15 Types of Nurses & What They Do

Female nurse browsing on a tablet for patient diagnosis or treatment on a medical or mobile healthcare app in a hospital.

There are many types of nurses, and the nursing field desperately needs qualified, dependable, passionate workers. A career in nursing can offer you strong job security and a healthy salary, not to mention the feelings of satisfaction that come from helping others every day. 

Your career opportunities in nursing are highly diverse. You can work in a fast-paced or slower environment in the public or private sectors. You can even use a nursing job as a vehicle to see the world. 

To give you a better idea of the jobs available to you, here are 15 different types of nurses and a little bit more about what they do. 

Types of nurses

1. Assessment nurse

An assessment nurse, also called a clinical assessment nurse plays a key role in helping doctors properly diagnose patients. 

They ask questions to learn about the patient’s symptoms, examine their background and medical history, test their vitals, and assess emotional and psychological factors that may contribute to their condition. Then, they interpret this information and accurately communicate it to physicians to make an accurate diagnosis. 

2. Registered nurse (RN)

A registered nurse provides and coordinates care to patients. They monitor vital signs, record patient progress, create care plans, administer medication, assist with medical procedures, and educate patients. RNs can provide a high level of care independently, but they also work closely with other healthcare professionals like physicians to ensure that everything runs smoothly with a patient’s care. 

Becoming a registered nurse is the perfect first step for those interested in a nursing career but unsure which avenue to follow. In addition to qualifying you to work in a variety of healthcare settings, it’s also a great entry point if you want to become more specialized or transition into healthcare administration down the road.

3. Licensed practical nurse (LPN)

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge into becoming an RN, becoming a licensed practical nurse is another option. LPNs have a more limited scope of practice than RNs, but can obtain their license and begin working more quickly. 

LPNs care for sick and injured patients, take vital signs, treat wounds, administer medication as directed by a physician or RN, and assist with daily care like bathing and dressing. LPNs frequently work in hospitals, nursing homes, and directly in patients’ homes.  

4. Nurse practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners treat illnesses and injuries and manage patients’ care. They’re licensed, independent healthcare providers who have completed a graduate degree in nursing, and as such, they hold more responsibility than RNs. Their duties are comparable to those of medical doctors, who practice alongside physicians in many organizations.

Nurse practitioners frequently provide primary care services in settings like family doctors’ offices, helping to alleviate the persistent physician shortage. They may also provide specialized care like gerontology and acute care. 

5. Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

Certified nursing assistants work with nurses and assist with administering patient care. A CNA may check vital signs, respond to patient calls, treat wounds, and record information. They also help with many physically demanding healthcare tasks, like moving patients, assisting with personal care, cleaning hospital rooms, and stocking supplies. 

CNAs most frequently work in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and rehabilitation centers. Being a CNA is considered an entry-level position, but it’s a strong pathway to other careers in the healthcare field. 

6. Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

CRNAs are advanced practice RNs who administer anesthesia and monitor patients who are receiving it. They have a high level of autonomy in this important job and can typically work in hospital operating rooms, ICUs, and outpatient surgical facilities. 

CRNAs are highly respected in the field, holding a minimum of a doctorate degree in anesthesia. They’re also the highest-paid type of nurses, with an average salary of more than $195,000. 

7. Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist is a nurse who has earned a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing. They can diagnose illnesses, create treatment plans, and manage the ongoing care of patients. They also provide support and expertise to other professionals on a nursing team, advising on best practices and helping to maintain a safe and compliant healthcare setting.

A CNS is similar to a nurse practitioner, but the roles have some subtle yet important distinctions. While a nurse practitioner plays a hands-on role in patient care, a CNS takes more of a consultant role, providing guidance, oversight, and training to healthcare teams. They often work with vulnerable populations like older adults and people with mental illnesses and are typically found in settings like community health clinics, mental health care facilities, and schools.

