The Different Types of Nurses, Customizing Care

Nursing is a broad field, full of different types of nurses, patients and work environments. A nurse may work in high-energy Intensive Care Units or park-like retirement homes. Some nurses provide hands-on care, while others work with robotic surgery tools. (Robotics Nurse Specialists are a rapidly expanding, specialized type of perioperative nurse.) 

different types of nursing.With so many types of nursing specializations, where you put your care is boundless.

No matter your ideal work environment or patient group, the future of nursing is not slowing down. There is more demand for nurses than there are students. As a result, you can be well-paid and have a stable career provided you find the right specialization for you. 

All nurses start with a basic nursing degree, but healthcare technology is always evolving. Nursing specialization evolves along with it. Nurses are continually learning new specializations on the job and in classes—just like the doctors and surgeons they work alongside. Wherever there are nurses, there are needs that are being carefully tended to. It is important to explore the different types of nurses as you develop your nursing career. The best fit, provides the best care. 

Also, check that the approach to nursing is aligned with your own mission. LeTourneau's school of nursing mission statement examples our own approach, which focuses on the virtue of care. We believe that healing others helps serve a greater good.

Different Types of Nurses: Specializing

There are an enormous amount of nursing specializations. Below are a few to start you thinking about what specialization you might enjoy. Remember, as a nurse, you are the heart of patient care.

In addition to the following list, there are specializations for all sorts of specific health care machines (telemetry, radiology and robotics), treatments (enterostomal therapy) and patients. 

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Cardiovascular Nurse

Qualifications: ADN and BSN and a Board Credential

Nursing Description:  Specializing in patients with heart or blood vessel problems, cardiovascular nurses frequently work in Intensive Care Units (ICU). The ICU is a high-pressure environment. Cardiovascular patients in the ICU have most frequently suffered arrhythmias, surgeries or infarctions.  

Dialysis Nurse: Certified Nephrology Nurse or Nurse Practitioner (CNN / CNN-NP)

Qualifications: Nurses who have experience specializing in a nephrology unit can become certified nephrology nurses or nurse practitioners. They must have sufficient approved continuing education and practice hours to take the CNN-NP or CNN exam.  

Nursing Description: Nephrology is the study and treatment of kidney-related health problems. That includes treating kidney stones, transplants, and dialysis. Like cancer, there are a number of long-term patients who require a strong, big-hearted nurse to help them understand and manage ongoing treatments and scary procedures. 

different types of nurses. dialysis nurse and bloodwork

Emergency Room Nurse (ER) / Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)

Qualifications: ER nurses have to be licensed RNs and pass the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) exam. It is recommended and preferred by many hospitals to have 2 years of experience in the ER. Credentials are valid for four years.

Nursing Description: In the center of the action, ER nurses have high endurance and are quick-thinking. You never know what is going to come in—or at what time. This is a fast-paced specialty. Nurses who choose the ER should be able to handle elevated levels of stress, trauma and sometimes grisly situations. Patients in trauma can be in excited or difficult states. 

Home Health Nurse / Private Duty Nursing

Qualifications: Both the patients and qualifying nurses vary from state to state. 

Nursing Description:  Home health and private duty nurses take care of patients in their home and sometimes travel with them. This is different than hospice nursing, which is for terminally ill patients. Home care nurses may help patients of any age who need or want at-home care. Some private duty nurses work with kids, like children who have respiratory or complex health conditions. Other private duty nurses work with elderly people. Because of the intimacy of care, home health or private nurses have long, deeply impactful relationships with their patients and their families. 

different types of nurses. caregivers.

Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN)/ Certified Hospice and Palliative Nursing Assistants (CHPNA) / Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse (CHPLN)

Qualifications: CHPNAs can be certified with a high school diploma or GED and sufficient experience. You have to have recently worked 500+ hours as a hospice and palliative nursing assistant (within 1 year) or 1000+ hours (within 2 years). CHAPLNs and CHPNs must have two years of experience and a BSN or ADN.  

There are also Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurses (ACHPNs) who must have an MSN or PhD, be a practicing RN or CNS, and have 500 or 1000 hours in recent hospice nursing experience.  

