Nursing is a fast-paced field that keeps medical professionals on their toes. From navigating night shifts to striving to deliver top-notch care to each patient they encounter, the rewards of nursing work is clearly evident. This is a life-changing career, but in order to enjoy it, nurses will need the right training. Here is a closer look at what it takes to become a nurse and the different nursing career paths you might wish to pursue.

How to Become a Nurse

If you are interested in a career in nursing, your health care career path will depend on your ultimate goals. However, most nurses start with a basic degree and certification program. With an associate degree in nursing, you can begin practicing as an LPN while you continue your studies. To become an RN or specialist, you will need additional training and certification, often including a bachelor’s degree in nursing. For advanced nursing careers, many fields require a master’s degree or even a doctoral-level degree.

To decide your path towards a nursing career, you may wish to look at the different types of nursing titles that you can consider.

Guide to Common Nursing Titles

Here are some common nursing titles that you can consider as you look toward the future of your nursing career.

1. CNA

CNA stands for Certified Nursing Assistant. These professionals assist patients with the activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing assistance. They often cannot administer medications and are not trained to diagnose illness.

These nursing professionals must earn a state-issued license or certification, followed by on-the-job training. However, this can be less than a year of study and provides a new nursing professional the chance to start quickly.

On average, CNAs earn $30,850 a year per the BLS. Those who work for the government have the highest earning potential, and CNAs in the highest 10 percent earn an average of $44,550 a year.

2. Nurse Educators

Nurse educators teach people in the community about health and the things they can do to be healthier. They may work in hospitals, but they may also work in private businesses or nonprofit organizations. Nurse educators educate but do not administer medicine or treat illness. To become a nurse educator, you need a bachelor’s degree, preferably in health education. Some roles, particularly in community areas, require just an associate degree in health and nursing.

The BLS estimates the average wage for health education specialists, including nurse educators, to be $42,000 a year, which those in the highest 10 percent earning over $101,000 a year.


Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs)—often two titles for the same type of nurse—work in nursing homes, hospitals, doctor offices, and private home providing basic nursing care to patients. They may take vitals and perform comfort measures. The types of care they can provided depends on the rules in their states. To become an LPN or LVN, you must complete an approved educational program and earn a nursing certificate. These programs typically take one year. You then must pass the NCLEX-PN exam.

The average pay for LPNs and LVNs in 2020 was $48,820 a year. Though government roles pay the most, nursing and residential care facilities also pay higher than nuptials and doctor’s offices for these nursing professionals.

4. Triage Nurse

Triage nurses are the nurses that take the initial assessment of an incoming patient. They often work in the emergency room and must be able to quickly determine how much care the patient needs, which patients are in critical need of care and how to manage chaotic environments. To become a triage nurse, you will need to earn your RN license through a nursing degree program from an accredited college or university.

The BLS does not distinguish different categories of RNs. However, estimates the average pay for triage nurses in the United States is $65,397 a year.

5. Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses are nurses that work with children in children’s hospitals or pediatric clinics. They must be friendly and able to deal with the unique needs of young patients.

Pediatric nurses can be LPNs/LVNs or RNs. They do not require specialized training, but they may focus their clinical studies on pediatric care. A pediatric nurse who is an RN will earn an average of $75,330 a year. One who is an LPN/LVN will earn $48,820 a year.

6. Registered Nurse

Registered nurses work just about anywhere nursing care is needed, from hospitals to doctor offices to residential care facilities. They perform all of the duties of a nurse, including patient care, treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, and reporting and recording health facts in patient charts.

A Registered Nurse or RN is a fully trained nurse with a minimum of an associate degree from an approved nursing program. To become an RN, you must complete your degree training and your clinical studies, then pass the NCLEX-RN exam. According to the BLS, the average pay for nurses in 2020 was $75,330 a year. Those in the highest 10 percent who often have advanced training earn over $116,230.

7. Travel Nurse

Travel nurses are certified nurses who travel to different locations when medical facilities have unique demands. This gives the nurse the chance to see different parts of the country while performing the duties of a nurse. Travel nurses do not have any additional training beyond that of an RN.

