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Types of Nurses

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 6/23/2022

When considering enrolling in a nursing degree program, it's essential to think about your short- and long-term career goals and how far you want your education to take you. A nursing program can help you develop the foundational skills necessary to springboard your career in various directions depending on who you choose to care for, how, and where. However, there are so many choices that it may be helpful to take it one step at a time by choosing which type of nurse to become and then exploring your options for nursing positions and specializations within that discipline.

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What Are the Different Types of Nurses?

There are five main types of nurses providing direct care to patients. They include certified nurse assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), and APRNs with their doctor of nursing practice (DNP).

There are nursing jobs to aspire to within these occupations by further specializing and honing skills to treat certain conditions, work with specific patient populations, and provide care in various settings.

Education Level Type Description Job Titles/Specializations
Certificate CNA Under the supervision of an LPN or RN, CNAs clean and bathe patients, turn and reposition patients in bed, measure vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature, and help patients with basic needs, such as dressing and eating.
  • Certified Home Health Aide
  • Certified Medical Aide
  • Home Attendant
  • Hospice Aide
  • Patient Care Assistant
  • Licensed Nursing Assistant
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) LPN An LPN — sometimes called an LVN (licensed vocational nurse) — works under RNs and takes a patient's vital statistics, monitors and records changes in a patient's health, assists with wound care, and may help RNs pre-and post-surgery.
  • Charge Nurse
  • Clinical Nurse
  • Home Health Nurse
  • Office Nurse
  • Private Duty Nurse
  • Radiation Oncology Nurse
  • Surgical Nurse Assistant
  • Triage Nurse
ADN or Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN) RN Working under the supervision of advanced nurses and doctors, RNs assess health conditions, administer treatments and medicines, order and perform diagnostic tests, operate and monitor medical equipment, and educate patients and their families about various health conditions.
Master's Degree in Nursing (MSN) or DNP APRN APRNs earn their graduate degree to provide advanced and specialized medical care and perform physical exams, diagnose health problems, evaluate a patient's response to medication, consult with doctors, analyze diagnostic test results, and conduct research.
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner
  • Advanced Practice Critical Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Womens' Health Care Nurse Practitioner

What Type of Nurse Should I Be?

Your interests, financial situation, and career goals all play a role in dictating the career path you ultimately take and the population you wish to treat. It's also important to note that the more education you receive and the higher the degree, the more opportunities you may have to choose from and potentially earn more money. If you earn a graduate degree, you may go on to become a nurse practitioner or use your skills to teach nursing or conduct research. It can also help to determine where the demand for nurses is greatest to identify fields with the most growth potential.

Where Do Nurses Work?

Nurses can be found in any location where people may be at risk of illness and injury and are seeking treatment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 61% of RNs work in hospital settings, and 47% of APRNs and NPs work in physicians' offices. However, nurses work in all kinds of medical and non-medical settings:

  • Birthing centers Correctional facilities
  • Emergency rooms
  • Home healthcare services
  • Insurance companies
  • Military bases
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Onsite workplace clinics
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Pharmacies
  • Physicians' offices
  • Psychiatric centers
  • Public health clinics
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Substance use disorder centers
  • Surgical centers
  • Schools
  • Specialty clinics
  • Telehealth services
  • Trauma centers
  • Urgent care clinics

Other more unconventional settings include kids' summer camps, cruise ships, amusement parks, airplanes, faith communities, oil rigs, TV or movie sets as a medical script nurse, or within the criminal justice system as a legal nurse consultant. One of the newest nursing disciplines is that of cannabis nurses who treat patients with medical marijuana. The American Cannabis Nurses Association provides information on this unique career, including educational opportunities, networking events, and job listings.

Nurses who no longer wish to practice but want to remain in the field can still apply their skills outside of providing direct patient care. They may work as case managers and consultants in large healthcare organizations or work for smaller community nonprofits. Retired nurses can use their knowledge and experience to support healthcare policy, increase access to healthcare, and provide health education to the public.

