You’ve decided to become a nurse. Now, though, you have even more decisions to make. What kind of credentials will you earn? How will you prepare for your career? Will you specialize? Considering which nursing career path is right for you is essential for moving toward your professional goals.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

The quickest entrance into the nursing field is as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). In just one year of study at an approved certificate or diploma program at a technical school or community college, aspiring LPNs and LVNs learn to provide basic nursing care. Coursework includes biology, pharmacology and, of course, nursing, with supervised clinical experience components, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

This isn’t the right career choice for every aspiring nurse. Because they study only basic nursing care, they must work under the supervision of registered nurses or doctors. Different states impose different limits on LPNs and LVNs, but generally, there are some tasks registered nurses perform that LPNs and LVNs aren’t qualified to do. Due to factors like having a basic education and being unqualified to perform some nursing tasks, they have the lowest salary among nurses – $42,490 per year, the BLS reported.

Registered Nurses

With more education and clinical training, you can become a registered nurse (RN). These professionals provide more extensive nursing care than LPNs and LVNs do. More than 60 percent of RNs work in hospitals, the BLS reported, though they also find employment in nursing homes, doctors’ offices, home healthcare services, outpatient clinics, schools and even branches of the military.

There are three paths into a career as an RN. Some candidates earn a diploma in nursing, while others pursue an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. RNs spend at least two to four years in school preparing for their nursing career. The median annual salary for RNs is $66,640, according to the BLS.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

For nurses who want to go above and beyond, a graduate degree can help them advance in the profession and become qualified to provide more extensive patient care. Types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) include nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. APRNs may work independently and provide primary and specialty healthcare focused on patients, according to the BLS. Depending on state requirements, they can perform tasks like ordering tests, assessing results, diagnosing medical conditions and providing treatment.

APRNs need a master’s degree, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree or a Ph.D. While they have to spend additional years in study, they have a much higher earning potential, with a median annual salary of $102,670, the BLS reported.

Specialties in Nursing

Nurses often specialize in a patient group. Among the most common nursing specialists are:

  • Addiction nurses
  • Cardiovascular nurses
  • Critical care nurses
  • Genetics nurses
  • Neonatology nurses
  • Nephrology nurses
  • Rehabilitation nurses

Also see:

Top 10 Most Affordable Online RN to BSN Programs