Titles like RN, LPN and CRNP mean little to those outside of the nursing profession.
But for patients, their families or anyone in need of health care, it can be important to know what different types of nurses are trained to do, and what they can do to help you.
In a hospital setting, nurses follow a chain of command, explained Ro Gibson, RN and clinical recruiter for Altoona Regional Health System. An RN, or Registered Nurse, is responsible for doing assessments of patients, analyzing issues and carrying out a doctor's orders for treatment. The LPN, or Licensed Practical Nurse, is more "task oriented," Gibson said, and responsible for taking blood pressure, giving medications and hanging IVs. But only RNs can "push" IVs, she added, or decide the dosage.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
At Altoona Regional Health System, Altoona Hospital Campus, Deanna Richardson, RN, scans the ID bracelet of patient Frederick Corbin of Hollidaysburg before administering his medicine.
"For the most part, the RN does the initial assessment and formulates a plan of action for care," she said. "The LPN carries out the plan."
The first nurse a patient sees when entering the emergency room will usually be an RN, Gibson said. In a private doctor's office, the initial assessment could be made by either an RN or an LPN, she added.
Deanna Richardson, an RN with Altoona Regional, said other duties she performs daily include assessing the status of stroke and trauma patients, handling admissions and discharges and reviewing notes and charts created by LPNs.
Who's who of helping you
Nurse assistant/aide: A person who has completed a brief healthcare training program, and who provides support services for RNs and LPNs. Also known as an orderly or, when certified by a state agency, a certified nurse aide (CNA) - www. medterms.com
Licensed Practical Nurse: LPNs are the basic licensed nurses. They can do many things that RNs do, but are not authorized to perform certain types of care in certain states, such as start IVs, order diagnostics or evaluate illness for diagnosis. - www.usnursingjobs.net
Registered Nurse: Supervise other nurses, assist physicians in patient treatment and care. This license and both degrees, associate of Science in Nursing and bachelor of Science in Nursing, are required to fulfill most positions on this list. All LPNs report to an RN in their jobs. - www.usnursingjobs.net
CRNP (Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner): CRNPs are RNs that have completed their master's or doctorate degree in nursing and have training in diagnosis and treatment of illness. Their scope of practice is different from a physician as NPs focus on the prevention of illness through well being and education, while doctors focus on treating illness. NPs may prescribe medication, order X-rays and other diagnostics. - www.usnursingjobs.net
PA (Physicians Assistant): A mid-level practitioner who is able to practice medicine under the auspices of a licensed physician. Duties include medical histories, physical examinations, ordering lab tests and follow-ups. PAs must have a bachelor's degree, and can hold a master's degree. - www.medterms.com
"The only thing we really can't do is give reports," Richardson said. "No RN or any nurse is permitted to give test results."
RNs and LPNS aren't the only types of nurses a patient could encounter when receiving healthcare. As a CRNP, or Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, Kay Adams, CRNP manager in the Vascular Institute at Altoona Regional, has undergone additional education that allows her to practice with an extended license, she said. Though CRNPs must work with one or more collaborating physicians, they can do things like write prescriptions, make diagnoses, order diagnostic testing and refer to specialists.
Adams started her nursing career as an RN, but went on to get her master of science degree and earned the CRNP title.
"I just decided that I wanted to be autonomous," she said. "As a nurse practitioner, you can do that."
Adams said patients usually mistake her for a PA, or physician's assistant. Though the education for CRNPs and PAs is similar, she said the theory is different, with a CRNP's training falling under the nursing model and a PA's training falling under the medical model.
Patients also frequently mistake her for a doctor, Adams said, but she finds it important to correct them and give them the opportunity to see a doctor if they wish.
"If patients want to see the doctor, they should see the doctor," she said. "I'm not offended."
No matter what the level of schooling, there are many nursing jobs available around the country.
Becky Kelly, the coordinator for practical nursing at the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center, said they see 100 percent job placement for graduates of the Nurse Aide and Practical Nurse training courses offered at the center.
"Most of the time, I have on my desk a list of employers who call seeking LPNs," she said.
The eight-week course to become a nurse aide and the one-year full-time or two-year part-time courses for LPN training have seen a 96 to 100 percent state board pass rate in the last five years, Kelly said.
Nurse aides and LPNs can both be employed in home care or longterm care facilities, but Kelly said there also has been increased employment in physicians' offices or acute care settings.
"I think the biggest reason [for this] is because we have an increased population in this area of geriatric patients," Kelly said. "People are living longer, and so there is a larger population requiring some form of health care."
Kelly said nursing is an excellent field to go into, but it is important that those considering the career do it for more than just the money.
"You need to have the professional qualities that are essential to provide compassionate care," she said.
Richardson agreed that the health care field is "very rewarding," and there will always be a need for nurses.
"But we do a lot," she said. "We work pretty hard. We usually have several patients [at a time] that we are responsible for."
Gibson highlighted that anyone considering the profession can start as a nurses aide and then continue with their education. Some institutions will also offer help with tuition costs, she added.
"It's a great field to be in," she said. "Work is generally always available. ... It's fulfilling, but be prepared to work hard."
For more information on nurse aide or LPN certification classes offered by the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center, call 946-8490 or visit www.gactc.edu.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.