The average pay for an RN is $75,330 a year, but travel nurses can make more if they take higher-paid opportunities. When hospitals are in extreme need of skilled nurses, they are often willing to pay more for their services.

8. PRN

A PRN is a registered nurse who works “Per Diem” shifts. This means they are called upon to worn on an as-needed or on-demand basis. They are not full-time staff members, and they have the power to decline a shift without penalty. Many nurses appreciate the ability to make their own schedule, so they pursue roles as PRNs. In the end, PRNs are simply RNs that choose a different type of schedule. To become one, you complete your RN training and apply for your nursing license.

Registered nurses, which include PRNs, earn an average of $75,330 a year. However, PRNs have the opportunity to earn even more per shift than a full-time RN. Some shifts can pay over $600 depending on the demand, and this higher income combined with scheduling flexibility makes this role appealing.

9. NICU Nurse

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) requires dedicated nursing professionals to monitor the health of fragile newborns round the clock. This can be a highly stressful nursing field, but also highly rewarding as these nurses get to watch tiny babies thrive.

NICU nurses require additional training after earning their RN license to understand the demands of these tiny patients. Students with an active RN license and 24 months of specialty experience can take the RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing exam. Another option is to get CCRN Neonatal specialty certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses after spending 1,750 to 2,000 hours in direct care of neonatal patients.

The BLS does not distinguish between neonatal nurses and other RN professionals. However, Incredible Health estimates the average salary for a NICU nurse to be $87,269.

10. Nurse Midwife

A nurse midwife is a nursing specialist who is trained to help pregnant women all the way through a healthy delivery. These nurses often work in OBGYN practices and are trained in healthy childbirth, with the understanding that they will refer their patients to a doctor’s care should pregnancy complications develop.

Nurse midwifes typically start with an RN program, then move into a master’s or doctoral program in midwifery. They study childbirth and post-natal care so they can give new moms a positive birth experience. Nurse midwives earn an average of $111,130 a year according to the BLS.

11. Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses with additional training beyond that of an RN. They can perform many of the same roles as physicians, including evaluating injuries and diagnosing and treating standard illnesses, but they often must consult with doctors about more complex cases.

Most nurse practitioners start with their RN degree, then go on to get at least a master’s degree, though some are Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates. Nurse practitioners may pursue American Academy of Nurse Practitioner Certification.

Nurse practitioners earn an average of $111,680 a year per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who work in hospitals have the highest potential income compare to those that work in healthcare offices.

12. Neonatal Nurse

Neonatal nurses are trained to monitor and evaluate the health of newborn babies and their mothers. They often work in mother/baby units of hospitals or pediatrician’s offices. Neonatal nurses are RN licensed nurses who work with young babies. They may opt to pursue a master’s degree with a focus on newborn care.

Because they are specialists, neonatal nurses may earn more than other registered nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the highest 10 percent of all RNs earn an average of $116,230 a year.

13. APRN

An advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN, is a nurse who has received additional training in specific nursing specialties. Nurse practitioners, anesthetists, and midwives are examples of types of APRNs. These professionals have at least a master’s degree in their chosen field of practice. They must pass certification exams in their field as well.

This particular nursing career is quite varied, but the BLS estimates an average pay of $117,670 a year for the field.

14. Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists are specialist nurses who provide care for patients when undergoing surgical and other medical procedures that require anesthesia. They assess the patient’s ability to receive anesthesia, deliver the medication and monitor the patient’s health while under.

Nurse anesthetists typically work in hospital settings. They must have an RN degree and complete a graduate level program in the field of anesthesiology. The National Board of Certification and Re certification for Nurse Anesthetists provides certification for this nursing career. Nurse anesthetists are the highest paid of the advanced practice nurses. The BLS estimates their average yearly salary to be over $180,000.

Start Your Nursing Career with the Right Training

Whether you want a Master of Science in Nursing to start you off on a higher-paying career or simply want to start with basic nursing training, University of the Cumberlands has a program to fit your needs. We offer a variety of nursing degrees to fit the educational and career goals of new nurses. Check out these frequently asked questions about nursing, then explore the career path options available at University of the Cumberlands.

If you are interested in learning more about the nursing degrees offered at the University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.