Nursing Description:  If you have a strong, very-giving heart for patients, hospice nurses are invaluable. Hospice nurses care for terminally ill patients. They provide comfort and guidance to patients and their families during their departure. 

Where they work: hospitals, care facilities, home health, hospice center. Many hospice nurses work intimately within the family home.

Intensive Care Unit Registered Nurse (ICU)

different types of nursesQualifications: Must be a practicing RN, preferably with a BSN, and pass the CCRN certification. Most have their own specialized training, continuing education, or requirements to be an ICU nurse.

Nursing Description: Patients in the ICU have complex, critical health problems and care needs. Nurses in the ICU are often chosen for their exceptional professionalism and ability. Patients in critical condition may not always pull through. Being able to provide exceptional physical and emotional attention, diligently watch and communicate patient status, and retain emotional fortitude is essential to success as an ICU RN. 

Labor & Delivery Nurse (L&D) / Nurse-Midwifery (CNM) / Women’s Health (WHNP)

Qualifications: If you are a registered nurse, you can specialize in Labor and Delivery without further education. Midwifery and Women’s Health require advanced education and exams. CNMs require a master’s degree and certification. Qualifying RNs must pass the WHNP exam. Part-time programs are available for both CNM and WHNP specializations.

Nursing Description: These three specializations all serve women’s health in hospitals, clinics, homes or birthing centers. 

Labor & Delivery Nurses – Bringing new lives safely into the world is a rewarding career that will always be in demand. L&D nurses specialize in care for pregnant women and newborns from check-in through delivery. Duties include checking vitals, inducing labor, epidurals, coaching and handling complications. 

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) – Unlike labor and delivery, these nurses must be certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), The Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME), The National Certification Council (NCC), and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). California requires the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) certification. These requirements are important due to the high consequences and care levels that may result in harm to a mother or baby. 

Women’s Health Practitioner (WHNP) – A registered nurse can become a WHNP with advanced education in women’s health. They must also pass the National WHNP exam. In California they must also be a nurse practitioner. 

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Qualifications: Completion of LPN program and NCLEX-PN exam

Nursing Description: An LPN works under registered nurses to help care for patients. They provide basic, direct patient care, including: blood pressure and vitals checks, catheters, dressing and cleaning. The scope of their services varies from state to state. Some states, for example, allow LPNs to administer IVs. 

LPNs also help manage the patients, including discussing their treatment and care. As an LPN, you spend a lot of time with patients. LPNs report patient status to doctors and nurses. They also provide an important voice for patients. 

This is a great first step towards becoming a registered nurse.

Where they work: hospitals, doctor’s offices, care facilities, home health

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse (NICU) 

Qualifications: A practicing, licensed RN with two years and 2000+ hours of specialized experience, some of which must be in the NICU, can take the RNC-NIC exam

Nursing Description: Like ICU nurses, registered nurses certified for the NICU tend to newborns who are in critical condition. They require special, detailed attention. While a rewarding job, the emotional demands can be high. Nurses deal with care for the infants, which may be premature, intubated, or in isolation. They also have to interact with concerned families and occasionally the loss of infants.different types of nurses

Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) / Advanced OCN Specialist (AOCNS)

Qualifications: Registered nurse, one year of recent experience and 10 educational hours (within 3 years), and 1,000 recent hours in adult oncology (30 months), OCN Certification Exam. AOCNS requires continued experience, education and examination. 

Nursing Description:  Oncology is a very important specialization that often involves long relationships with patients and their families. Beginning at onboarding the patient and reviewing their health history, an oncology nurse requires a great deal of sensitivity and heart. Duties include the hard skills of administering treatments like chemotherapy, monitoring the patient and test results, and taking care of ongoing patient care. However, it also requires a great deal of intellectual and emotional understanding. OCNs help translate medical terminology, answer questions and communicate with patients. They also have to attend to the emotions of patients and their families. 

