April 18, 2024

Exploring the Levels of Nursing: A Guide to Advancing Your Nursing Career

A group of nursing students in scrubs sit at desks in class and laugh together.

Nursing is a dynamic and rewarding profession that offers various levels of practice, each with its own unique responsibilities, opportunities, and educational requirements. Whether you're just starting your nursing journey or looking to advance your career, understanding the different levels of nursing can help you set and achieve your professional goals. 

In this blog, we'll explore the levels of nursing from the lowest to the highest in terms of educational requirements. Let’s dive in and learn about the range of options available to current and aspiring nurses.

1. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified Nursing Assistants, also known as CNAs, are certificate-level healthcare professionals who provide basic patient care under the supervision of licensed nurses. CNAs typically work in nursing homes, hospitals, and long-term care facilities, assisting patients with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and feeding. To become a CNA, individuals must complete a state-approved training program and pass a competency exam.

Learn how to become a CNA >

2. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are licensed healthcare professionals who provide direct patient care under the supervision of registered nurses or physicians. LPNs/LVNs perform tasks such as administering medication, taking vital signs, and providing wound care. To become an LPN/LVN, individuals must complete a state-approved practical nursing program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam for licensure.

Learn how to become an LPN >

3. Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered Nurses (RNs) are healthcare professionals who have completed either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program and have passed the NCLEX-RN exam for licensure. RNs provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and their families about various health conditions, administer medications, and perform diagnostic tests and treatments. RNs can work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and community health centers.

Learn how to become a registered nurse >

4. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are RNs who have completed advanced education and training in a specialized area of nursing practice. There are four common types of APRNs:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP): NPs provide primary and specialty healthcare services, including diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses, prescribing medications, and ordering diagnostic tests.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Nurse Clinicians are experts in a specific area of nursing practice and provide direct patient care, consultation, education, and research.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): CNMs provide healthcare services to women, including prenatal care, childbirth assistance, and gynecological care.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): CRNAs administer anesthesia and monitor patients during surgical procedures, childbirth, and other medical treatments. Learn more about the role of CRNAs.

To become an APRN, individuals must complete a master's or doctoral degree in their specialty area, obtain national certification, and obtain state licensure.

Which nursing role is right for you?

The nursing profession offers a wide range of career opportunities at various levels of practice, from certificate-level positions such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to advanced practice roles like Nurse Practitioner (NP) or Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). No one nursing role is better than another, and choosing the right role is an individual decision that will be unique to each nurse and their needs.

By understanding the levels of nursing and the educational requirements associated with each level, aspiring nurses can chart a clear path for career advancement and professional growth in the field of nursing.

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