A Complete Guide to Types of Nurses, Salaries, and Demand Right Now

guide to types of nurses

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If you’re considering a career in nursing, you’ve made a great choice! A job in health care can be personally rewarding, allowing you to make a tangible difference in people’s everyday lives. Plus, nurses will be in high demand in the years to come, as many nurses are retiring, adding to an already existing labor shortage.

Before you can realize your dream of becoming a nurse, though, you need to complete the requisite education and get the necessary credentials. There are many different types of nurses, and learning about your options now will allow you to chart out your path toward realizing your career goals.

This guide provides an introduction to the different nursing jobs available, plus the education and exams you need to qualify for each job. You’ll also get details on the projected demand for top nursing roles in the United States and find out the average salary according to the type of nursing role. Let’s dive in.

What are some of the different types of nurses?

The nursing field is vast and covers diverse specialties, from pediatric nursing to travel nursing. Each of these roles requires distinct training and certifications, so it’s really important to narrow down your focus early on in your career. That said, honing in on a specialty when there are so many to choose from can be tough. Don’t stress!

Start by learning about the basic categories of nurses. These categories reflect different levels of expertise in general nursing. Determining which category of nurse you want to become is the first step. Then, you can select a specialty area like radiology, intensive care, or oncology (the next section covers your options in detail).

types of nurses

Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) supports patient care with hands-on tasks like bathing, grooming, feeding, wound care, and checking vital signs. They may turn and move patients, help transport them, and support senior nurses with certain medical procedures, as well. Finally, CNAs provide administrative support, for example, by answering patient calls.

Here are some fast facts about CNAs:

  • Education requirements for this position: CNA educational program requirements vary by state. Most states require these entry-level workers to complete a state-approved CNA certificate or diploma program through a vocational school, community college, or hospital. A CNA program usually lasts four to eight weeks.
  • Required exams/certifications: CNA certification requirements vary by state. Most states require individuals to complete the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) examination to obtain licensure.
  • National salary: The national median pay for nursing assistants is $30,830 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • Expected job growth: The job outlook for nursing assistants in the U.S. is good, with a countrywide increase of 8% expected from 2020 to 2030.

Hawaii, New York, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Washington are where CNAs get paid the most, and Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and New York are the states with the most jobs available for CNAs.

Licensed vocational nurse (LVN)/Licensed practical nurse (LPN)

The terms “licensed vocational nurse” (LVN) and “licensed practical nurse” (LPN) refer to the same nursing category. The only difference is geographic, with most states using LPN (except for California and Texas, which both use LVN).

An LPN/LVN provides more hands-on medical care than a nursing assistant. In addition to dressing wounds, monitoring vital signs, and providing meals, they also administer medications, start intravenous (IV) fluids, and clean and manage medical instruments.

Here’s the must-know info about LVNs/LPNs:

  • Education requirements for this position: To become an LPN/LVN, you must complete a dedicated LPN/LVN program approved by your state. These programs are generally offered by technical schools and community colleges and take one year to complete.
  • Required exams/certifications: To practice as an LPN/LVN, you must complete the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam, NCLEX-PN. Once you’ve passed the exam, you can apply for certification in your state.
  • National salary: The national median pay for LVNs/LPNs is $48,820 per year.
  • Expected job growth: The job outlook for LVNs/LPNs is positive, with a nationwide increase of 9% expected from 2020 to 2030.

Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Alaska, and New Hampshire are where LVNs/LPNs get paid the most, and Washington, D.C., Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available for LVNs/LPNs.

Registered nurse (RN)

Registered nurses (RNs) are qualified to perform physical exams on patients, administer medications and treatments, collect patient health history, prepare patients for meetings with physicians, and counsel patients. They can also discuss patient treatment methods with doctors. An RN’s specific duties vary depending on specialties, such as mental health or trauma.

Here are some basic details about RNs:

  • Education requirements for this position: To get RN credentials, you must complete either a nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing, or an associate degree in nursing. A bachelor’s degree is often preferred by employers.
  • Required exams/certifications: To practice as an RN, after completing your education, you must pass the NCLEX-RN.
  • National salary: The median pay for RNs in the U.S. is $75,330 per year.
  • Expected job growth: The job outlook for RNs is good, with a U.S.-wide increase of 9% expected from 2020 to 2030.

California, Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada are where RNs can make the most, and Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available for RNs.

Nurse practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners (NPs) can perform even more medical duties than other types of nursing categories. They can perform physicals, diagnose health problems, order diagnostic tests, provide referrals, and develop treatment plans for patients. They’re also able to prescribe medication in line with their state’s guidelines, perform in-office procedures, and provide valuable patient education.

Here’s what to know about NPs:

  • Education requirements for this position: To become an NP, you must first obtain your RN-BSN degree and get some hands-on experience. You can then complete a master’s in nursing (MSN) Nurse Practitioner degree to advance your career.
  • Required exams/certifications: First, you have to pass the NCLEX-RN. Once you’ve obtained your master’s degree, you must then get your NP licensure according to your state’s and specialty field’s requirements. Possible licensing bodies include the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Getting licensed usually means completing a certain number of practical hours and passing an exam.
  • National salary: The national median pay for NPs is $117,670 per year.
  • Expected job growth: The job outlook for NPs is very promising, with a nationwide increase of a whopping 45% expected from 2020 to 2030.

