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you're thinking about becoming a nurse

You make your way to the school's course catalog and start looking under "nursing." Suddenly you realize it's not that simple. Instead of just becoming a nurse, you're expected to decide what type of nurse you want to be. LPN, RN or BSN? You know that each of these represents a specific nursing career path, but beyond that, "What do these letters mean?"

In general, each abbreviation represents a specific type of nursing degree you can earn. LPN is Licensed Practical Nurse, RN is Registered Nurse and BSN is Bachelor's in Nursing. The distinctions between these affect not only your area of practice, but also such things as income and professional advancement opportunities. Also, each degree level has specific requirements in terms of the amount of education required. For these reasons, often times the nursing career path you choose is determined by such personal circumstances as available finances, amount of time involved and your age.

General overview of each of the main nursing levels:

Licensed Practical Nurse – LPN

Typical Education Requirements: One to two years of training in such areas as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and practical patient care. LPNs must pass either a state or national board exam and periodically renew their professional license.

Practice Limitations: Licensed practical nurses are allowed to perform simple medical procedures under the direct supervision of either a doctor or a registered nurse. Common tasks include administering medications (an IV in some states); dressing wounds; measuring blood pressure, heart rate and temperature; collecting samples; and maintaining patient records.

Expected Median Income: $40,000

Registered Nurse – RN

Typical Education Requirements: There are several educational routes that can be taken in pursuit of an RN degree. The most common is a 2-year program that cumulates with earning an Associate of Science in Nursing degree (AND). Other options include a hospital diploma program that involves a 3-year course of study, or earning a 4-year Bachelor's in Nursing degree (see below).

Practice Limitations: A registered nurse often supervises the work of an LPN and is responsible for the overall safety and care of patients. RN's also have a wide array of career options available and often times work for insurance companies, attorneys, schools,surgical centers and even as independent medical consultants.

Expected Median Income:$66,000

Bachelor's in Nursing – BSN

Typical Education Requirements: To earn a BSN, you must successfully complete a 4-year course of study that typically focuses on the sciences and principles of nursing practice.

Practice Limitations: A BSN generally has the same job duties and responsibilities as a registered nurse. A nurse with a BSN often supervises the work of other nurses, along with providing personal patient care. BSN's have a more direct and independent role in administering medications and IVs, as well as assisting physicians during complex surgical procedures.

Expected Median Income: $66,000