Just like there are many different types of doctors, there are also many different types of nurses. Each specialization depends on several factors like healthcare setting, age range of patients, and type of care you’re delivering. So if you’re interested in starting a nursing career, how do you choose which type of nursing is right for you?
Most types of nursing careers are dependent on your education. In other words, the number of nursing jobs at your disposal will depend on your degree level.
In this guide, we’ll review 11 different types of nurses and nurse specialties, and the education requirements for each.
Nursing Education and Degrees
No matter the nursing job, all nurses must have a higher education. Otherwise, you will have difficulty qualifying for your state’s NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) and won’t be able to receive a state nursing license.1 Not to mention, you’ll be underprepared for a nursing career.
Each type of nursing degree offers different benefits and job opportunities. In general, the higher the degree, the more nursing job options are potentially at your disposal. Here are the most common degrees aspiring nurses can earn:2
- Bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) – For new high school graduates, a BSN is a common path to nursing. This 4-year collegiate program offers students general education and clinical training, preparing them to take the NCLEX and become licensed for a range of medical, administrative, and leadership roles.
- Master’s of science in nursing (MSN) – For those with a BSN in nursing, a master’s is the next step to more advanced and specific nursing roles. This intensive degree typically takes two to three years to complete.
- Master’s of science in nursing-direct entry (MSN-DE) – For those who’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in a field besides nursing, an MSN-DE can reset your career path. This master’s degree is built for college graduates just beginning to study nursing. Depending on your prior education, this program may run anywhere from two to three years.
- Doctor of nursing practice (DNP) – The highest level of nursing education, a doctoral degree offers intense and highly specific education to nursing students. After earning an MSN, earning a DNP can take 18 months to two years.3
BSN-Level Nurse Types
A BSN nursing degree can open the door to an incredible range of jobs for future nurses. After successfully passing your NCLEX exam and qualifying for a state nursing license, you can pursue any of these types of nursing with a BSN.
#1 Registered Nurse (RN)
A registered nurse license is considered the “entry point” to nursing since a state nurse license qualifies you for any RN job. Before pursuing other specialties, nurses will often work at least a few years as an RN to gain experience and confidence in their practice.
As an RN, you can work in various settings—hospitals, government offices, home care facilities, etc. Typically, an RN’s work will cover the following tasks:4
- Assess, observe, and record patient conditions
- Review patient medical history and symptoms
- Administer medicines and treatments to patients
- Create and add to patient care plans
- Operate medical equipment
- Perform and analyze diagnostic tests
- Communicate with patient family members and caretakers
#2 Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
A critical care registered nurse will likely be present if you ever need emergency medical assistance. CCRNs provide care to patients with urgent or critical care needs, representing about 37% of all nurses in a hospital setting.5
Typically, a CCRNs work will focus on emergency care tasks like:
- Managing bedside care (such as dressing changes, catheter care, vital signs, etc.)
- Creating a plan of emergency care with other treatment staff
- Monitoring patients for subtle changes in health status
- Initiating corrective action for changes in health status
- Administering medications, treatments, and blood transfusions
While an individual with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) may be able to become a CCRN, some states, and employers will require a BSN for this role.
#3 Cardiac Registered Nurse
Cardiac registered nurses work under cardiac surgeons to manage acute and chronic heart conditions. This can involve work in emergency settings like an emergency room (ER) or intensive care unit (ICU) or more relaxed settings like a hospital cardiology unit or surgical unit. A cardiac registered nurse’s special skills may include:
- Defibrillator administration
- Long-term patient relationships
- Cardiac and vascular test readings
- Postoperative care
- Heart health care and lifestyle changes
Similar to CCRNs, cardiac registered nurses may hold an ADN; however, most hospitals will prefer a BSN.7
#4 Oncology Registered Nurse
For many cancer patients, medical care becomes a long-term project that involves many participants—including oncology nurses.
Oncology nurses care for cancer patients across all stages of cancer. This nursing role depends heavily on teamwork since cancer patients often require complicated healthcare plans that can change rapidly. While a prospective oncology nurse can start their career with an ADN, higher-level oncology nursing jobs often require a BSN. Those looking to continue this career path should strongly consider the latter.8
Due to the daily interaction with people undergoing cancer treatment, oncology nursing is also an emotionally-heavy field that often requires compassion and emotional intelligence. An oncology nurse may be asked to take on these specialized duties:9
- Emotional support for patients and families
- Chemotherapy device operation
- Treatment plan creation with other oncology providers
- Identification of emergency oncology situations
- Ethical decision management between patients and caregivers
- Protections for immunocompromised patients
#5 Travel Nurse
If you have a passion for travel, flexible schedules, and new experiences, then travel nursing may be your calling. A travel nurse works like a freelancer, taking on different short-term contracted positions at different healthcare facilities nationwide.
Typically, a staffing agency will help place travel nurses in roles that fit their preferences while also helping to manage additional needs, like housing and transportation.
The duties of a travel nurse are often the same as those of a registered nurse. However, travel nurses with specialties may find more roles in different settings to gain new experiences.
MSN and MSN-DE-Level Nurse Types
Once you earn a Master’s degree in nursing, your career opportunities can immediately expand. Typically, these MSN-level nursing roles involve more advanced skills, leadership, or administrative tasks.
#6 Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
A type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), CNSs directly treat patients in clinical settings.10 Additionally, they may offer education to fellow nurses and specialize in roles like pediatrics, geriatrics, or oncology.
