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Explore different types of nurses and specialties 

This article was updated on July 22, 2024.

Michael Feder

Written by Michael Feder

Raelene Brooks, Dean, College of Nursing

This article was reviewed by Raelene Brooks, Dean, College of Nursing.

Three nurses in a collage-style image with waves of blue in the background

Nursing is a vital component of the healthcare system. From different types of nurses, such as registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners who are frontline and focus on patient-centered care, and clinical directors and chief nursing officers with administrative duties, the hard work of these professionals provides essential services to patients.

There are numerous potential nursing roles to explore. There are different levels of nursing degrees, like a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Others may require additional qualifications or more schooling after completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Additionally, some of the following roles fall under the category of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs are highly trained nurses with advanced clinical education and certifications. Depending on the state in which they practice and the certifications they hold, they can provide a range of healthcare services, including diagnosing and treating medical conditions, prescribing medications and managing patient care. APRN roles are dynamic and critical, with responsibilities largely depending on the setting in which they work. APRNs must hold a master’s degree or doctorate and specialized certification in the state in which they practice, in addition to the education and licensing required for all RNs.

Read on to learn more about the different types of nurses you might encounter on your professional journey.

Different types of nursing

The following types of nurses practice in diverse clinical settings, including hospitals, doctor offices, and outpatient clinics or surgery centers. Some of the listed roles require education, training or experience beyond an RN diploma or associate degree.

Sun Jones, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, a systematic program and curriculum evaluator with University of Phoenix’s College of Nursing, weighs in on what it takes to pursue a career in different nursing roles.

Charge nurse 

Charge nurses are RNs who are clinical managerial leaders and who help staff on a particular floor or unit, often within a hospital. Charge nurses’ responsibilities can vary but typically include duties such as coordinating medical care, managing staff, answering patient and family questions, and performing quality control measures. They must also make quick decisions and coordinate response during emergencies.

RNs must typically gain clinical experience and expertise before becoming a charge nurse. From there, they should also “develop skills in leadership, clinical competence and teamwork, and [potentially] obtain additional certifications,” Jones says. 

Health informatics nursing 

Nurses who practice in health informatics validate data quality and then manage and communicate nursing informatics data and general healthcare data to better inform nursing practices. They also evaluate the efficiency and safety of healthcare technology systems used for patient care. In this way, they help bridge the gap between clinical care and information technology.

While a BSN is not required to work as a nurse in informatics, an RN may choose to pursue advanced education in nursing to include a BSN and then an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics. A master’s degree with a concentration in informatics can teach you relevant skills, such as information technology, applied statistics and regulatory compliance. In short, informatics nurses are critical connectors between healthcare and technology and help ensure IT advancements enhance patient care.

Nurse practitioner (NP) 

A nurse practitioner is a type of APRN who has a Master of Science in Nursing and advanced clinical training in a specialized area (such as family medicine or psychiatric mental health). Nurse practitioners must also obtain Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) or Family Nurse Practitioner-Certified (FNP-C) credentials through a board certification exam after completing their education.

Nurse practitioners have a high degree of autonomy but still collaborate with other healthcare professionals. NPs can order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests. They may also diagnose and treat acute and chronic health conditions.

In addition to managing patient care, they can prescribe medications and other treatments if they have the appropriate credential from the state in which they practice.

Nurse practitioners may work in various settings, from hospitals to doctor offices to rural healthcare clinics. NPs may also specialize in particular disciplines, such as emergency medicine. 

Travel nurse 

A travel nurse is a registered nurse who travels to provide patient care in hospitals experiencing staffing shortages. They typically operate on a short-term contractual basis. To do this, they often work with travel nursing employment agencies, which assist in securing housing and help manage logistics. 

Travel nurses are required to hold the appropriate license in whichever locality they work, which depends on each state’s requirements. 

NICU 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 a BSN, as well as experience working with neonatal patients. These nurses often work in the intensive care unit (ICU). In addition to caring for neonatal patients, NICU nurses often comfort and educate parents to help them through the difficult time.

Oncology RN

Oncology RNs specialize in caring for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s a challenging field, one in which nurses support patients, families and caregivers. Oncology nurses must have a strong understanding of patients’ medical and emotional support needs.

Because cancer care requires distinct knowledge about different types of cancer, treatments and potential side effects, oncology RNs typically undergo specific training to manage and recognize signs or side effects. They also spend significant time counseling and educating patients and their families about treatment options and self-care strategies. Oncology nurses may work with a wide range of specialists to help coordinate comprehensive care plans for each patient’s needs.

Oncology nursing also requires relevant nursing experience. Most oncology nurses pursue certification. Before pursuing certification, nurses must acquire two to three years of oncology nursing experience, hold an RN license and have completed a BSN or an ADN.  

