Within nursing, there are three basic levels of licensing or certification. These are licensed practical nursing or licensed vocational nursing, registered nursing, and advanced practice registered nursing. The latter certification includes professionals such as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and a number of other advanced nursing specializations. In order to become licensed LPNs/LVNs must complete a nursing diploma program, some of which can be finished in as little as one year. RN education programs generally range from two to four years, and include diploma programs, associate's degree programs, and bachelor's degree programs. Currently, APRN certification requires a master's degree, though in the future it may be necessary for these individuals to have obtained a doctoral degree.
As there are different levels of nursing professionals and nursing education, there are many opportunities to advance within this field. For those who do not wish to advance to the next level of nursing (i.e. LPN to RN), there is room to grow by completing continuing education courses, gaining additional experience and expertise in a given specialization, and becoming certified in the specialization of their choice. Some examples of different specialty areas that nurses can become certified in include critical care nursing, emergency nursing, ambulatory care nursing, and medical-surgical nursing.
For those who do wish to earn a more advanced nursing degree, there are many education programs designed for nurses who wish to take their careers to the next level. These programs are designed to build on an individual's existing nursing education and skill set, so as not to require unnecessary backtracking. Some of these programs, such as LPN and RN and RN to BSN, offer many courses online in order to provide additional flexibility. Pursuing more advanced education may allow one to obtain higher level nursing positions and a greater degree of autonomy, and is required for advanced practice specializations.