Comparing Nurse Career Paths: CNA, LPN, RN & MSN/APRNs

Arran Stewart

Arran Stewart

Arran James Stewart is the co-founder and CVO of blockchain recruitment …


A challenging and exciting career in health care can be yours in nursing, but which career path in nursing should you choose?

Nursing can include career paths from caring for patients in hospital and clinical settings to health care management. Education required can range from certification to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, a Master of Science in Nursing degree, or even, to be a nurse practitioner, a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Nurses in these career paths have differing responsibilities, education requirements, and earning potential. Here at , we’ll examine each of these career paths in nursing.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

CNA training is a non-degree program at many community colleges and vocational schools.

Certified nursing assistants help patients with activities of daily living and provide other care under the guidance of a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN).

CNAs can work in hospitals but are more often working in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and adult daycare centers. They are rarely employed in outpatient clinics.

The median annual income for a certified nursing assistant is $30,830 . This is the lowest salary bracket on the list, which makes sense considering it’s the role with the least training and expertise required.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

LPNs complete an accredited practical nursing certificate course at a community college. These year-long programs include classes in nursing, pharmacology, and biology, and clinical training.

After completing training, LPNs must pass the National Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) to become officially licensed and begin working.

Licensed practical nurses provide care including helping patients eat, dress, and bathe and assist registered nurses and doctors in keeping records. They often work with patients’ families in understanding procedures and care needs.

While LPNs can work in hospital settings, they are often found in nursing homes and hospice facilities.

The median pay for an LPN is $48,820 , according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registered Nurse (BSN)

Three degree paths lead to becoming a registered nurse – a nursing certification program, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. BSN degrees take four years to complete.

After completing a BSN degree, RNs have to pass the NCLEX-RN to practice. RNs can also gain additional certifications in multiple specialties, from pediatrics to gerontology. Accelerated programs help those with bachelor’s degrees earn BSN degrees.

With a higher degree of training, registered nurses oversee LPNs and CNAs. They administer medications and are more involved in treating patients. They work with doctors in creating care plans.

RNs who have earned BSN degrees are found working in hospitals as nurses or nurse managers. They also work as home health nurses and school nurses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual income for RNs at $75,33 0.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN/APRNS)

RNs, nurses with associate degrees in nursing, and those with BSN degrees can all study in Master of Science in Nursing degree programs. Those who skip from RN or RN/ADN to an MSN may save on education costs. RNs who complete MSN programs become advanced practice registered nurses.

Earning an MSN degree can lead to opportunities in nursing education and health care leadership. Some of the careers MSN holders can find include nurse practitioner, nurse educator, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner.

MSN degrees often lead to jobs in hospital administration, teaching, research, and creating public policy.

While MSN programs can be expensive, those with MSN degrees earn quite a bit more than those with BSN degrees. The median salary for those with Master of Science in Nursing degrees is $117,670 .

Doctorates in Nursing (DNP)

A Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is a terminal degree and a practicing doctorate, meaning that DNP graduates often work in advanced nursing practice. A DNP is a more practice-focused degree, while a nursing Ph.D. focuses on research.

Nurses with DNP degrees can work as nurse practitioners, providing medical care to patients.

Nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat patients, order tests, and prescribe medications.

Those with DNP degrees can be found in hospitals either treating patients or working in leadership positions. DNP graduates are also found in academia, teaching the next generation of nurses.

The median income for DNP holders is $117,670 , like that of those who have an MSN degree.


Here are some questions those interested in nursing careers frequently ask.

What are the three types of nurses?

The three types of licensed nurses are licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses. Passing the NCLEX-PN is required for LPNs, while RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN.

Which nursing degree is best?

The answer to that question depends upon who is asking. The best degree is always the one that fits the interests and skills of the individual student.

Those with more advanced nursing degrees earn more, but getting an RN after a certificate program and passing the NCLEX-RN and then earning an MSN can result in a higher income with lower education costs.

What are the 4 branches of nursing?

Nurses can work in four branches – adult nursing, pediatric nursing, learning disability nursing, and mental health nursing. Certifications can be obtained in these areas as well as in subspecialties.

What type of nurse is most in-demand?

Registered nurses are in high demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a 7 percent increase in jobs for RNs over the next decade.


Whether you have a heart for caring, an interest in science, or a desire to be a leader, nursing could be your career pathway. With certification as an affordable way into the profession, nursing offers opportunities for advancement in skills and salaries.

The need for nurses is on the rise, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting the country will need an increasing number of CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and nurse practitioners into the next decade.

Choosing nursing as your career path could lead to rewarding jobs helping others that can also be well-paid and have an impact on the future of healthcare.