The Levels of Nursing Explained

Is a career as a nurse something that you might want to do in the near future? If yes, it pays to know the different levels of nursing to really understand the track and what it takes to rise from one level to another. This guide walks you through the levels of nursing starting from being an assistant and everything that comes after that.

Level One: Nursing Assistant (CNA)

The starting point of anyone who wishes to go through the different levels of nursing is a certified nursing assistant. Becoming a certified nursing assistant or CNA is your entry point in this profession. They perform many roles that assist patients in daily self-care tasks. They help bathe their patients and also dress them up. They assist in eating routines and using the bathroom. In terms of monitoring, a certified nursing assistant is qualified to measure a patient’s vital signs as well as take note of any present health concerns communicated to them. They also facilitate the transfer of patients from bed to wheelchair and vice versa. A certified nursing assistant can also dispense medication, depending on the rules of the state they qualify to practice in.

Becoming a certified nursing assistant requires the completion of a basic nursing education program approved by the state. These can run from 3-6 weeks, and upon completion, you must pass an exam in order to earn the CNA title and state certification.

Levels of Nursing: Level Two: Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A licensed practical nurse is considered to be next after CNA in the levels of nursing. Their tasks are still patient care-related but they are qualified to perform other higher-level roles. Apart from patient health monitoring and administering basic care, they can do the following: take a patient’s blood pressure, start an IV drip (state-dependent), insert a catheter, and change bandages. A licensed practical nurse also communicates with the patient and other family members to inform them about care plans and answer some questions they might have about it. When it comes to administering medication, however, the regulations on whether or not (or to what extent) a licensed practical nurse can do so will depend on the state in which he or she is qualified to practice.

In the levels of nursing, becoming a licensed practical nurse starts out by obtaining a nursing diploma from a technical school or college, and pass the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-PN. This will give you the license and qualification to work as a licensed practical nurse. There is also other certifications available in the different levels of nursing, including for LPN, in order to gain a more competitive edge and secure specialties in different fields or subjects like developmental disabilities, IV therapy, and the like.

Level Three: Registered Nurse (RN)

When it comes to the levels of nursing, registered nurses or RNs seem to be the most commonly known individuals associated with the title “nurse”. A registered nurse has tasks such as: recording a patient’s medical history, taking stock of medical equipment, monitoring symptoms, administering medicine, taking part in creating a care plan, working closely with doctors and performing diagnostic tests as needed.

A registered nurse also sometimes oversees a certified nursing assistant and a licensed practical nurse, among others. In the levels of nursing, an RN has the option to limit his or her scope of work to a specific type of patient population like neonatal nursing, critical care, rehab and the like. They may also perform other roles outside patient care like conducting blood drives, staffing health clinics in educational institutions, promoting public health, assuming the role of public policy advisor, etc.

There are some requirements to become a nurse. You must first either obtain an AND, or Associate’s Degree in Nursing, or a BSN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing. An AND program can be completed in as short as 18 months, while a BSN often takes a minimum of 33 months. After this, you have to take and pass the NCLEX so you become qualified to work as a registered nurse.

Levels of Nursing: Level Four: Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRNs)

And finally, way above in the levels of nursing, we have the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse or APRN. There are different types of nurse practitioners. An advanced practice nurse has the most number of career options and responsibilities apart from daily patient care. They can collaborate with physicians, or work independently. Apart from all RN duties, they can also order and evaluate test results, refer patients to the necessary specialists, diagnose and even treat ailments. You can say that they are more than just a medical assistant because of their wide range of responsibilities. APRNs are divided into four types, namely nurse anesthetists, certified nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse-midwives.

APRNs also have the option to pursue a career path that is more managerial and in line with education and not just patient care or operate nurse tech equipment. They can become nurse educators who train future nurses or assume leadership roles such as the director of nursing.

To become an advanced practice nurse, you should start out as a registered nurse then enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing (or MSN) program. You also need a registered nurse license. After obtaining your MSN degree, the next step usually includes clinical experience and/or obtaining additional certifications for areas you want to specialize in. Again, there is a national certification exam after you graduate from your Master’s program but the requirements will vary depending on the state you want to practice in. There are also states where your advanced practice certification will require renewal after a number of years for it to stay valid. 

These different levels of nursing should give you a clearer picture of what the career track of a nurse often looks like. The higher you go up the ladder, the more opportunities will be open to you – both in a medical institution and outside. No matter which particular level you feel comfortable staying in, it is important to continue educating yourself with what is new in nurse tech and in the medical field so you can offer your patients the best kind of care that you can deliver.

More Resources on the levels of nursing:

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse
Things to Consider When Choosing to Become a Nurse
How Getting a CNA Certification Can Get you Started in Healthcare
A Day in the Life of a Registered Nurse

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