Nursing is a fascinating, fast-paced, challenging career; but is it for you? Let's look at the various nursing professional levels, education and basic duties so you can see if nursing might just be the right path for you. The numerous and diverse areas in which nurses can and do practice makes nursing a highly flexible, rewarding and fulfilling profession - a true career. Let's look at education needed to enter the various levels of nursing and general duties of each.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), is a starting point for many to “try out” nursing, learn basic care-giving skills and gain experience in caring for those in need. The education needed to become a CNA depends on which state you live in; each state board of nursing sets the minimum training time. The training may take anywhere from 60 to 120 hours, half of which are completed in a clinical location such as an assisted living center or nursing home. Once the training is completed a state mandated test must be taken to verify knowledge and skills. CNAs in most states are overseen by the state's board of nursing.
CNAs are trained to give hands-on care and help provide dignity, safety and well-being to those they serve. Training also includes confidentiality, communication techniques and working with other professionals. CNAs cannot give medications unless their state allows a CNA working in certain environments such as assisted living to become certified as a medication tech.
To become an LPN or LVN (Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse), 1-2 years of training either at a vocational training center or as part of a nursing program at a community college is required. Some nursing programs prepare the student to take on LPN duties during the first year of education - allowing the student to take the state board of nursing's LPN licensing exam (NCLEX–PN). The student then completes the program and is able to take the RN licensing exam (NCLEX-RN).
LPNs are trained in using the basic nursing process to provide care. They are able to give medications including oral (po; by mouth) and injections. LPNs also provide basic treatments. After taking a state board approved course LPNs may insert IVs and give basic intravenous medications. Many hospitals do not employ LPNs - most LPNs work in nursing homes, doctors offices, outpatient clinics or assisted living centers.
RNs (registered nurses) may enter the profession in one of three ways: obtaining an associate degree through a community college, a diploma from one of the few remaining diploma programs or obtaining a bachelor degree from an approved college or university. Many RNs obtain an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) in order to qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam and subsequently return to school to earn their bachelor degree in nursing (either Bachelor of Science in Nursing [BSN], or a Bachelor of Arts in Nursing [BA]). While the initial RN entrance degree is obtained in a traditional college or university setting, many quality online or online-enhanced programs exist to aid the RN to advance not only to the BSN or BA level, but to achieve graduate or doctoral degrees.
Nurse Practitioners are RNs who receive advanced education and are able to assess, diagnose and prescribe medical treatment to patients. Nurse Practitioners must pass special exams to gain prescribing privileges or gain entry into specialized areas. Recent changes in Medicare regulations have increased a nurse practitioner's ability to bill for services and practice more independently. RNs may also take additional education to become midwives, anesthetists or clinical specialists in a vast number of areas.
RNs perform duties from hands-on care to administrative duties. Nurses must develop critical thinking skills to provide quick, accurate and safe decisions and actions. RNs administer medications, direct and coordinate patient plans of care and work as part of the professional intra-disciplinary health care team to ensure that patients have their needs met. Nursing is truly the bridge between the patient and other health care professionals. Nurses are not only professionals who provide the care and caring, but are able to coordinate between many specialties to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of services and improve patient outcomes. When someone chooses to become an RN, a new world is opened for them.
Each nursing professional from CNA to LPN to RN and beyond embraces the core values of caring, nurturing, reaching out and helping others. Nurses are not “super women (or men)” but those who enter nursing are indeed “super”; placing others' needs before their own. A nurse must continually grow, improve and advance their knowledge and skills in order to keep up with the advances of the 21st Century. We combine the care with caring - which has always been at the heart and core of being a nurse.