Career Tracks in Nursing

As you look into different nursing schools, the various nursing credentials such as RN, LPN, BSN,

MSN, DNP and so forth may confuse you.  You may be wondering what these letters mean. 

Each abbreviation stands for a specific type of nurse and level of education. Licensure and

certification are credentials that allow individuals to practice legally.  In order to obtain these

credentials, nurses must complete the appropriate education.  Below are some explanations

for licensure, certification, and education credentials. 

Pathways to a Career in the Profession of Nursing

Bedside Acute Care Nursing

Specialty Nursing (ED, ICU, OR, L&D, Neonatal, Pediatrics, Trauma,  Medical/Surgical)

Community Health Nursing

Home Health Nursing

Public School Nursing

Public Health Nursiing

Registered Nurse

(Associate or BSN degree for entry level)

Advanced Practice

Registered Nurse (APRN)

(Masters degree or higher)

Nurse Practitioner

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesist

Certified Nurse Midwife

Nursing Management

Nursing Education


Nursing Research



Doctorate in Nursing

(DNP or PhD in Nursing)

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)


Licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a state licensure designation that is awarded to a person after he or she qualifies for and passes a state licensure exam. The education required to be an LPN generally takes one to two years of training with a classroom focus on anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and patient care. Most commonly technical education or vocational centers offer LPN education, although some colleges now have LPN programs.


Licensed practical nurses perform simple nursing procedures under the direct supervision of a physician or registered nurse. LPNs generally deliver hands-on care.  They can administer most medications; dress wounds; measure blood pressure, and so forth.

Registered Nurse (RN)


Registered nurse (RN) is a state licensure designation awarded to an individual after he or she qualifies for and passes a state licensure exam. A few different types of education programs can qualify a person to apply for a RN license. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is generally 2-year degree program offered by a community or technical college. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a four-year degree offered at colleges and universities.  


An RN is qualified to perform physical exams and health histories, provide health education, administer medications, perform wound care, make critical decisions about nursing actions, and coordinate and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel. RN’s are prepared to practice in a wide array of nursing settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, community health centers, schools, camps, prisons, and other settings. 

Advanced Professional Registered Nurse (APRN)


Advanced professional registered nurse (APRN) is national certification designation awarded to an individual after he or she qualifies for and passes a certification exam. In many states, the APRN must also obtain a separate (APRN) license. To become an APRN, a registered nurse must complete a specialized master’s or doctoral degree program and have clinical training beyond that of the registered nurse.  A few different types of education programs can qualify a person for an APRN role.


As the name suggests, APRNs practice at an advanced level.  Several different specialized roles are available and more are anticipated.  Currently, APRN roles include nurse practitioners (family nurse practitioner, women’s health nurse practitioner, mental health nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, acute care nurse practitioner, adult/geriatric nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, and others) nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse anesthetists.  Many nurse practitioners provide primary and acute care for patients including complete physical exams, health histories, preventative health, writing prescriptions, and leading health care teams.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Degree


The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree offered by community and technical colleges.  This degree prepares individuals to take the registered nurse licensing exam.  ADN nurses are prepared for a defined technical scope of practice


The associate degree nurse is prepared as a technical nurse to care for clients with common health problems in structured settings. The associate degree or nurse practice is defined by the roles of care provider, client teacher, communicator, manager of client care and member within the profession of nursing


Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) Degree


The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) requires a 4-year course of study.  BSN education is intended to result in a deeper understanding of cultural, economic, and social issues that influence healthcare delivery.  BSN education includes nursing theory, physical and behavioral sciences, and humanities with additional content in research, and leadership.


A BSN nurse has the RN licensure.  The BSN nurse is more likely to have a leadership role, to supervise the work of other nurses, and to practice in diverse settings such as community, school, and home care. 

Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Degree


The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is generally a two-year university degree.  To apply for entry into a MSN program in most universities, individuals must have earned a BSN degree.  Master’s education prepares nurses who can address the gaps in healthcare. 


Nurses with master’s degrees are more likely to be leaders in healthcare settings.  In addition to direct patient care roles, nurses with master’s education are prepared to lead change and improve the quality of health care, build and lead health care teams, and design new types of nursing practices in a variety of settings. Some MSN programs prepare nurses for APRN roles, while others prepare nurses for roles as nurse administrators or nurse educators. 

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree


The doctor of nursing practice DNP is a practice-focused doctoral degree.  DNP programs include a number of entry points.  Some Universities admit only graduates of MSN programs, while others admit students into BSN-DNP programs. Programs vary in length. DNP programs are designed to prepare nurse experts in specialized advanced nursing practice. These programs focus heavily on innovative practice based on research.


DNP education is designed to prepare nurses for the highest level of leadership in practice and scientific inquiry. The DNP degree is designed to prepare individuals for specialized nursing

practice, generally in APRN roles, but also may include roles in nursing administration or management, nursing education, and health policy.

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) Degree


The PhD in nursing is a research degree.  In most cases, admission to a PhD program requires a master’s degree in nursing.  PhD education includes courses in nursing theory, research, statistics; nursing education; leadership; and courses in a specialized area of interest.


The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest level of formal education for a career in nursing research.  The Ph.D. graduate conducts and publishes research, leads the profession, educates the next generation of nurses, and maintains nursing’s professional integrity. (AACN)

Kathy Willis - RN - Boyd County High Sch
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