Types of Nurses

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Which types of nurses are there and which career in nursing is right for you? There are plenty of nursing career paths to choose from, including nurses who specialize in cardiac care, orthopedic care, critical care, rheumatology, pain management, and so many more. Explore your options here!

Northeastern nursing students posing and smiling

One of the many benefits of the healthcare field is that there are many different types of careers in nursing. After graduating from the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Northeastern University, you can choose from many different settings where you can use your nursing degree. You can work in one of the many nursing jobs outside of the hospital, or you can find work in one of the various types of nursing jobs in a hospital. No matter which of these two options you choose, there are many types of nurses to consider becoming.

Most recent nursing grads choose to start off by working in a hospital environment. Some nurses love this route and continue working in a specific hospital unit throughout their careers. However, others decide they want to try one of the many nursing specialties outside the hospital. There is no right or wrong answer here; it is strictly about preference.

An Overview of Types of Nurses in a Hospital

Many of the different types of nurses work in hospitals. Although some may provide care to outpatients who are visiting the hospital for diagnostics and treatments, many others care for individuals who have been hospitalized. Not all healthcare professionals who work in hospitals are registered nurses (RNs). For instance, before you decide to earn your nursing degree, you might decide to pursue a job as a nursing aide or orderly to get an inside look at the healthcare field. Other nursing professionals are licensed, but do not have the same rigorous academic background as RNs. Here’s a quick look at the different healthcare professionals you’ll find in a hospital.

Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants are responsible for helping patients with basic tasks. These include eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and mobility. These professionals may also take vital signs and record other patient information. The typical education required for this role is a high school education and a post-secondary certificate. In addition to working in hospitals, these professionals often work in residential care facilities, such as nursing homes. It’s important to note that these healthcare workers are not actually nurses, but rather are support staff who assist nurses.

nurse standing by window

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

LPNs and LVNs are licensed nurses, although they have less education and training than RNs. These professionals are tasked with delivering basic nursing care to patients, such as changing bandages, monitoring health, updating patient records, and inserting or removing catheters. Depending on the state regulations, some LPNs and LVNs may be able to administer medications. LPNs and LVNs typically graduate from a community college nursing program and pass a licensure exam.

Registered Nurses

RNs are more highly credentialed than both of the two categories of healthcare professionals above. RNs have typically graduated from an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), BSN or an ABSN program, and they all must pass the NCLEX-RN, the national licensure exam for RNs. Because they have an associate or bachelor’s degree, RNs are able to work more independently than LPNs and LVNs. They are an integral member of the patient care team, able to assess and examine patients, provide direct patient care, administer medications, perform diagnostic tests, and execute treatment plans, as well as deliver patient education.

Types of Nurses: Specialties to Choose From

Now that you know the general overview of the different types of nurses and nursing professionals in a hospital, it’s time to take a closer look at the various specialties available within the field. As a future RN, you could choose from a wide range of specialties. Some RNs specialize in working with a particular patient population, for example, while others specialize in a type of care. Other types of nurses specialize in a particular type of medical condition.

1. Medical-Surgical Nurses

Medical-surgical nursing is one of the most common types of nursing. Not so long ago, all nursing grads started out as a medical-surgical nurse. However, today the nursing specialty path is not so straight forward. A medical-surgical nurse typically manages a patient load of five to seven patients throughout their shift. They create treatment plans, administer medications, provide care, and document everything. This line of work is very demanding and can be challenging. However, the rewards are great. As a medical-surgical nurse, you get day-to-day, direct patient interaction with patients of all ages, from all backgrounds.

nurse holding a patient chart

2. Critical Care Nurse

A critical care nurse works with critically ill patients, typically in the intensive care unit (ICU). A critically ill patient refers to someone with a life-threatening problem. These nurses work with their patients and act as an advocate for them. You are not required to get an advanced nursing degree or additional certification, so long as you’re a licensed registered nurse. However, many nurses who want to stay in this field long term do get certified with the CCRN certification. This is one of the nursing fields where the nursing shortage has hit the hardest, so critical care nurses are in high demand.

Nurse sitting at desk talking to someone on an tablet

Did you know it’s even possible to be a remote nurse? Learn about providing virtual care.

3. Post-Anesthesia Care Nursing

A post-anesthesia care nurse works in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU), where patients recover from previously-administered anesthesia. They help ensure that the patient wakes up without complications and are responsible for things such as airway management, life support operations, pain management, draining catheters, and managing wounds from surgery.

4 & 5. NICU or PICU Nursing

The NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit, and PICU stands for pediatric intensive care unit. Both units are used to care for critically ill children. The difference between the two is that a NICU deals with newborns, whereas the PICU patients are infants and children up to the age of 17. If you enjoy working with and caring for ill children, this may be a good career path for you.

