If you find yourself seeking medical help, you may run into many different types of nurses.

Nurses aren't all the same, but this is something you may not have realized. Training, education, and specialty choices distinguish them.

That nurse who just took your blood pressure is likely quite different from the nurse who helped you deliver your baby.

It takes many different types of nurses to keep the medical field going.


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In fact, nurses are important because they focus on your needs and act as a bridge between you and the doctor.

The hands-on work of a nurse is often a key factor in your care.

It is no wonder why nurses are in high demand, have great job prospects, and receive excellent pay.

On the flip side, they also work long hours, experience high stress levels, and often deal with unimaginable situations daily.

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They really are the warriors of healthcare.

And they deserve your complete respect and admiration for all their hard work.

However, do you truly understand what it takes to be a nurse, or what they actually do daily? If not, now is the perfect time to learn a little more about the different types of nurses.

Registered Nurse

When you think of a nurse, it is probably the registered nurse (RN).

RNs are the best known of the different types of nurses because they are so prominent. They work in a variety of fields and handle many care tasks.

You may even get different types of nurses confused with RNs.

But don't worry.

Most nurses, with an exception we will get to later, are RNs. Some just have more training or specialize in a certain area of healthcare.

What They Do

When you see a doctor in an office, for example, the RN is who takes your weight, height, and blood pressure.

Different types of nurses may take your blood pressureImage via Unsplash

The RN walks you to a room and sits with you for a little bit to discuss your health history and the reason for your visit.

He or she may sit in the room during the doctor's examination and assist the doctor as needed.

If you are in a hospital, it is the nurses who are most visible. They will get you checked in and settled in your room. She or he may give you instructions or assist you with any needs you have

An RN may also do some physical examinations and give you medication throughout your stay.

You have also likely talked to an RN and received education or counseling about your health from one in a doctor's office or another healthcare setting.

Perhaps you have interacted with an RN in an educational setting, as many RNs also work in this field.

The RN keeps a doctor's or hospital's staff running like a well-oiled machine. She or he coordinates your care and ensures whatever you came in for is handled properly.

The RN oversees what happens with you and makes sure that when there is a shift change, the new RNs and other staff on duty are apprised of your situation.

That helps you to get continuous care and prevents medical mistakes.

An RN may also work in a specialty area, such as:

  • Addiction
  • Cardiovascular
  • Critical care
  • Genetics
  • Neonatology
  • Public health
  • Rehabilitation

Almost every area of healthcare has different types of nurses working within it. RNs can specialize in these areas to provide specific care based on patient needs.

Where They Work

You can find RNs pretty much anywhere you go for healthcare. They work with medical teams in hospitals, care centers, and the military.

You may also get care from an RN through a home health program or in a school. On a side note, an RN can hold different roles in a school setting.

Many schools have a nurse on staff to care for sick or injured students, but that isn't the only school-related job of the ever-capable RN.

Many RNs also go on to work as teachers for new nursing students. They may also work in research or outreach programs that help advance the medical field and nursing as a profession.

RNs are very versatile.

When you meet a healthcare professional, the chances are very good that person is a nurse. They are everywhere. Some are even popping up in drug stores that have clinics.

Wherever healthcare is needed, you will find an RN.

How They Train

To become a nursing hero, an RN has three options.


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He or she may earn a bachelor's or associate's degree in nursing. This usually happens at a college or university. Some technical or vocational schools offer associate degree programs as well.

Alternatively, he or she may earn a diploma from a nursing program. A diploma program often is at a technical or vocational school and is very focused.

However, that is not the most common option. It's far more likely for a person to earn a traditional associate's or bachelor's degree.

You should also note that many employers require a bachelor's degree, so some schools have special programs for RNs with a diploma or associate degree to get a bachelor's degree in nursing quickly.

Earning a nursing degree is very difficult. You may know someone who has taken a nursing program. If so, you probably have heard about how demanding and challenging the education is.

That is to ensure that every nurse you come across when receiving care knows what he or she is doing and can provide you with the highest quality of care.

Nursing students have to study the human body, medical terminology, medical procedures and techniques, and medical administration.

Different types of nurses all must study human anatomyImage via Unsplash

That is a lot to learn!

Earning a nursing degree or diploma is also hard because becoming legally able to work as an RN requires passing an intensive exam.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics explains all RNs must have a state license. That requires passing the National Certification Licensing Examination (NCLEX) and passing a federal criminal background check.

The NCLEX is very intensive. It tests prospective nurses on everything they have learned in their training, including clinical skills.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) is like the superstar of the nursing world.

APRNs are experts in nursing who have earned at least a master's degree.

They are more than your average nurse.

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APRNs can provide you with care similar to a doctor, including prescribing medications. In fact, your primary care professional may be an APRN.

To work at this level of nursing, a person needs first to become an RN and hold a valid RN license.

Then, earning the title of APRN requires passing a national certification exam in your chosen specialty area.

It is a lot of hard work to get to this level of nursing, but it is well worth it for someone who wants to work more independently and have a bigger impact on patients.