Pediatric nurse 

Pediatric nurses specialize in working with younger patients in general hospitals, children’s hospitals and pediatricians’ offices. Pediatric nursing focuses on providing care to children from birth to age 18, and they must know how to build rapport with families since patient advocacy and therapeutic communication are integrated into their role. 

School nurse 

School nurses may not deal with patients in a traditional sense, but they fulfill a vital healthcare role in ensuring children are safe and supported at school. Many school nurses supervise students who need to take regular medication, working on a multidisciplinary team to ensure students who have childhood diseases receive holistic care while at school. They may also treat minor acute injuries that occur on school grounds.  

Additionally, they typically provide staff education for emergency response procedures and oversee infection controls for communicable illnesses like chickenpox or lice infestations.

School nurses must have, at a minimum, an RN license and an ADN or a BSN. Each state has its own requirements for the role, so check your state’s guidelines before pursuing this path.

Orthopedic nursing 

Orthopedic nursing focuses on musculoskeletal conditions and care for patients with broken bones or who are recovering from orthopedic surgeries or trauma-related injuries. Nurses who work in this area may also assist patients with long-term orthopedic conditions. Much of their job involves helping doctors with surgeries and assisting patients as they regain mobility and strength. Orthopedic nurses also help educate patients about surgery or injury recuperation and pain management.

Nursing administrator 

Nursing administrators are RNs who have adopted collaborative leadership roles, with an emphasis on management. They often work with healthcare administrators to ensure adequate staffing levels. They also work on budgets and on policies to ensure regulatory compliance and quality improvements.

Many nursing administrators have an MSN and strong working knowledge of budgeting and accreditation, regulation, policy and funding. A master’s degree with a concentration in nurse administration can help interested nurses pursue this role. It can teach skills such as quality management, healthcare policy, regulatory compliance and more. 

Home care nursing 

Home care nurses are registered nurses who provide care in a patient’s home rather than at a dedicated healthcare facility. Home health nursing has become especially vital as more seniors look to remain in their homes as they age. Responsibilities for home health nurses include giving medications and assisting in daily living and hygiene tasks. They may also communicate with physicians and care teams to facilitate care. Strong communication skills are important for this aspect and for interacting with patient families. Assessment skills for referrals are also important.

Director of nursing 

Often incorporating years of nursing experience, directors of nursing oversee 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 must have strong communication and management skills, as well as firsthand experience in the nursing profession. The role is similar to that of a nurse administrator, and professionals must have strong working knowledge of budgeting, accreditation, regulation, policy and funding. A master’s degree is often preferred.

Nurse educators 

Nurse educators 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 evaluate new technologies and update curricula 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. They should have strong knowledge of teaching and learning theories and their applications, as well as assessment frameworks. 

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 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical directors are similar to nurse administrators and tasked with knowing and implementing clinical policies and procedures, managing clinical staff members and maintaining a positive and healthy healthcare environment. They can work in places such as hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

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 with a concentration in Nurse Administration can help provide nurses with the educational foundation and skills to serve as a clinical director.  

Nursing degrees for different types of nurses

University of Phoenix focuses on helping licensed registered nurses enhance their careers with a variety of nursing degrees required for different types of nurses.

If you’re an RN who wants to expand your career, University of Phoenix offers:

Frequently asked questions 

Learn more about nursing through the following answers.

What type of nurse is most needed?

The projected demand for registered nurses predicts a 6% growth rate between 2022 and 2032, according to BLS. This is about 193,100 openings each year.

BLS Occupational Employment Projections, 2022-2032 is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data reflects BLS’ projections of national (not local) conditions. These data points are not specific to University of Phoenix students or graduates.

How many different types of nurses are there?

In this article, we’ve listed 14 kinds of nurses who work in a variety of settings, but that is not all types of nurses to choose from. Nursing titles range from types of nurses who work in hospitals and clinics to specialized areas that are focused on a particular type of care or place of practice. Still other nurses work in administrative roles to help support frontline nurses who deal directly with patients.

What is the hardest type of nursing?

The answer to what type of nursing job is the hardest is subjective. ICU, ER and NICU nurses have highly stressful jobs due to the intensity of managing emergencies and critically ill patients.

How do I find out more about University of Phoenix nursing programs?

Request more information about our nursing programs today.

Headshot of Michael Feder

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.

Headshot of Raelene Brooks

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Dr. Raelene Brooks, dean of the College of Nursing, has been a registered nurse for more than 25 years and practiced extensively in the areas of ICU, trauma and critical care. Her publications include a focus on nursing education, critical care and diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a leader in creating, guiding and launching innovative curriculum.

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