Nursing Credentials 101

Nursing Credentials - BlogFrom CNA to LPN and RN to NP, there are plenty of credentials nurses can have. But, how to distinguish among them? If you are not well-versed in the field of nursing, you may not understand the difference between the different credentials nurses have.

To help you better understand, we’ve put together a credential guide that will discuss the different nursing credentials, how to get them and how they are supposed to be displayed.

CNA: Certified Nursing Assistant

Education: High School Diploma

Mean Salary: $36,487

Just as their title suggests, CNAs work as assistants, providing additional help to nurses. CNA is the lowest credential in the field of nursing.

According to Rasmussen College, “CNAs are required to pass a specialized exam that is tied to a single course in order to work in the field. A CNA provides basic care duties under the direction of the nursing staff, including feeding, dressing, bathing and transporting patients.”1

LPN: Licensed Practical Nurse

Education: Practical Nursing Diploma

Mean Salary: $50,266

In order to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, you must earn a diploma that can be accomplished in as few as 12 months. Once you have your diploma you have to take the NCLEX-PN exam to become certified.

“Many LPNs work in clinics or private home settings and are responsible for registering patient vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, collecting blood samples and administering medication,” according to Rasmussen College.1

RN: Registered Nurse, ADN

Education: Associate Degree

Mean Salary: $72,778

An Associate Degree in nursing is a two-year degree completed at a community college or a vocational school. An Associate’s Degree is the minimum level of education required to become a Registered Nurse.

Rasmussen College tells us the main role of an RN. “RNs assess patient needs, monitor patient symptoms, recommend care plans and educate patients on disease prevention and maintenance.”1

While RNs with an Associate Degree and RNs with a Bachelor’s Degree mostly have the same responsibilities, RNs with a Bachelor’s Degree have better job prospects and make more money. According to About Careers, while an Associate Degree is the minimum requirement to become a Registered Nurse, many employers look for a higher level of education.2

RN: Registered Nurse, BSN

Education: Bachelor’s Degree

Mean Salary: $75,222

Registered Nurses with a BSN have completed a 4-year degree at a college or university. These RNs often make more money than RNs with Associate Degrees because they have a higher level of education.

About Careers says “like most other nursing degrees, a bachelor of science in nursing combines classroom learning with hands-on training called ‘clinicals’, which allow student to obtain first-hand experience working with patients in a clinical setting.”2

APRN: Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Education: Master’s Degree

Mean Salary: Dependent upon title1

Nurse Journal says “one of the best options for maximizing your career potential in the nursing field is to earn your Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN.”3

An advanced degree in nursing allows you to expand your career into different specialties. If enrolled in school full-time, an MSN can be completed in as little as two years. Again, because there is an increase in education, obtaining an MSN often means an increase in pay.

How to display your nursing credentials.

Now that you know the basic levels of nursing, you’re probably wondering how you display your credentials as a nurse.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center reminds us “having a standard way [to list credentials] ensures that everyone – including nurses, healthcare providers, consumers, third-party payers and government officials – understands the significance and value of credentials.”4

Here is the preferred order of credential listing:

  • Highest earned degree  
  • Licensure  
  • State designations or requirements  
  • National certifications  
  • Awards and honors  
  • Other recognitions4

EXAMPLE: Margaret Miranda, MSN, RN, APRN, OCN

While this is not a complete source of information on nurse credentialing, it is a good start when deciding what path of nursing you will take.

How did you decide between a CNA, LPN or RN credential? Tell us in the comments below!