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15 types of nurses — with job descriptions and education requirements

At a glance

  • Employment for registered nurses (RNs) is projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but demand for certain specialties may vary.  
  • Family nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse practitioners are examples of specialties within the nursing profession known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). 
  • To pursue a nursing specialty, employers may require that RNs possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree, industry certifications or extra training.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from University of Phoenix can help registered nurses enhance their careers and pursue advanced positions like charge nurse and director of nursing. Learn more! 

Getting started in the field of nursing

Nursing can be a rewarding and inspiring profession for anyone who wants to make a direct impact on people’s lives. If you’re unfamiliar with what a registered nurse does, RNs play a primary role in the treatment of patients, working alongside physicians in facilities like hospitals and clinics. They interact face-to-face with patients to make medical assessments, record patient histories and administer the treatment prescribed by the physician. RNs work in a variety of settings, which may affect their particular responsibilities.  

If you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse, check out our article on how to become one. There are different types of nurses, and luckily for anyone interested in this topic, you’ll find our article a wide-ranging introduction. Depending on your own passion, abilities and interests, one or more of these nursing specialties may appeal to you. To help explain what each role entails, we’ve compiled job descriptions and education requirements for 15 types of nurses.

By the end of this article, you should be better prepared to identify your unique nursing career path. Let’s dive in! 

What does a career in nursing look like these days?

Since the beginning of the profession, nurses have played a crucial role in patient care and the health of the community. That said, a number of recent factors have impacted what a modern nursing career looks like.  

Let’s look at a few trends in nursing, which will help illustrate what a career in nursing looks like today.

The ubiquity of online nursing degrees

One important consideration when looking at each of these roles is the education, certification and licensure requirements to pursue a specific nursing specialty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that registered nurses (RNs) generally require, at minimum, a diploma from an approved nursing program, but more specialized roles require a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) or a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) and additional licensure or certifications.  

The implementation of digital technologies has made it possible to educate nurses remotely via online degrees in nursing. In fact, a 2021 report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that enrollment in nursing programs increased in 2020 and that programs have experienced 15 years of continuous growth. That has had the twofold effect of making nursing education more accessible and increasing the potential employment pool of nurses.  

RNs may choose to enter an RN to BSN program to expand their leadership opportunities and enhance their career prospects. These programs can be taken online (and often according to a flexible schedule), which helps them fit into a busy schedule, allowing more RNs to make education a possibility. 

Employment growth projected for nurses

Although this article explores several nurse specialties, the nursing profession in general is projected to continue to grow over the next decade. According to BLS, employment for registered nurses is projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030, as fast as average for all occupations, with 194,500 projected openings each year. BLS notes that demand will increase with the large number of older people requiring medical care. This could result in employment growth at long-term rehabilitation and outpatient centers.

Meeting the home healthcare need

An aging population creates a demand for nurses who can work in the homes of patients. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the baby boomer population consisted of 73 million people in 2020 and that everyone in that generation will be 65 or older by 2030. COVID-19 accelerated home healthcare demand since it elevated the risk of older or immunocompromised individuals who might normally receive treatment at hospitals.  

In addition, the proposed Choose Home Care Act  was introduced in Congress in 2021 (and currently in the legislative process), seeking to expand Medicare coverage to at-home patient care, which means the number of Medicare patients seeking at-home care may grow. The combination of these factors may contribute to a growing need for home healthcare nurses.  

Wondering how to become a registered nurse? We cover the topic on our blog!

A global nursing shortage

As a result of a number of factors, there’s a global nursing shortage. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for nurses to keep pace with the aging population, a lack of faculty in nursing education programs, burnout, and high turnover of working nurses are all contributing.

In response, many health facilities have turned to travel nurses to help fill the gap. As the name suggests, travel nurses are not permanently staffed by a medical facility but travel to work at hospitals with staffing shortages. Generally, assignments for travel nurses last for roughly three months before they move on, though a role can be shorter or longer based on need.   

Travel nursing can be an attractive choice for nurses looking for in-demand work and who like to explore new parts of the country. State-specific credentials and licensures, however, mean that RNs must take additional steps to pursue this career opportunity.   

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What are some of the different types of nurses?

Now that we’ve covered some of the factors impacting the nursing profession today, let’s look at a few types of nursing jobs that registered nurses could pursue with the proper education, licensure and certification.

Let’s start with the basics. To pursue any of the nursing types or specialties in this list, you’ll need to meet a few requirements. According to BLS, employment as a registered nurse requires at least a diploma from an approved nursing program, but some employers prefer either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). Nurses are also required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). In addition, RNs must meet strict licensure requirements according to the state in which they practice.

Let’s take a look at some of the nursing roles you could pursue once you become an RN! If you’re a registered nurse and interested in one of these career paths, University of Phoenix may be able to help.