There are a number of sub-specializations within oncological nursing, including specialties like Blood and Marrow Transplants (BMTCN)

Operating Room Nurse (OR) and Perioperative Nurses (CNOR)

Qualifications: Masters-prepared Clinical Nurse Specialists can take Clinical Nurse Specialist Perioperative Certification Exam (CNS-CP). OR and CNOR nurses have to have a ADN or BSN. While not required, BSNs are preferred. This specialization usually requires a year of bedside experience and an internship.

different types of nursesNursing Description:  

Operating Room Nurses – There are actually several types of operating room nurses: pre-op nurses, intra-op nurses and post-op (PACU) nurses. Each has duties specific to the patient’s journey through surgery. Pre-op nurses prepare the patient for surgery, from going over vitals to administering IVs. Intra-op nurses have various assigned roles during surgery. They are also responsible for preparing and gatekeeping the operating room. Post-op, or Post-anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), nurses take care of patients in the critical time after the procedure. Usually, post-op is between one and three hours before being sent home or to their hospital room. 

Perioperative Nurses – Registered nurses work closely with surgical patients. They help patients, family, doctors and staff prepare for and organize around surgeries. They also help with procedures and care that surround the surgery. In surgery, they may act as the scrub nurse or circulating nurse. The scrub nurse passes instruments and supplies for surgery. The circulating nurse manages the nursing in the OR for safety and comfort. 

Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

Qualifications: Pediatric nurses have to be experienced RNs and pass the Certified Pediatric Nurse exam. 

Nursing Description: Pediatric nurses care for children, predominantly in hospitals and doctor offices. In addition to handling children and adolescent’s health care needs, CPNs must also be able to asses physical and psychosocial factors. For example, they have to be able to identify signs of family distress or abuse. 

different types of nurses

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHN) / Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PHM-APRNs)

Qualifications: There are a number of professional levels and qualifications for mental health nursing. All require a degree program and credentials, beginning with two year associate's degrees in nursing. Top level PHM-APRNs have doctorate degrees.

Nursing Description:  Psychiatric mental health nurses work in a variety of locations to help assess and treat the mental health needs of individuals, families, communities and groups like veterans or survivors. In addition to therapeutic services, they also prescribe and administer medicine for psychotherapy. They can work for care facilities, hospitals, government, private organizations or in private practice. 

Registered Nurse (RN)

Qualifications: BSN, AND or degree from approved nursing program, clinical experience, and the NCLEX-RN exam. Clinical experience is part of the degree program.

Whatever degree program you choose, you want to ensure your program is accredited through the CCNE and/or NLNAC. This is the national accreditation, which is important for continued education and securing the best job opportunities.

Nursing Description: RNs take care of patients. They treat and give medicine, participate in the planning patient care, administer tests and diagnose results and advise patients on post-treatment care. They also are responsible for overseeing nursing aides, LPNs, home care aids and other medical staff.

Different types of nurses

School Nurse

Qualifications: ADN or BSN and licensure for being a registered nurse (NCLEX-RN)

Nursing Description: If you are planning on having a larger family, this may be the career for you. School nurse hours cannot be beat. While not as high paying as other nursing jobs, school nurses only work during the school year. Instead of dealing with trauma and grief, school nurses triage minor scrapes and check on student health. A good portion of your job will be administrative. 

One challenging side of school nursing is that you function, like all childcare professionals, as a social worker as well. School nurses have to understand and report signs of child abuse, neglect or endangerment. 

school nurse

Travel Nurse

Qualifications: To work in multiple states, you have to pass certain exams that vary state-to-state. Many states accept the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN. Look to see about the exam and what states qualify and personal qualifications for a multistate license at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. However, some states have additional certifications.

Nursing Description:  A cosmopolitan life is within reach of nursing professionals. Travel nurses can travel with an employer or travel between destinations on contract assignments. Travel nurses have the bonus of being able to set flexible hours or take long stretches of time off between jobs. If you are not a travel nurse, it may still structure the kind of life that provides well for family time. For example, you may work in adjacent cities, taking time off during semesters. 

With so many choices, you may still be thinking, "Help me find a career that suits me." We are here to help customize your education, too.