Nurses are a vital part of any hospital or doctor's office, performing a variety of tasks to assist with patient care. There are several different kinds of nurses with different duties and salaries. Where a nurse "ranks" -- from upper management to junior aide -- depends in part upon her training and education.
Nurse practitioners have achieved the highest level of education of any working nurse, possessing a master's degree in nursing in addition to certification as both a registered nurse and an advanced practice registered nurse. These nurses can not only treat patients, but also diagnose them, provide primary care and often prescribe medicines. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 105,780 nurse practitioners were employed nationwide as of May 2012, earning an average salary of $91,450 a year.
Registered nurses perform basic health care and might also treat patients and give medical tests in the absence of a doctor. They might also oversee other types of nurses. RNs either have a bachelor's of science degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program. In addition, they must pass a national licensing exam. The BLS reports that 2.6 million RNs worked nationwide as of May 2012, earning an average annual income of $67,930.
Licensed Practical and Vocational Nurses
Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, provide a simpler level of care than registered nurses and are typically considered to be lower in the "ranks." LPNs might check vital signs or give basic treatments. These nurses, called licensed vocational nurses in some states, usually go through a one-year program at a nursing school before taking the national licensing test. The BLS reports that 718,800 LPNs and LVNs were employed nationwide as of May 2012, earning an average annual salary of $42,400.
Nursing Aides and Attendants
Nursing aides and attendants perform the most basic tasks of any type of nursing staff member, including helping patients bathe or dress. They also have the most basic education, requiring only a postsecondary certificate, a high school diploma and the successful completion of a state competency test. The BLS found that the nation's 1.4 million nursing assistants earned an average of $25,620 a year as of May 2012.
Some nurses perform management duties rather than -- or in addition to -- any work on the clinic or hospital floor. These managers range from charge nurses who oversee shifts to chief nursing officers who lead the entire staff. While a shift supervisor may be a veteran RN with the right kind of experience, the chief nursing officer might have gone on to earn a master's in nursing or an even a higher degree. She typically works in an administrative role rather than a patient care role.