May 10, 2021
When you hear that someone is a “nurse,” it’s possible that the following come to mind: a scrubbed medical professional in a hospital setting, the nurse station popularized on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, and of course, the letters “RN” following their name. The truth is that “registered nurses” — commonly referred to as RNs — is an umbrella term for many types of nurses.
There are almost 100 types of RNs, and when you add those specialties to nurse practitioners (NP), clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) and more, you end up with hundreds of different careers and specialties within the field of nursing. Whether you’re interested in nursing as a career, or just trying to understand what the letters after your health care provider’s name mean, here are the key difference between each type of nurse:
To become a registered nurse, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program, pass a state board of examination, and maintain a license in the state where you practice. Registered nurses play a critical role in healthcare: they assess patients and record symptoms, administer treatments and diagnostics, and work as part of a team of physicians and other specialists to care for patients. The specific duties of an RN vary widely based on their specialty — the nurse at your child’s summer camp is likely an RN, as are the specialist nurses providing critical care in a hospital setting.
An RN is distinct from a licensed practical nurse. LPNs require less training and handle basic nursing care. They always work under the direction of a doctor or registered nurse. If you’re considering a career in nursing, becoming an LPN allows you to start quickly, and there are ways to transition from being an LPN to an RN later on.
Advanced practice registered nurses are registered nurses by definition, but they attain a graduate-level nursing degree and additional experience in their specific fields. There are currently four advanced practice nursing specialties:
No matter what the letters are after a nurse’s name, there’s one thing that they all have in common: rigorous training, accreditation, and a commitment to patient care. Each of these three types of nurses provides dozens of career paths and specialties for those interested in healthcare. And from a patient’s perspective, there is a nurse who understands and is ready to help provide care — no matter the specific condition.