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What are the levels of nursing and degrees required?

By Cooper Nelson

At a glance

  • Nursing encompasses a variety of careers that require different levels of education, credentials and work experience.
  • To become a registered nurse, one must complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing NCLEX-RN® licensure examination.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about the field of nursing, check out the online nursing degree programs at University of Phoenix.

The field of nursing is filled with a variety of job opportunities. These careers call for different levels of education, credentials and work experience.

Levels of nursing can be broken down by the type of certification or degree required. There are certified, degree and advanced degree positions, and different responsibilities and compensation accompany each level. Some nursing professionals can only work under the supervision of a licensed nurse and provide basic care for patients such as feeding and bathing. Other nursing professionals are qualified to work autonomously and prescribe medications.

If you’re interested in a career in nursing, it’s important to understand the different levels of nursing so you can set career goals and plan your continuing education.

NCLEX-RN is a registered trademark of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.

Certified nursing assistant

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) work under the direction of licensed nurses to provide basic care and support to patients. CNAs are a vital part of the healthcare system, working to keep patients comfortable during their treatment. They perform many tasks, including feeding, bathing, toileting, grooming and dressing patients.

They may also be responsible for monitoring a patient’s health status and administering medications.

  • As of May 2021, certified nursing assistants earned between $23,880 and $44,240, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • To become a CNA, you must attend a state-approved education program. Prior to this program, students typically have at least a high school degree.
  • After finishing your training program, you’ll need to pass a competency certification exam to be eligible for hire.

Becoming a CNA is a great career choice for someone interested in working with patients as soon as possible. It’s also a valid option for nursing students who are pursuing advanced degrees but want to gain experience working with patients in the meantime.

University of Phoenix does not offer a CNA program. Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is not geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Licensed practical nurse

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) (in some states, the term “licensed vocational nurse,” or LVN, is used for the same license/occupation level) works under the supervision of a registered nurse in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and similar institutions. LPNs monitor and record patients’ health status throughout the day, documenting such information as blood pressure, weight, heart rate, urine output, digestive activity, temperature, respiration, hydration and nutrition. They report abnormal assessment findings to RNs for follow-up with nursing interventions and prescribed further nursing care.

Licensed practical nurses also provide basic care and treatments such as dressing wounds, treating bedsores and performing catheterizations. Additionally, LPNs are responsible for supervising nursing assistants, answering patients’ calls and administering prescribed medications.

Becoming an LPN lets you build leadership skills by working with nursing assistants and gain valuable nursing experience.

The University of Phoenix does not offer an LPN program. Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is not geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Registered nurse

A registered nurse (RN) is qualified to assess a patient’s health problems and needs, create and implement a nursing care plan, and maintain medical records.

Registered nurses work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, schools and more. A bachelor’s in nursing even qualifies a nurse to apply for U.S. military officer status. Nurses are vital to many patients’ health and recovery and are a source of information and education for patients’ families as well as members of the public.

Registered nurses also supervise other healthcare professionals, such as licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses and certified nursing assistants.

  • As of May 2021, registered nurses earned between $59,450 and $120,250 annually, according to BLS.
  • To become a registered nurse, there are three paths. An associate or bachelor’s degree are two options. A third is to receive a diploma from an approved nursing program. They then need to be licensed in their state.
  • After earning your degree, a process that generally takes two to four years, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to be eligible for licensure.
  • Licensure requirements to become an RN can vary by state, so it’s important to research your desired state’s requirements ahead of time.  

If you’re interested in a typical 9-to-5 work schedule, a position at a doctor’s office might be best. If you want to experience new cities, a job as a travel nurse may align better with your goals. 

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Nurse managers and directors

Although an advanced master’s degree in nursing is often preferred for leadership positions in clinical practice, nurse managers or directors need at least a bachelor’s degree to be considered. Nurse managers are responsible for overseeing the entire nursing staff at their workplace. This includes setting work schedules, evaluating nurse performance, making budgeting decisions and coordinating meetings. Professionals looking to move into this position should prepare for less direct patient interaction in their day-to-day life.

Managers help create a healthy work environment for nurses and, by extension, improve patient care.

Advanced practice registered nurse

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are a part of a specific subsection of the nursing field. These professionals may have earned a master’s degree in nursing or higher, and train to work within a certain specialty or with a specific demographic.

APRNs can assess and diagnose patients, order tests and prescribe medications. These nurses have a great deal of autonomy in their practice, and other medical professionals respect their knowledge and expertise.

Certified nurse practitioner

A certified nurse practitioner (CNP) is a nursing professional who specializes in family medicine, in neonatal, pediatric or geriatric medicine, women’s health/sex-related health or mental health. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioners Faculties is moving to endorse all CNPs to be prepared with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

CNPs can function in a variety of roles beyond diagnosing and treating diseases, including health education and disease prevention. CNPs can work with a great deal of autonomy as they provide treatment to their patients.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) provides anesthesia services to patients. Unlike a CNP or a CNS, a CRNA does not specialize in a specific area of healthcare. Instead, CRNAs provide anesthesia-related care to all kinds of patients.

CRNAs commonly work in surgical suites at hospital, obstetrical delivery suites, plastic surgeons’ offices, dental offices and pain management specialists’ offices.

Certified nurse-midwife

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) is a nursing professional who provides health services for women. These services include gynecologic care, family planning and prenatal care, and childbirth. CNMs also help women with postpartum care and the care of newborn babies.

CNMs work in many different settings, from private practices to clinics. They help women give birth at home, in birthing centers and in hospitals.

No matter the kind of APRN, they’re able to benefit from the autonomy and expertise afforded to nursing professionals of this level.

The University of Phoenix only offers programs for CNS in Family Practice and Psychiatric Mental Health. Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is not geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

If you’re a nurse interested in earning an even higher degree than a master’s, you can earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This degree is a great option if you want to be qualified for nursing roles such as a clinical nursing instructor, nurse educator or health information management director. It can also be a good choice for nursing professionals interested in earning a terminal degree.

You could prepare to be a professor or clinical nursing instructor at an accredited nursing school. By earning your doctorate, you can contribute to the education and training of the next generation of nurses.

No matter what level of education you’re interested in pursuing, there is a nursing opportunity to match. Nurses of all levels help countless patients and make a difference every day.

Earn a degree in nursing at University of Phoenix

If you’re eager to grow your knowledge and skill set within the nursing field, University of Phoenix offers several degrees to consider, depending on your current occupational status. Here are just a few:

 

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