Due to their expertise, CNSs typically have the power to:
- Diagnose patient conditions
- Develop individualized treatment plans
- Educate patients and families on condition management
- Educate nurses on treatments, procedures, and other nursing activity
- Analyze patient data to determine treatments
- Supervise employees in supporting roles
#7 Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
Another APRN, family nurse practitioners are incredibly versatile, caring for patients of all ages.11 FNPs carry the power to provide primary care services such as:
- Diagnostic tests
- Medication prescriptions
- Treatment plans
- Patient education
- Long-term care (particularly for children)
In some states, a family nurse practitioner may need a licensed doctor as a supervisor to provide any of the above services. It’s best to research your own state’s nurse practitioner laws for the most accurate information.
#8 Certified Nurse-Midwife
Both birthing care and newborn care require expertise and swiftness. As an APRN, a certified nurse-midwife can assist in these types of reproductive health and childbirth-related matters, typically under the supervision of a gynecologist or obstetrician.
A certified nurse-midwife’s work may include tasks like:
- Providing patient care during all stages of pregnancy
- Assisting in childbirths
- Monitoring fetal and newborn health
- Facilitating postpartum care
- Educating women on their reproductive health
#9 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
Either individually or in tandem with psychiatrists, PMHNPs care for patients with mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, depression, schizophrenia, and more.
A PMHNP can work in a variety of settings, from community mental health centers to psychiatric facilities, and may use the following skills:
- Diagnose mental health conditions
- Prescribe mental health medications
- Form long-term relationships with patients
- Create care plans for patients
- Counsel patients for mental health purposes
- Monitor patients in residential facilities
#10 Nurse Educator
A nurse educator trains and teaches all levels of nursing students, and can work in various settings, such as colleges, public health centers, and hospitals.
Nurse educators may provide students with:
- Nursing degree curricula
- Classes and demonstrations on nursing skills
- Educational guidance and feedback
- Career advisement
Doctoral-Level Nurse Types and Specialties
When you earn a doctorate in nursing, you build upon the knowledge and skills of your MSN degree, allowing for the most comprehensive understanding of the nursing field. While some individuals with a DNP may pursue managerial or leadership roles in hospitals or other healthcare-related facilities, others can pursue highly-specialized nursing roles, like that of a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
#11 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Anesthesia is a high-risk area of medicine, requiring precise and hypervigilant care during surgical procedures. That’s why a CRNA must obtain a doctoral degree to practice. This specialized APRN role often involves assisting an anesthesiologist through duties like:
- Administering anesthesia medication
- Monitoring patients under anesthesia
- Noting patient condition changes while under anesthesia
- Performing comprehensive medical interviews and exams
- Selecting and administering appropriate medications
- Overseeing post-anesthesia care
- Educating the patient on pain management and post-surgery care
Currently, nurses with an MSN can become CRNAs. However, federal law will require all graduating nurses to hold a DNP to become CRNAs in 2025.
Discover Your Nursing Specialty at Alliant International University
From nurse anesthetists to cardiac RNs, all nurses start their careers with the same first step—higher education. To pursue your passion for nursing, consider earning your higher education degree at Alliant International University.
At our School of Nursing and Health Sciences, we offer both BSN and MSN-DE programs to prepare you for a successful career in nursing, whether you’re a high school graduate or a college graduate seeking a career change.
No matter your former education, our expert staff is equipped to provide you with the tools you need to pursue becoming a nursing professional. Explore our nursing programs at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences today, so you can take the next step in your career tomorrow.
- “Breakdown of RN Nursing Requirements by State | NurseJournal.org.” 2020. NurseJournal. June 3, 2020. https://nursejournal.org/registered-nursing/rn-licensing-requirements-b…. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- Smith-Kimble, Courtney. “Understanding All Nursing Degree Types Overview.” 2020. NurseJournal. June 3, 2020. https://nursejournal.org/degrees/types-of-nursing-degrees/. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- “Why Get a Doctorate in Nursing (DNP)?” NurseJournal. December 07, 2022. https://nursejournal.org/degrees/dnp/why-get-a-dnp-degree/. Accessed February 23, 2023.
- “What Is a Registered Nurse (RN)? (And What Do They Do?). Indeed. January 04, 2023. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/what-is-an-rn-regist…. Accessed February 23, 2023.
- “Critical Care Nurse..” 2018. EveryNurse.org. June 26, 2018. https://everynurse.org/careers/critical-care-nurse/. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- “How to Become a Critical Care Nurse.” NurseJournal. November 22, 2022. https://nursejournal.org/careers/critical-care-nurse/how-to-become/. Accessed February 23, 2023.
- “Cardiac Care Nurse.” October 28, 2022. RegisteredNursing.org. https://www.registerednursing.org/specialty/cardiac-care-nurse/#:~:text…. Accessed February 23, 2023.
- “How to Become an Oncology Nurse.” NurseJournal. December 06, 2022. https://nursejournal.org/careers/oncology-nurse/how-to-become/. Accessed February 23, 2023.
- “What Competencies Are Required for Oncology Nurse Generalists?” n.d. ONS Voice. January 09, 2018. https://voice.ons.org/news-and-views/what-competencies-are-required-for…. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- Houck, Katie. 2020. “Nursing Specialties: 98 Types of Nurses [+ Salaries & Certifications].” Better Nurse. December 18, 2020. https://betternurse.org/nursing-specialties/. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 2019. “Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?” American Association of Nurse Practitioners. AANP Website. July 3, 2019. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://www.aanp.org/news-feed/are-you-considering-a-career-as-a-family…. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- “CRNAs Will Need a Doctorate Degree by 2025.” n.d. Nurse.org. March 04, 2020. https://nurse.org/education/crna-doctorate-degree-2025/. Accessed February 14, 2023.