completion of course work and clinicals, a CNA needs to pass a state exam to earn their certification to begin working. Each state has its own rules and regulations, but in general, CNAs perform routine patient care. Some states allow CNAs to administer specific types of medication and here again, every state is different.
Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse
This level of nursing provides patient care as the primary liaison between the patient and the care team. The only difference between an LPN and an LVN is the name. It depends on the state and institution as to exactly what they are called, but to become an LPN/LVN it requires approximately one year of education and clinicals. LPNs also need to pass an examination after graduation, prior to earning their license. This is a national test, the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurse, or NCLEX-PN.
Finally, the last category is that of registered nurses, RNs. Of the three categories, RNs have the most responsibility and depending on where they are employed, they may also be in charge of CNAs and LPNs. A hospital floor’s “charge nurse” is always a registered nurse. There are two avenues of approach to carrying the designation of RN, one being a two-year degree and the other a four-year BSN, Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Most states accept both an Associate of Science in Nursing as well as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing for qualification to take the NCLEX-RN exam. With that said, the State of New York recently passed legislation (2018) that requires RNs to hold a bachelor’s degree.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
As promised, let’s now look at advance practice nurses. These are registered nurses who have completed graduate work in nursing and their career paths can keep them in patient care but can also lead them to administrative or academic career paths. As a rule of thumb, a professor teaching college courses needs to hold a degree at least one level above the classes they will be teaching. Therefore, a registered nurse teaching in college should have no less than an MSN, Master of Science in Nursing. Academics teaching graduate courses are required to hold a Doctorate in Nursing with a focus on education. Hospital administrators have a focus on management and then there are Nurse Practitioners who can function in much the same capacity as MDs.
This has been a very short guide to the three main categories within the field of nursing, each carrying various levels of responsibility and of course, various grades within a pay scale. The best place to compare salaries within each of these categories would be the Bureau of Labor Statistics because they update their figures at least once a year. If you are interested in nursing as a career, this information gives you a place to begin your quest in choosing which level you would like to pursue. Happy hunting!