Here’s a list of job outcomes in nursing that are aligned to a University of Phoenix RN-BSN degree or master’s in nursing (MSN) that are designed to help registered nurses enhance their careers. For all these professions, a bachelor’s degree is often a prerequisite, but employers may require additional certifications or a master’s degree.

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 geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

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Charge nurse

A charge nurse is an RN who oversees administrative duties to maintain coordination between hospital administration and the general nursing staff. They often perform much of the patient care expected of an RN while also overseeing a department of nurses. They provide guidance to other nurses, and have administrative duties like managing employees, overseeing patient admission/discharge and coordinating schedules. 

An RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can help prepare RNs to transition to a leadership role, like being a charge nurse.   

Informatics nurse

It’s hard to understate the role that information technology plays in modern medicine. Patient health information can help track recovery and develop new treatment methods. Informatics nurses perform work at this intersection of medicine and technology. They’re often responsible for making sure that healthcare technology is properly used to serve the needs of patients. That includes working with software developers to construct health informatics systems, performing audits on existing systems and developing software themselves to fill this need. 

While the minimum requirement to enter the nursing profession is a diploma from an approved nursing program, some employers require informatics nurses to possess specific certification or an advanced degree. University of Phoenix offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a concentration in Informatics that helps nurses learn how to analyze data to inform decision-making and improve patient outcomes.

Nurse faculty

Nurse faculty ensure that nurses are properly equipped with hands-on training and education, both in the classroom and in practice. This requires skills gained as a nurse working in practical settings and the many skills necessary to translate that experience to others. They often conduct research and evaluate healthcare policies to improve patient outcomes. They may be tasked with evaluating new technologies and updating curriculum to better prepare the next generation of nurses.  

Due to the dual nursing-education nature of the role, nurse faculty often possess a BSN and experience as a registered nurse. Some academic institutions or nursing programs require an MSN for their nurse educators.  

Clinical director

Overseeing both the human resources and administration of healthcare facilities, clinical directors apply a bird’s-eye view to patient care. Otherwise referred to as medical and health services managers by BLS, clinical directors are tasked with knowing and implementing clinical policies and procedures, managing subordinate staff members and maintaining a positive and healthy healthcare environment. They can work in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and more.  

BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree in a healthcare field is a common prerequisite for employment as a medical and health services manager, but some employers require a master’s degree and experience in the field. The University of Phoenix MSN can help provide nurses with the educational foundation and skills to serve as a clinical director.  

Director of nursing

Often incorporating years of nursing experience, directors of nursing are tasked with overseeing the entire nursing operation within a department at a healthcare facility. They usually report to a chief nursing officer. They’re often tasked with implementing nursing policies, instituting a budget, managing nursing staff and serving as the link between nurses and other parts of the facility’s administration. Because of the administrative nature of the role, directors of nursing require strong communication and management skills, as well as firsthand experience in the nursing profession.  

BLS classifies directors of nursing as medical and health services managers. They typically possess at least a bachelor’s degree in the nursing or healthcare fields. However, BLS notes that possessing a master’s degree and experience in an administrative role in a hospital is common, and some employers require employees to have a master’s degree to be considered for this position.  

Chief nursing officer

Also known as chief nursing executives, CNOs are the top-level administrators when it comes to nursing within a healthcare facility. While the director of nursing is charged with implementing policies and directing patient care within a department, CNOs take on a broader administrative role. They’re tasked with creating and carrying out broad policy, representing nurses to the administration, and managing budgets, staff and training. The details of their role depend on the needs of the healthcare facility they work for.  

BLS does not report specifically on chief nursing officers, but we can look at the same medical and health services managers data to provide insight into education requirements for this position. Medical and health services managers generally must have at least a bachelor’s degree. BLS also reports on top executive roles, which cover chief executive positions. Besides the years of experience required to move up the healthcare facility hierarchy, CNOs usually will have to possess at least a bachelor’s degree, and some employers prefer an advanced degree, such as an MSN or a doctoral degree in nursing practice.  

Nurse practitioner

Unlike the previous jobs that required at least a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in nursing, among other requirements, is needed to obtain certification/licensure as a nurse practitioner.

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a specific type of nurse known as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). In addition to many of the patient-facing responsibilities expected of an RN, APRNs are empowered to prescribe medication, conduct research and make medical treatment plans for patients. NPs are the main type of APRN who administer this kind of specialized nursing care. They tend to specialize in the needs of a specific population, such as pediatric or psychiatric health.  

Other types of nurses

In addition to the types of nurses listed above, here are a few more nurse specialties you should know about! Similar to the above list, you must already be a working RN — having earned at least a nursing diploma, passed the NCLEX and be licensed in the state in which you wish to work. Because many of these roles are specialized, employers may require that RNs possess additional training, experience, education or certifications.