6. Oncology Nurse

An oncology nurse works with cancer patients and provides all of the necessary day-to-day care. An oncology nurse also educates the patients and their families, consults both the doctor and the patients, and coordinates the treatment. A basic nursing degree (preferably a BSN) is all that is needed for this field. There are many different specialties a nurse can have within oncology, many of which may require, or at least encourage, an advanced certification. Some of the specialties include chemotherapy, breast oncology, radiation, GYN oncology, palliative care, and early detection and prevention.

nurse sitting next to cancer patient

7. Neuroscience Nurse

A neuroscience nurse, sometimes called a neuro nurse for short, deals with conditions that involve the nervous system – the system that the whole body uses to function. These nurses typically deal with patients who suffer from neurological problems such as trauma to the spine due to injury or illness. Some of the diseases that cause injury to the spine include Parkinson’s disease, encephalitis, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis (MS). A neuro nurse provides daily care, rehabilitation care, treatment plans, education, and so much more for their patients.

8. Labor and Delivery Nurse

A labor and delivery nurse, often known as an L&D nurse, is responsible for bringing life into the world on a daily basis. They coach mothers through the birthing process during active labor and prepare the new parents to take their children home. This can include educating new parents on topics such as breastfeeding, holding and swaddling a baby, and so much more. An L&D nurse is also responsible for monitoring the health of the new baby. This is a fast-paced, client-facing area, but many who choose the field love it very much.

9. Pain Management Nurse

A pain management nurse works with patients to alleviate pain – both acute and chronic pain. They work with the patient to identify the pain and work with doctors to come up with a treatment plan. There are advanced certifications for these positions, although one is not always required to obtain a position as a pain management nurse.

10. Rheumatology Nurse

A rheumatology nurse works with patients that have a rheumatology disease. A rheumatology disease is one that is caused by inflammation of the joints or muscles. These diseases include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, myositis, spondylitis, Lyme disease, and fibromyalgia. These nurses deal a lot with blood analysis, education of patients, and pain management.

Many internal hospital nursing positions involve working directly with patients on a day-to-day basis, as well as working with physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel. Working as a nurse means you should be fast-thinking, patient, caring, and content to work closely with people on a daily basis.

11. Cardiac Nurse

As the title suggests, a cardiac nurse is responsible for caring for patients with cardiovascular conditions. In other words, they specialize in heart health. A cardiac nurse might work with patients who have suffered a heart attack and are going through a cardiac rehab program, for example. Patient education, particularly as it concerns medication adherence and lifestyle modifications, is very important in this specialty.

nurse listening to patient's heartbeat

12. Mental Health Nurse

If you have a compassionate, kind nature and you empathize with those dealing with mental health disorders, you might consider pursuing a career as a mental health nurse. Mental health nurses may work within general hospitals or within specialized mental health facilities. They are responsible for developing and carrying out personalized care plans in coordination with psychiatrists and psychologists.

13. Nurse Educator

Do you have strong communication skills and a desire to help address the nurse shortage in the U.S.? You might consider becoming a nurse educator. Nurse educators are responsible for teaching classes and labs, and supporting students as they work through a nursing degree program. Nurse educators typically have some professional work experience as RNs, as well as a doctorate degree.

14. Orthopedic Nurse

Orthopedic nurses specialize in working with patients with musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. They may work with patients with conditions ranging from chronic ankle instability to carpal tunnel syndrome to scoliosis. Often, orthopedic nurses care for patients who have undergone orthopedic surgeries, such as hip replacements.

Which Type of Nurse Should You Become?

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the different types of nursing specialties that can be found within a hospital. There are so many options out there for nurses, both inside and outside the hospital. So, which of these types of careers in nursing is right for you?

smiling northeastern nurse portrait

Only you can determine the answer to that question, and it’s perfectly fine if you’re still unsure as you head into nursing school or even after you graduate. You’ll likely find your clinical rotations to be helpful for determining your career pathway. During clinicals, you’ll gain hands-on experience working with patients, and you may find that you prefer to work with younger or older patients. Similarly, as you do clinicals, consider whether you prefer the fast-paced environment of acute/urgent care or the slower pace that is typically found in residential care facilities.

Another way to choose a nursing specialty is to consider how far you’d like to go with your education. If you decide that you’d like to earn a master’s or a doctorate degree, you might choose a specialty as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). These specialties include nurse anesthetist and nurse midwife. Just remember that you don’t have to decide right away. Take your time, talk to your admissions counselor, and solicit guidance from the RNs you meet during your clinicals.

Northeastern nursing student working in sim lab

Learn more about becoming a nurse anesthetist or a nurse midwife in this blog post.

If you are interested in becoming a nurse, be sure to reach out and let us know! We would love for you to reach out to an admissions counselor, who can help you chart your path to becoming a nurse. You can become a nurse in as few as 16 months with Northeastern's ABSN program near Boston or in Charlotte, NC. No matter which nursing career pathway is right for you, you can build a firm foundation for success at NEU.

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