Types of nursing careers

Common Types of Nurses and What They Do

In the United States, nursing is (by far) the largest healthcare profession—and it shows no signs of slowing down. Millions of nursing professionals are employed throughout the nation, and yet there is still an incredible need for more nurses to step up to the plate. This is due to a record-breaking aging population: more elderly folks are requiring healthcare services than ever, and more jobs are opening up as older nurses retire from the field.

If you are exploring a career in nursing, now is the time to get involved. On top of the high demand and opportunities, this industry also boasts lucrative salary potential, upward mobility, job flexibility, and a diversity of career options where you can make an impact.

The career options available are, perhaps, one of the most cited reasons to become a nurse today. There are many different types of nurses out there, and many different titles and specialties you can pursue within the field. There are also many advanced nursing roles you can grow into, with ongoing experience and education. As you consider your future in nursing, your first step should be to decide which type of nurse you wish to become. This decision will inform the type of nursing program you then pursue.

Let’s explore the fundamental types of nurses and what they do to contribute to the greater healthcare system.

1. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A licensed practical nurse (LPN), also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some states, is a type of nursing professional who provides basic patient care under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. Becoming an LPN is one of the fastest tracks to enter the nursing field. These professionals have completed just one to two years of training and education, and earned licensure to practice under the direction of upper-level providers.

What LPNs do:

Licensed practical nurses provide fundamental care to patients, supporting the work of physicians, registered nurses, and other practitioners. Services that LPNs can provide include monitoring vital signs, bathing and dressing patients, administering some medications, dressing and cleaning wounds, and keeping records of patients’ treatments and progress. Perhaps most importantly, LPNs act as liaisons between patients and their primary care providers. LPNs closely monitor patients, ensuring they are comfortable and tended to, and that any patient needs are relayed to RNs and doctors.


Find out more about what LPNs do here!


2. Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses (RNs) are perhaps the most widely-known and recognized type of nurse, with over three million RNs employed in the U.S. today. Registered nurses provide and coordinate care for patients who are sick, injured, and disabled. They take on a great amount of responsibility in treating patients, educating family members, promoting preventive health measures, and directing other support staff in a variety of clinical settings. Due to their many important job duties, registered nurses are required to have at least an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in Nursing, as well as hands-on nursing experience and an active RN license (earned by examination). These steps ensure RNs can provide safe, high-quality care and make informed decisions regarding patients’ health.

What RNs do:

Registered nurses take on an array of different responsibilities, starting from the moment a patient enters the exam room. RNs are responsible for conducting patient assessments, performing physical exams, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan. RNs must also administer medications, offer hands-on care, as well as monitor patients’ progress and responses to treatment. On top of these patient care duties, registered nurses can also be found educating patients and their families, advocating for patients’ needs, and supervising LPNs and nursing aides who are helping on their case.

Of course, the role of the registered nurse can vary greatly depending on one’s workplace and specialty. Many RNs become specialized or certified in particular areas of nursing, and take on titles that require more concentrated job duties. For example, RNs have the option to pursue specializations in pediatrics, oncology, trauma, women’s health, critical care, and more. Learn about popular RN specialties here.


Interested in learning more about the RN role? Read all about the registered nurse’s responsibilities here.


3. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is a highly trained and educated nurse who has obtained advanced clinical training and education beyond that required of a registered nurse. Specifically, APRNs must pursue a graduate or professional degree in nursing, such as an MSN. With this, APRNs earn a high level of autonomy in clinical settings and can serve as primary and specialty care providers. Unlike other types of nurses, APRNs can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, manage cases, and deliver comprehensive care as the leading provider on a patient’s medical team.

What APRNs do:

There are a few different types of APRNs, each with distinct roles and specializations. The most common type of advanced practice registered nurse is a nurse practitioner (NP), who provides primary and specialty patient care services. Nurse practitioners often specialize in certain areas of nursing, such as family practice, mental health, pediatrics, women’s health, and more.

Other types of APRNs include the clinical nurse specialist (CNS), who offers direct patient care, case consultation, clinical research, and education to up-and-coming providers, the nurse anesthetist, who is responsible for administering anesthesia and related care, as well as the nurse midwife, who provides prenatal, labor and delivery, postpartum, and gynecological care.


Learn more about what an APRN is and what they do!


Which type of nurse will you become?

These three types of nurses – LPNs, RNs, and APRNs – make up the most essential areas of the nursing field. While each title varies in its job duties and requirements, all of these nursing professions come with great responsibility and reward. No matter which you pursue, you will have the ability to make an impact on the lives, the health, and the well-being of others.

As reflected by the American Nurses Association (ANA), “Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities; prevention of illness and injury; facilitation of healing; alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response; and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations.”

This definition can be applied to all types of nurses, of all education levels, and is core to what nurses do: They provide important services wherever there are patients in need of care.

So, which type of nurse will you become? Which nursing title resonates most with you, and which pathway feels the most achievable for you? As you consider these options and what you will do next, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time can I commit to nursing school?

Each type of nurse requires a different time investment in school. As you can see above, the LPN role is the fastest route into nursing, with the RN pathway also offering shorter-term options. Advanced practice roles require more advanced education and, therefore, more years in school.

  • How much autonomy and authority do I want in my nursing career?

Of course, with more education and training comes more autonomy in your career. Of the above types of nurses, LPNs experience the least amount of autonomy, as they work under the direction of registered nurses and other healthcare providers. Registered nurses are self-directed caregivers in clinical settings, but still act under doctors, physicians, and nurse practitioners. APRNs have the highest level of independence and accountability in patient care, acting as primary care providers.

  • How important is salary potential?

Education also pays off when it comes to nursing careers. On average, LPNs in the United States earn just under $60,000 per year. Meanwhile, RNs earn roughly $86,000 annually, on average, with the potential to earn six figures in certain environments. APRNs earn the highest salary of all, ranging from $126,000 to $213,000 per year, depending on the type of advanced practice role.

Many nurses start out as LPNs or RNs, earning their certificate in Practical Nursing or an associate degree in Nursing to enter the field fast. The associate degree in Nursing is the most popular option for aspiring nurses, as it can be completed in just a couple of years and lead to an autonomous patient care role. After this step is complete, and experience is gained, many nurses will go back to school to complete their bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in Nursing. Working through these steps enables nurses to enter the workforce fast, build valuable experience in patient care, and qualify for flexible, online BSN and APRN programs to advance their careers down the road.

Which path will you take? If you are looking to become a nurse in Connecticut, Goodwin University can help you get started. We are a renowned nursing school in CT with several different types of nursing programs. You can become an LPN, RN, APRN, or nurse administrator through our programs.


Learn more by visiting us online, here!