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Types Of APRNs

Just as there are different types of nurses, there are different types of APRNs.

This group contains some specialty positions, each with a distinct purpose and focus. You may run across an APRN in various healthcare situations.

It can often be difficult to tell if a healthcare worker is an APRN or a doctor.

As you learn more about the different types of nurses, you will understand how you could easily confuse an APRN with a doctor.

The reality is that APRNs are quickly becoming more prominent in the field, as many RNs are taking the next steps to advance their careers and provide additional care to patients.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) may provide direct care to you, or a CNS may be a nurse working in management or administration behind the scenes, with whom you never directly interact.

This type of APRN is an authority on nursing and can diagnose and treat illnesses. He or she may focus on physical or mental health care.

The distinguishing trait of a clinical nurse specialist, as the name suggests, is he or she will have a specialty area.

That could be in any area of healthcare. It may also encompass the type of roles, such as researcher, consultant, or educator.

They often take leadership roles and help to guide different types of nurses in other fields or specialties and within their own specialty area.

A clinical nurse specialist also often advocates for the profession and works to find ways to make it better, make healthcare better, and improve the patient experience.

Nurse Practitioner

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If you see a nurse practitioner (NP), you may confuse him or her with a doctor because an NP typically works independently seeing and treating patients.

He or she can prescribe you medication and do almost anything a doctor 

The main difference is that an NP must work under a doctor, so typically, an NP will have his or her office in conjunction with a doctor.

Other than that, it is very hard to differentiate between the two. The care you get from an NP will be of the same quality as what you would get from a doctor.

It might even be slightly improved since nurses tend to focus on the patient as a whole instead of focusing on the patient's ailment.

But don't tell doctors that.

They still give good care, but we all know nurses are the ones who really run the show.

Nurse Anesthetist

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A nurse anesthetist administers and monitors anesthetics.

So, she or he could be the one who puts you under before that big surgery and makes sure you are doing okay throughout the procedure.

It is very similar to the work of an anesthesiologist.

You probably notice a trend here, right?

Regardless of the different types of nurses and specialties of APRNs, they are very close to being doctors.

While they still require a doctor to oversee their work in some states, they generally do all the same things and can offer you the same level of care.


If you are having a baby, you may see a nurse midwife.

Nurse midwive are different types of nurses who focus on pregnancy and babiesImage free Unsplash

That is an APRN who has specific training in pregnancy care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care for you and the baby.

There are some distinct differences between a midwife and a doctor in this area of healthcare.

A nurse-midwife can provide you with all the healthcare during your pregnancy and help you during your labor and delivery.

A midwife may be the one who delivers your baby.

She or he can also assist you after the birth, offering your postpartum exams and even helping you with baby care, such as teaching you to breastfeed.

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However, a nurse-midwife cannot perform a cesarean section or any type of medical intervention during your delivery.

That is an important point of note.

Only doctors can perform surgical procedures of any kind.

Regardless of the different types of nurses that work as APRNs, none of them will ever perform surgical procedures because that is not legally allowed under current licensing laws for nurses and doctors.

Some Notes About APRNs

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You've discovered some of the different types of nurses that work as APRNs and what they do.

We've also given you a few notes about restrictions on advanced practice nurses and compared them to doctors.

You may wonder why providers would use an APRN instead of a doctor when they are so similar.

That is a good question.

Health eCareers explains that there is an abundance of nurses in healthcare. There are more nurses than any other type of healthcare worker.

Having the ability to tap into that pool of workers and diversify how they are used is a real perk to the whole industry.

It allows for growth that isn't possible with doctors alone.

For example, healthcare is expanding beyond the walls of doctor's offices and hospitals. Clinics inside drugstores are often run by APRNs. Without these nurses, that type of care may not be possible.

There is also a trend in medicine for doctors to focus more on specialties instead of general care.

APRNs are stepping in and helping to fill the void, providing you with more general practice healthcare options.

It is also easier to manage costs when using an APRN instead of a doctor. While an APRN does get paid well, he or she makes less than a doctor.

Adding an APRN to his or her practice is more financially suitable for a physician than adding another doctor.

Finally, whether it is due to the overall nature of a nurse or the stereotype of nurses being more caring, people tend to like nurses better than doctors.

They trust them.

Patients feel more comfortable with them. APRNs seem to create better bonds with their patients overall.

That leads people to prefer them and allows APRNs to grow their own practice.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Remember back near the beginning of this article when we mentioned there was an exception to all nurses being registered nurses?

So far, you have seen the basic RN, as well as APRNs. Both of these groups are registered nurses.

Now, let's talk about the different types of nurses who are not a registered nurse.

There is the licensed practical nurse (LPN), which is known as a licensed vocation nurse (LVN) in California and Texas.

An LPN plays a support role within a health care practice.

If you have an LPN working your medical case, he or she works under an RN or a doctor to provide you with basic care.

You'll understand what is meant by basic care and why an LPN is only a supporting player in your healthcare in a minute.

Before that, though, it is important to recognize that LPNs are very much needed in healthcare.

