What are the Levels of Nursing?

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Many people choose to go into nursing because of the almost unlimited potential for professional growth. There are many different levels of nursing, including three main entry level positions that all provide comprehensive patient care at various healthcare facilities.

Different levels of nursing have different educational and licensing requirements. They also have different responsibilities in terms of patient care. For example, a certified nursing assistant will not have the same duties as a registered nurse.

If you’re interested in nursing, it can be helpful to learn about the levels of nursing so that you’ll have a better understanding of your potential journey. Keep in mind that you don’t have to take nursing step-by-step: you may instead choose to enter the profession at any entry level since they don’t usually require extensive experience to be successful. Now, let’s take a look at the first three nursing levels.

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)

Like other types of nursing professionals, CNAs make up the backbone of the healthcare profession. In many cases, CNAs work in facilities offering long-term care, such as assisted living or a rehabilitation clinic.

The educational requirements for CNAs are less compared to other types of nurses. You’ll need to already have your high school diploma or GED to get started. Then, you’ll need to complete an accredited certified nursing assistant training program. These are often offered at community colleges and, in some cases, healthcare facilities. Training typically only takes a few weeks.

After completing the program, you’ll take a licensing exam to receive your nursing assistant certification. Passing this exam prepares you to begin working. Wherever you’re employed, you’ll perform several patient care duties, such as taking vital signs and helping patients bathe and dress. You’ll work under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse.

You can also receive additional certifications as a CNA to be able to take on more shifts for a potentially higher rate without needing to move to the nurse level. For example, you can become a Certified Medication Aide (CMA), which has all of the same duties as a CNA, but you are authorized to administer certain medications to patients.

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

The next level up from CNA is the licensed practical nurse. In some settings, these same people are known as licensed vocational nurses. LPNs often work in long-term care facilities and in acute care, providing basic patient care to those in need.

The educational requirements for LPNs are similar to those of CNAs, although LPN training programs are generally more intensive. You don’t need an advanced degree to become an LPN, although you will be required to complete a training program geared toward licensed practical nurses. Such programs may take up to a year to complete, and you’ll need to take a licensing exam afterward to start working.

LPNs complete patient care tasks that are typically more involved than those performed by CNAs, although some duties may overlap. As an LPN, you’ll hold more responsibility for care provided. You may perform tasks like taking vital signs, changing bandages, administering medications, or starting IVs. Most LPNs work closely with registered nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

The highest entry-level position is that of the registered nurse. You don’t have to be a CNA or a LPN before becoming an RN, although it can be very helpful to have that experience first. Registered nurses have the most stringent educational requirements of any of the entry levels of nursing. An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required to practice as an RN.

Both degree programs usually take several years to complete, and you’ll still need to pass a licensing exam before you can work. RNs work in many healthcare settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, medical offices, and nursing homes. There are also a variety of nursing specialties you can pursue to enhance your education and sharpen your skill set.

As the highest of the entry levels of nursing, RNs are responsible for more than LPNs and CNAs. Your duties may include assessing patients, performing diagnostic tests, administering treatments and medications, providing education to patients and families, and communicating with all other members of the healthcare team. You’ll also be responsible for accurate, appropriate documentation of the patient’s condition and response to treatment.

Some RNs eventually go on to become nurse managers where they work. Nurse managers make sure each nursing unit runs smoothly and that each member of the staff has the resources they need to succeed. It’s important for nurse managers to have strong leadership and administrative skills since they’ll be used every day.

Beyond these positions, there are also several advanced levels of nursing in the profession. However, these three entry-level positions provide the foundation for the profession as a whole. Which one you choose ultimately depends on your career goals, but all can lead to a successful, rewarding career.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialties, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice. With over nine years of clinical practice experience, her unique insights into the healthcare industry help her craft compelling content that targets both healthcare consumers and clinicians.


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