What Do Nursing Titles Mean, and How You Can Further Your Career Within Them

Nursing offers more opportunities for career advancement than perhaps any other healthcare occupation. But so many opportunities create a lot of confusion. Students investigating nursing as a career, current nursing students, and even seasoned nurses struggle to understand the educational divide. And furthermore, how the educational divide effects important occupational benefits, like pay and scope of practice. To help all interested in learning more, we’ve organized each educational level and listed different options for furthering one’s nursing career.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) complete a 12-18-month educational program. LPNs work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN), performing tasks such as:

  • Check, record, and monitor vital signs
  • Administer medications
  • Give injections
  • Discuss health concerns with patients
  • Perform administrative stats

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2018 the median annual salary for an LPN in the United States was $47,710 or $22.23 per hour.

Specialty certifications can be obtained to further one’s LPN career. Top certifications include:

  • Advanced life support
  • Geriatrics
  • Hospice and palliative care
  • IV administration
  • Long-term care
  • Obstetrics

Another way to further one’s career is to complete an LPN to RN or LPN to bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) bridge program. These programs can be completed more quickly than the traditional 2-year (RN) and 4-year (BSN) programs.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) complete a two-year educational program and earn an associate’s degree. It’s important to note that it usually takes about 1-2 years to complete the required prerequisites to enter a program. So, in total, RNs may spend 3-4 years in school.

RNs work under the supervision of a medical doctor, performing tasks such as:

  • Dress wounds and incisions
  • Help physicians during surgery
  • Provide emotional support to patients and their families
  • Review treatment plans with patients
  • Run and analyze diagnostic tests
  • Teach patients healthy habits

RNs may work in a variety of health care settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Home health services
  • Medical offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Schools
  • Community centers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2018 the median annual salary for an RN in the United States was $71,730 or $34.48 an hour. This number can vary greatly in the healthcare setting. For example, nursing home RNs earned a mean salary of $67,370 or $32.59 an hour while surgical hospital RNs earned a mean salary of $77,730 or $37,37 an hour. Thus, one way for RNs to further their careers from a financial standpoint is to find the highest paying healthcare settings and obtain jobs in them. Additional ways to further one’s career include:

  • Obtain certification
  • Complete an accelerated RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program
  • Complete an RN to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program

There is an endless number of specialist certifications. Information regarding the benefits of being a BSN and MSN is presented in the following sections.

Bachelor of Science Nurses 

Bachelor of Science Nurses (BSNs) complete a four-year program and earn a bachelor’s degree. Like RNs, BSNs work under the supervision of a physician. Some of their tasks may be the same as RNs’ and others may be different. Key tasks that a BSN may perform that an RN typically does not include:

  • Examine patients and obtain critical information about their symptoms and medical histories
  • Perform research
  • Create quality assurance standards
  • Counsel patients to improve their health
  • Play a key role in the delivery of medication and treatment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes RNs and BSNs in their median annual 2018 salary of $71,730 or $34.48 an hour.

It’s important to know that it’s increasingly important to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Some hospitals and doctors’ offices make having a BSN a hiring requirement. Also, BSNs may be able to move into a nursing manager or director positions more easily than RNs. They may also further their education and obtain a Master’s of Science in Nursing.

Master’s of Science in Nursing

Nurses who obtain their Master’s of Science in Nursing are called Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). There are four types of APRNs.

Nurse Practitioners (NPs). An NP degree may take 2-4-years to obtain. NPs have additional responsibilities for administering care than RNs and BSNs. They examine patients, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe medication much as physicians do. However, in certain situations, a physician must sign off an NP’s diagnosis and treatment plan. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary in 2018 for an NP in the United States in 2018 was $113,930 or $54.78 an hour.

Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs). A CNM degree takes 2-years to obtain. CNMs are specialists in women’s reproductive health and childbirth. Their key tasks include attending births, performing examinations, and prescribing medications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary in 2018 for CNMs in 2018 was $106,910 or $51.40 an hour.

Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). Depending on the school, a CRNA program may take 2-3-years. However, it should be noted that at least one year working in an acute care setting is a requirement for all CRNA schools. CRNAs key task is to administer and monitor anesthesia. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median annual salary in 2018 for CRNAs in 2018 was $174,790 or $84.03 an hour.

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs).  It takes an average of about 2-years to become a CNS. CNSs specialize in a nursing field and focus on nursing practice, education, research and consulting. They can perform many of the same duties as an NP but do so from a specialist and whole scale perspective. They may obtain approval from a physician to prescribe medicine

Doctor of Nursing

A doctor of nursing is the highest level of nursing education. It takes 4-6- years to complete a Doctor of Nursing Program. There are two types of Doctors of Nursing.

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) focuses on the direct clinical practice of nursing. They typically work in an executive role in a hospital.

A Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS or PhD) focuses on nursing research and scholarly work. They typically work in an educational institution.

Endless Possibilities

There is an endless amount of possibilities in the nursing field. This article has helped you understand the educational divide from the lowest to the highest level. You’ve learned that there are ways to advance your career within your current nursing level and ways to obtain a higher level. Whether you’re a student looking into nursing, a current nursing student, or a practicing nurse, you now have the information you need to help get you started should you want to make a career move.


Jeff Oescher worked for over 6 years as an orthopedic clinical associate and case technician. He now works as a medical writer for Vohra Wound Physicians, a national wound care physician group.