If you’re looking to make the most, consider Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, or Massachusetts, which offer the highest salaries for NPs. At the same time, Texas, Florida, California, New York, and Pennsylvania have the most jobs available for NPs.

Type of NurseEducation/Exam RequirementsAverage Salary
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)– CNA certificate- National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) exam$30,830
Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) / Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)– LPN/LVN program- National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCLEX-PN) exam$48,820
Registered Nurse (RN)– Bachelor of Science (BSN) or Associate Degree (ASN) in Nursing- National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCLEX-RN) exam$75,330
Nurse Practitioner (NP)– Bachelor of Science (BSN) in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)- National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCLEX-RN) exam$117,670

15 different types of nurses and specialties

So far, we’ve covered the core categories of nurses according to levels of expertise. Beyond these categories, though, there are distinct nursing specialties. If you want to pursue a career in one of these niches, you’ll need to meet additional requirements.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can be nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, nurse anesthetists, or clinical nurse specialists. APRNs diagnose and treat illness, advise patients on chronic disease management, and provide patient education on public health issues.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing, followed by a master’s in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by additional certifications/exams according to specialty
  • National salary: $97,263
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Alaska, Michigan, and Maryland offer the highest salaries for APRNs, while Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available for APRNs.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) provides comprehensive patient care, including patient diagnosis, treatment, and consultation. A CNS may specialize in a particular field, like cardiovascular health or oncology, or focus on a patient population, like geriatrics or pediatrics. They may also educate and coach other nursing staff.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing, or an associate degree in nursing, followed by a master’s in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by additional certifications/exams according to specialty
  • National salary: $93,862
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

If you’re looking to make the most, consider California, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, or Wyoming. Meanwhile, California, Florida, New York, Texas, and North Carolina have the most jobs available for CNSs.

Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

Emergency room (ER) nurses help patients with severe injury, illness, or trauma who are in need of urgent care. They help to stabilize patients and manage their pain until more in-depth treatment is possible. ER nurses often work under intense pressure and in high-stress situations.

  • Education requirements for this position: Nursing diploma, bachelor of science in nursing or associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the Certified Emergency Nurse Specialization exam administered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN)
  • National salary: $85,704
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Hawaii, California, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, and Washington are where ER nurses get paid the most, and Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available for ER nurses.

Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

A psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) works in a therapeutic role with patients, building relationships with them to address psychiatric or mental health challenges. A PMHNP’s work may include assessing and diagnosing patients, creating treatment plans, and evaluating patients on an ongoing basis, sometimes even years.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing, followed by completion of an accredited PMHNP program
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the PMHNP Exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • National salary: $103,000
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Alaska, New Jersey, Oregon, Massachusetts, and California are where PMHNPs can make the most, and Florida, Texas, California, New York, and Pennsylvania have the most jobs available.

Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN)

A certified post anesthesia nurse (CPAN) focuses on caring for patients who are recovering from procedures requiring anesthesia, notably surgery. These nurses must monitor their patients’ physical, cognitive, and behavioral well-being. They may monitor symptoms, treat anesthesia side effects, and handle instruments like multi-drug drips and ventilators.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN) and/or Certified Ambulatory PeriAnesthesia Nurse (CAPA) exam (both administered by the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification)
  • National salary: $90,500
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

If you want to make the most as a CPAN, consider Hawaii, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Alaska, or Michigan. Texas, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have the most jobs available.

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) focuses on women’s health care, providing family planning and gynecologic services. They may conduct annual exams and write prescriptions. They may also assist women throughout the stages of pregnancy, from preconception to postpartum.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing, followed by a master’s from a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME)
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the national Certified Nurse-Midwife Examination administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)
  • National salary: $114,841
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Dakota, and Alaska offer the highest salaries for CNMs.

Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses work with people who have cancer. They may assess patients, administer treatments, and serve as a liaison between the patient and their primary care provider. Oncology nurses may accompany their patients over long-term treatment plans, providing practical and emotional support.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) certification exam
  • National salary: $78,800
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

California, Oregon, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C., offer the highest salaries for oncology nurses, while Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available.

Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses specialize in working with children. They can perform physical exams, measure vitals, conduct diagnostic procedures like blood tests, and develop treatment plans. They must be compassionate and child-friendly, as they’re often the first line of care for kids, acting as a connection between young patients and their doctors.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the Pediatric Nursing Certification (PED-BC) administered by the ANCC
  • National salary: $74,300 for those with a bachelor’s degree; higher earnings are possible with advanced degrees
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

California, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and New Jersey offer the highest salaries for pediatric nurses, while Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available.