While BLS does not offer specific education requirements for the following types of nursing employment, we’ve put together some helpful descriptions to give you a sense of what each role is responsible for.  

University of Phoenix degree programs don’t align directly to these job outcomes, so please do your research and talk to an enrollment counselor if you are an RN interested in any of the following jobs.  

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Specialty roles for registered nurses

Travel nurse

A travel nurse is a registered nurse who travels to hospitals experiencing staffing shortages and operates on a short-term contractual basis in healthcare facilities. Unlike nurses who may remain in one location for years, travel nurses move to facilities in need of staff, often working with travel nursing agencies to secure housing and manage logistics. Though they’re typically employed in the short term, travel nurses can be highly specialized.  

Travel nurses are required to achieve licensure in whichever locality they work. This applies to both state-by-state regulations and international regulatory standards, if the nurse decides to work outside the country. 

Crisis RN

Major crises such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks or health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic require a massive influx of health professionals to deal with a large number of patients. Like travel nurses, crisis RNs travel to hard-hit locations to administer medical aid. This work is usually performed on short notice and requires flexibility. Nurses may take on these assignments through a two-to-six-week crisis nurse contract administered by a travel nurse staffing agency.  

Along with certifications in particular nursing specialties (such as dialysis and medical-surgical), an RN can obtain nationally recognized credentials related to crisis work. For example, the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing offers the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential, and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers the CCRN, among others.  

Flight nurse

In the simplest terms, a flight nurse is an RN who’s trained to administer care while transporting a patient on an aircraft. Several critical medical services depend on airplanes or helicopters. This can range from bringing services to a remote, underserved area to transporting patients to a hospital. On these missions, flight nurses work with physicians and paramedics to administer care.  

It’s a fluid position in which responsibilities vary according to the situation. Flight nurses may be responsible for keeping parts of the aircraft clean and checking the status of on-board medicine, on top of providing the expected medical care. In any event, flight nurses play a crucial role in getting people the medical help they need via air travel.  

The specialized nature of this role means flight nurses undergo rigorous preparation. They’ll likely need three to five years of experience in an emergency room. A Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing is a common prerequisite as well.  

Case manager RN

When patients check into a healthcare facility to receive their care, they are likely to interact with a number of nurses, specialists and physicians who are collectively responsible for that patient. To coordinate this team, healthcare facilities often depend on case manager RNs, also known as care coordinators. They’re responsible for talking to everyone involved in the healthcare process, from the patient to the physician. They can serve as advocates for patients.  

A number of certifications can help prepare an RN to specialize as a case manager. They include the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCM), the ANCC Nursing Case Manager Certification (CMGT-BC) and the American Case Management Association Accredited Case Manager (ACM) certification.  

Neonatal intensive care nurse

A neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse is an RN who cares for ill and premature babies and babies who have birth defects. NICU nurses must meet the requirements of an RN, but employers may prefer an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), Associate Degree in Nursing (AND) or a BSN, as well as experience working with neonatal patients. These nurses often work in the intensive care unit. In addition to caring for neonatal patients, NICU nurses often comfort and educate parents to help them through the difficult time.

Advanced practice nursing jobs

While the above list covered the types of nursing jobs registered nurses could pursue after they’ve attained education and licensure requirements, the following jobs often require advanced education in the form of a master’s degree or additional certification or licensure. Let’s check them out!

Clinical nurse specialist

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who works in a variety of specialties — such as pediatrics, geriatrics or oncology — to provide high-quality and cost-effective care. What separates a CNS (and APRNs) from an RN is that these professionals must have an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctoral degree if they plan to do research, a minimum of one year of experience and have received state licensure. A CNS has more responsibility than other RNs and may also play a role in research, management and consultation.  

Nurse midwives

Another common type of APRN, nurse midwives focus on the medical needs surrounding pregnancy, which include gynecological exams and prenatal services, delivering babies and emergency management during birth. They might also assist mothers after birth by educating them on infant care and disease prevention.  

Like other APRNs, nurse midwifes typically need at least a master’s degree. Generally speaking, to work as nurse midwife will require an RN license, an APRN license and the completion of a graduate-level nursing program. The Certified Nurse-Midwife (CSN) credential is also a common prerequisite. 

Nurse anesthetist

Another type of APRN who administers specialized nursing care is the nurse anesthetist (CRNA). They are tasked with providing care before, during and after surgeries that involve anesthesia. They might talk with patients about the medications they are on in order to avoid dangerous complications during surgery. They might also administer the anesthesia itself, as well as monitor the patient’s vital signs.  

Work as a CRNA generally requires at least a master’s degree in nursing, as well as an RN license and additional requirements as dictated by the state of practice. Some APRNs decide to pursue their education at a doctoral degree level. 

There you have it! Although there are many nursing specialties beyond those on this list, you now have a helpful introduction to the career possibilities within nursing.