The most basic is your Nurse Assistant (also known as CNA, Medical Assistant-MA, or e en home health aide-HHA). These are nursing assistants that have 6 months school, some have a certificate (state tested and certified), and they perform basic functions like check vital signs, give immunizations, assist with procedures in office/clinic, collect urine samples and in the hospital assist patients with ADLS (activities of daily living) like dressing bathing toileting eating and transfer from bed to chair and walking. They can also do data collection for I&O ( all intake of the patient: eat and drink, and all output: urine stool vomit). CNA/MA/HHA can be in the home, clinic, office or hospital.
Next you have what is called an LPN (licensed practical nurse) or LVN (licensed vocational nurse). This is about 1 yr school and state test with registered license. LVN are both in clinics and hospitals. The LVN is able to assist with procedures, pass medication that is pill form ( by mouth or in a feeding tube) or injections into the subcutaneous or muscle area only. The LVN with certificate for venipuncture can draw blood for labs. They can also insert in dwelling foley Catheters for urine and collect samples for wound cultures, nose/mouth respiratory samples, and do data collection delegated by RN (and higher level practitioners). As well as all of the CNA duties.
Now you have an RN (registered nurse) who have at the most basic training 2 yrs school for an ADN (associates degree in nursing) and state test with license. The RN is not only responsible for all of the previous but also includes all medications that are IV (intravenous), assessments and care plans. Interventions and evaluation of those interventions. Assisting during procedures. Coordinating care between all disciplines and getting consults for the patients. Assisting doctors with consents and documentation of goals of care and life sustaining treatments.
The RNs role is also greatly enhanced with the level of degree obtained and certificates added as well.
As an RN you could have a BSN (bachelors degree in nursing science, which is 4 yrs of school) and add a certificate as well in your service line like MedSurge (MSRN certificate).
Or you could be a MSN (master’s degree in nursing science, which is anywhere from 3-5 years of school plus the RN school years) and have it specialized in education or family medicine and add certificates like for a Clinical Nursing Specialist (CNS) or a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP).
You could also go one step higher and and get a Doctorate degree (either a PhD (doctor of philosophy) or a DNP (doctor of nursing practice) which can be another 3-5 years plus the MSN and arm years). The PhD is more research based and the DNP is practice based so more focused on policy and procedures, the stands of care.
Hope that helps.
There are vocational schools that promise that you can become an RN in as little as 12 months. You can also get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. That can take 4 years of school to complete. It depends on what you want to do for a career. Do you want to check vitals only or do you want to be able to administer medication? Those career goals will tell you how much schooling and/or certifications you will need.