Travel Nurse

Travel nurses help fill gaps in the health care system, working for independent staffing agencies and taking on short-term assignments wherever nurses are needed. Travel nurses have the same duties as an RN. They must also be adaptable and flexible and be open to moving to new cities and changing jobs regularly.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN
  • National salary: $99,202
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals (demand for travel nurses has also increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Although you can technically travel wherever you like for the job, consider a stop in Hawaii, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, or Wisconsin if you’re looking for some of the highest salaries. At the same time, Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) provides primary care to patients of all ages. They can conduct health exams, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and provide patient education. They might be part of the medical staff in a physician’s office or even have their own private practice, working with a high degree of autonomy.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing, followed by a master’s in nursing (Master’s programs focused on FNP are available.)
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by additional certifications/exams from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • National salary: $105,898
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Connecticut have the highest salaries for FNPs, while Texas, Florida, California, New York, and Pennsylvania have the most job openings.

NICU Nurse

A neonatal intensive care unit nurse (NICU nurse or neonatal nurse) provides care to critical and high-risk infants who need extra monitoring and attention after birth. They may work with newborns up to children as old as 2 years of age. Their work may include measuring and weighing infants, monitoring bodily functions, checking vitals and running tests, and administering treatments according to a doctor’s prescription.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the National Certification Corporation’s RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC) or American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ CCRN (Neonatal) specialty certification
  • National salary: $99,711
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., California, and Michigan are where NICU nurses can make the most, while Florida, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available.

Medical-Surgical Nurse

Medical-surgical nurses help patients get ready for and recover from surgery. They may provide wound care, check patient vitals, administer medications, and operate equipment like IVs, feeding tubes, catheters, and oxygen tanks. They may work in hospitals or outpatient care facilities.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification from ANCC
  • National salary: $99,653
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and New York are the top five states for salaries for medical-surgical nurses, and Florida, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most jobs available.

Radiology Nurse

Radiology nurses are also called medical imaging nurses. They support patients undergoing diagnostic imaging procedures like MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays. These tools are used to diagnose illnesses and come up with treatment plans. They may also help patients undergoing radiation therapy, a common cancer treatment. They may work in hospitals or diagnostic imaging facilities.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing (To practice advanced radiology, a master’s is needed.)
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the ​​Certified Radiology Nurse offered by the Association for Radiologic & Imaging Nurses
  • National salary: $81,942
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals

Radiology nurses can make the most in Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Minnesota.

Long-Term Care Nurse

Long-term care nurses provide care for patients with serious injuries, illnesses, or disabilities who need extended care. They may monitor vitals, provide therapeutic treatments like massage, and help with daily needs like bathing and toileting. They often work with patients who have chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or terminal cancer. They may also work in the home health care setting.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the certification exam from the American Association for Long-Term Care Nursing (AALTCN)
  • National salary: $75,771
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals (The aging population will also spur the need for this specialty)

Long-term care nurses can make the most in Hawaii, Massachusetts, California, Alaska, and New Jersey, while California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania have the most job openings.

ICU Nurse

Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses work with patients who are struggling with life-threatening conditions. They provide acute care, including dressing wounds, tracking life support equipment, infusing blood products, administering medications, and responding to medical emergencies. They may also care for the patient’s body immediately after death.

  • Education requirements: Nursing diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing
  • Required exams/certifications: NCLEX-RN, followed by the Certification for Adult Critical Care Nurses (CCRN) awarded by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses
  • National salary: $86,000
  • Expected job demand: Positive, in line with increased demand for nursing professionals (the COVID-19 pandemic additionally drove up demand for ICU nurses)

ICU nurses can make the most in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, and Utah, while Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and New York have the most job openings.

Where are nursing jobs available?

Whatever nursing path you choose, it’s good to know where you might have the best chance at landing a job once you complete your program. Using data from the Bureau of Health Workforce, we show the states that need nurses the most.

where are nursing jobs

As you can see from the map, there’s a need for nurses along much of the coastal areas of the United States. States that need nurses the most include South Carolina, Nevada, California, Texas, and Georgia.

need for nursing jobs

Where are some of the highest-paying nursing jobs?

When it comes to what type of nurse you want to be, you’ll likely consider your personal interests and how certain specialities align. Another thing you may consider is pay. Although salary can vary depending on location and experience, here’s a list of the top 25 highest-paying nursing jobs across the United States along with their average salaries:

  • Cardiac Nurse Practitioner: $147,965
  • Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner: $114,722
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: $109,870
  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist: $109,805
  • Family Nurse Practitioner: $107,923
  • Gastroenterology Nurse: $107,376
  • Gerontology Nurse: $104,574
  • Nurse Midwife: $100,930
  • General Nurse Practitioner: $100,058
  • Women’s Health Nurse: $96,304
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: $94,417
  • Cath Lab Registered Nurse: $92,073
  • PACU Registered Nurse: $91,793
  • Labor and Delivery Registered Nurse: $91,193
  • Oncology Nurse: $90,364
  • Nurse Administrator: $82,222
  • Neonatal Nurse: $72,714
  • Neuroscience Nurse: $71,464
  • Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner: $71,464
  • Nurse Researcher: $70,223
  • Telemetry Registered Nurse: $66,747
  • Pediatric Nurse: $63,546
  • Critical Care Registered Nurse: $62,523
  • Progressive Care/ Stepdown Registered Nurse: $60,055

Source: Salaries averaged and pulled through PayScale, Glassdoor, and Indeed.

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