What Are the Highest Paying Nursing Fields?

The median annual salary for an APRN can be one of the highest. The lowest 10% of APRNs earn less than $79,870, while the highest earn over $200,540. A hospital is usually the highest-paying setting. Occupations within the APRN field include:

Nurse anesthetist — $195,610 annual median salary

Nurse practitioner — $120,680 annual median salary

Nurse midwife — $112,830 annual median salary

Nurses working in hospitals who assume leadership roles and become health services managers and healthcare administrators can also earn relatively high salaries. They make a $119,450 annual median salary in hospitals, with the highest 10% of employees in the field earning over $205,620.

What Is the Job Outlook for Nurses?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 9% job growth rate for registered nurses, which is on par with the national average. This could equate to over a quarter of a million job openings through 2030. The growth rate is similar for CNAs and LPNs. However, these numbers may increase due to employee turnover. A fall 2021 McKinsey survey found that 32% of RNs are thinking about leaving their current direct-patient care role, up 10 percent from early 2021.

In contrast, the BLS predicts a 45% job growth rate for APRNs. This would equate to over 121,000 new APRN positions through 2030. It's also predicted that the skills of these advanced practice nurses will increasingly be of use in team-based models of healthcare in hospitals, physicians' offices, and ambulatory care settings.

What Types of Nurses Are Most in Demand?

Some nursing disciplines are more in demand than others, which may help you decide where to direct your efforts. For example, geriatric nursing is an area of great need. As the U.S. population ages, there is an increasing demand for nurses who provide care to senior citizens living longer than ever and often with several health conditions requiring treatment. Other types of nurses who are in demand are those who specialize in providing care for the following conditions:




Head injuries



Settings that need nurses include outpatient clinics that administer treatments such as chemotherapy, rehabilitation centers, residential and long-term care facilities, and surgical centers.

Nursing Career Paths

Your career path may evolve as you gain experience. While you may enter the career as a CNA or LPN, you may find your niche during those early years and feel planted or seek career advancement to become an RN or APRN. This most likely will require additional education or certification and always requires maintaining an active nursing license that's in good standing.

Mid-career nurses or those entering retirement may choose to use their skills and years of experience to teach new generations of nurses. This may lead some to nursing schools or universities for work as nursing instructors. There is currently a nursing faculty shortage forcing nursing programs to turn away students because there are not enough qualified educators. Others may opt for roles in administration and work as organizational leaders writing and implementing healthcare policy, managing programs, or directing the day-to-day operations of health systems.

FAQs About the Different Types of Nurses

What Type of Education Is Required to Be a Nurse?

This varies by nursing type and specialty. Formal education from an accredited school and program is required for every level, from CNA to APRN and NP. For example, you'll need a certificate to become a CNA, an ADN to become an LPN or RN, a BSN to become an RN, and an MSN or DNP to become an NP.

How Many Types of Nurses Are There?

There are generally five types of nurses defined by their education and experience. They include CNAs, LPNs, RNs, APRNs, and APRNs with a DNP. Nurses can further specialize within these disciplines to become home health aides, surgical assistants, neonatal nurses, clinical nurse specialists, critical care nurses, cardiac nurses, family nurse practitioners, and oncology nurses to name a few.

What Are the Different Ranks of Nurses?

A CNA is considered the lowest-ranking nursing position, while an APRN with a DNP is the highest. Ranking depends on the level of education, training, and certifications. While a CNA doesn't require licensure, anything above the rank of LPN generally does.

Which Nurses Are the Happiest?

Happiness may have more to do with the working environment than the nursing specialty. The happiest nurses may be the ones whose priorities feel met. These priorities can include working in a safe environment, having a stable work-life balance, working with caring and trusting coworkers, doing meaningful and fulfilling work, and having a flexible schedule. According to CareerExplorer, nurse practitioners may be the most satisfied with their careers.

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