LPNs often do the work that other nurses cannot do because they are too busy with other care needs. These nurses help to ensure patients get the focused care they deserve.

They keep people from falling into the cracks and prevent important details from being overlooked.

They play the traditional nursing role that RNs used to, but now cannot, due to the changing demands within the profession.

LPNs are different types of nurses but still an intricate part of the healthcare system. Without them, you could feel ignored or like you aren't getting the level of care you deserve.

They help to reduce the demands on RNs and allow them to handle higher-level tasks.

The LPN is like the greatest of team players.

They pitch in where needed and watch out for you when you are under their care.

Duties And Responsibilities

If you find yourself under the care of an LPN, he or she is probably the healthcare professional who is checking your vital signs throughout your hospital stay.

So, yes, the LPN is the one who wakes you in the middle of the night to check your temperature.

But rest assured, this really is for your own good. Managing your vital signs tells your doctor what is going on with your health.

Even a slight change could help a doctor make a decision that could greatly affect your care and the outcome of your situation.

If you have had surgery or have a wound, the LPN is probably the one who will change your bandages.

While this may seem like a small task, during the bandage change, the LPN is checking the health of your site or wound and looking for signs of infection.

The LPN could spot something wrong and get your healthcare team on top of it before it becomes serious.

In general, your LPN will oversee your comfort.

If you need a new blanket or you want to roll over and need help, the LPN will be right there to assist you.

As we said before, they really are the star player of the team. They are the ones who pitch in and help out wherever they are needed.

If this were a beauty contest, they would win Miss Congeniality

Where Will You Find An LPN?

You can find LPNs working in many of the same places as you find the other different types of nurses.

However, LPNs often work in settings where more practical care is needed, such as nursing homes and home health.

These settings allow them to utilize their skills for the neediest of patients.

RNs typical oversee the care, but the LPNs do the majority of the work.

Hiring LPNs allows a facility or organization to save money since they do not earn as much as an RN.

The facility or organization can staff a full load of LPNs to offer complete care to patients whereas they would not be able to hire as many RNs.

Using LPNs helps avoid gaps in care caused by under-staffing while also ensuring a high level of care remains for patients.

Training, Education, And Experience

To become an LPN, a person needs to complete an associate degree or diploma program in practical nursing.

An LPN, as the name suggests, must also have a state license. That requires passing the NCLEX-PN. Just as with the NCLEX for RNs, this exam is demanding and difficult.

It guarantees the LPN knows what he or she is doing and can offer you the best care possible.

Document, Document, Document

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One thing we didn't mention when discussing the different types of nurses and their job duties is the paperwork.

While "paperwork" is an antiquated term these days since most documentation is done on computers or tablets, it is still an accurate way to sum up the one job duty every single nurse has.

It does not matter if you are LPN or an APRN, you will have to do paperwork.

Documentation is an essential and important part of medical care.

It unites your medical team and ensures everyone is on the same page. No pun intended.

Paperwork includes documenting anything and everything about your care. If you drink water at 11:02 a.m., then someone better write it down.

Your medical documentation serves as a history to your providers.

They can look into your documents to see what medications you have had, your previous diagnoses, and any other detail they need about your care.

During a single visit, the documentation helps ensure mistakes with medication do not happen and that your needs are met.

It can help avoid other errors and medical mistakes that could cause you serious harm. It also makes billing easier and ensures your insurance pays for any care you receive.

While doing paperwork is probably not any nurse's favorite part of the job, it is something they get a lot of training on because of how important it is.

Of all the different types of nurses, not one can escape this job duty.

You could say that above everything else, paperwork is the single most important duty a nurse has. That's why we gave it its own section.

Plus, it is the only job duty all nurses share. Actually, it is the one job task that every single healthcare professional does.

It is that essential.

Different Types Of Nurses Are The Backbone Of Healthcare

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You may have your favorite of the different types of nurses.

Perhaps you are partial to LPNs because of a lovely nurse that helped your grandma out in the nursing home.

Or maybe you have a soft spot for nurse midwives because you've had a midwife present at the birth of every single one of your six children's births.

It could be you don’t care what type of nurse because you love all nurses equally.

One thing is for sure, though, you have more than likely been cared for by a nurse at some point.

The chances are good you have had a nurse in the past who you remember quite well because of how wonderful she or he was.

Whatever the case, if you are like most people, you love all the different types of nurses. They are one of the most celebrated professions.

Nurses keep the healthcare system running. Without them, things would be a disaster.

Could you imagine how slow the doctor's office would run if there weren't a nurse to keep everything on track?

How would a hospital visit go if doctors were in charge of everything?

You can probably easily picture the chaos.

All the different types of nurses play an important role in medical care that is being doled out every minute of every day.

Now you can understand more about the sacrifices and hard work they have put in to ensure your health and happiness.

Make sure you thank a nurse the next time you get a chance.

Tell him or her how grateful you are for their care.

Let the different types of nurses in your life know they are appreciated.

Share your story of how a nurse helped you or your memorable nurse moment in the comments!