8. ER nurse

An ER nurse works exclusively in a hospital’s emergency room. They respond to patients with life-threatening injuries and medical issues; common duties might include setting broken bones, giving stitches, inserting IV lines, performing tracheotomies and intubations, and generally working on getting patients into a stable condition.

Being an ER nurse is a physically demanding job. Professionals in this role typically work 12-hour shifts and are almost constantly on their feet. It’s also mentally challenging, requiring the ability to effectively manage life-or-death situations on a routine basis. 

9. Geriatric nurse

Geriatric nurses provide care to elderly patients. They’re responsible for developing and executing treatment plans for chronic and acute illnesses while also dealing with compounding issues affecting older patients, like loss of vision, hearing, and mental clarity. Geriatric nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and patients’ homes. 

Geriatric nurses are in high demand as a greater portion of the population reaches retirement age. They play an essential role in bridging the gap between healthcare providers and the patient’s family, and as such, professionals in this role typically exhibit a high level of patience and compassion. 

10. Pediatric nurse

Pediatric nurses provide care for the youngest members of the population, treating patients ranging from infants to teenagers. They complete specialized pediatrics training and work closely with physicians specializing in children’s health, often in a family practice setting. 

In addition to being well-versed in kids’ medical needs, pediatrics nurses are skilled in dealing with the practical demands of treating children, like being able to calm their fears and speak to them in a way that helps facilitate an accurate diagnosis. 

11. Nurse midwife

A nurse midwife is a highly trained health professional specializing in women’s reproductive health. Though they’re typically associated with childbirth, they can provide care from adolescence through menopause. 

Nurse midwives are similar to OB/GYNs in that they provide prenatal care and assist during labor and delivery, but nurse midwives are more prevalent during alternative childbirth scenarios like water births and home births. Certifications for nurse midwives are managed by the American Midwifery Certification Board.

12. Nurse manager

If you’re interested in pursuing a leadership role within the nursing field, a job as a nurse manager may be perfect for you. In addition to providing patient care, nurse managers oversee nursing staff and influence policy decisions in their organizations. 

They may create nursing department schedules, supervise and provide guidance to staff, interface with leaders in other hospital departments, recruit and hire nurses, and work to optimize the facility’s nursing processes. 

Nurse managers are typically RNs with additional higher education credentials in nursing leadership or healthcare management. 

13. Nursing administrator

Nursing administrators are one step up from nurse managers, overseeing the functions of an organization’s nursing department. They maintain budgets, report to hospital executives, work to achieve organizational goals, and set the vision for the nursing department to follow. 

In addition to having a high level of clinical expertise, nurse administrators must be skilled workplace managers, able to oversee things like the allocation of resources, employee development, and regulatory compliance. 

Nursing administrators typically begin as practicing RNs, then complete a master’s program in nursing administration.

14. Home care nurse

Home care nurses are RNs or LPNs that care for patients in their own homes. Their patients may be elderly, disabled, or recovering from an illness or injury. Home care nurses monitor patients and provide treatment in line with instructions from the patient’s primary physician or specialist.

Because home care nurses work outside of a conventional medical setting, they have greater autonomy than nurses with similar titles in those environments. They may also enjoy more scheduling flexibility. The job can be a physically demanding one since home care nurses are generally the only medical professional on hand to move the patient and assist them with personal care. 

15. Travel Nurse

When a hospital or other care facility faces a staffing shortage, travel nurses step in to fill the void. Travel nurses originated with the ‘snowbird’ movement when more older adults began traveling to the warmer states for the winter months and returning north again for the summer. 

Travel nursing offers all of the benefits of full-time employment, including stable pay and benefits, in addition to free housing and the chance to see different parts of the country. If you’re someone who likes being on the move and can adapt to new environments easily, a career as a travel nurse could prove to be highly rewarding. 

Takeaway

One of the best things about nursing is that it’s an accessible career path for people of all education levels. You can get many of the jobs above without a four-year degree. Many nurses even work on their degrees while being employed or pursue higher education after working for a few years as a nurse first. 

For an in-depth look at some of the most popular nursing positions, browse our career guides here.