What is Vocational Nursing?

Vocational nursing is a medical field that focuses on providing care to patients in a variety of settings. Nurses in this field typically only require basic training and do not have the same responsibilities as registered nurses (RNs) or physicians. They can usually do more than nursing assistants, and their work is frequently regarded as critical to a variety of medical and health-care endeavors. Vocational nurses work in clinics, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, as well as doing outpatient work and visiting patients at their homes on occasion. The field is extremely broad, and a lot of the specifics of what the job can entail differ from location to location.

An Overview of the Job

Patient care is the primary responsibility of any vocational nurse. He or she is usually one of the first people to interact with patients upon their arrival at a clinic or hospital, and is often in charge of taking the patient’s temperature and blood pressure. These nurses may also be tasked with hygiene-related duties in hospitals and long-term care facilities, such as bathing patients or cleaning up blood or other bodily fluid spills.

In the Nursing Hierarchy, where do you fit in?

The nursing profession is typically divided into three tiers or “levels.” Nursing assistants are at the bottom, with little or no training, and registered nurses are at the top, with master’s degrees or other advanced degrees. Vocational work is usually right in the middle. These professionals typically lack the ability to make diagnoses or perform complex procedures despite having some training and autonomy.

Workplaces and Work Types

The majority of vocational nurses work in hospitals and doctor’s offices, and they are frequently hired local or national governments. Some work in nursing homes, hospices, and rehabilitation centers, where they frequently collaborate with physical therapists and end-of-life care providers. Others work as home health aides, visiting invalids and others who require bedside assistance. These nurses can work as independent contractors or for independent companies, usually in conjunction with RNs or private medical care providers.

Jurisdictional Differences

Different places have different rules about what this type of nursing can and cannot do. Nurses are required to be licensed in most states, giving rise to the term “licensed vocational nurse.” Even with formal credentials, the scope of work varies greatly from country to country, and even from state to state or province to province.

A large part of the disparity is due to the type of care provided the nurses. Many states have strict rules about who is allowed to provide “direct patient care.” Giving injections, drawing blood, and collecting urine specimens all fall into this category, and as a result, these tasks are typically reserved for those with more advanced training. Much of what this type of nurse can do is determined how the laws in his or her jurisdiction are written. As a result, people who have a license in one state may not be able to find work in another without learning a new set of rules and possibly recertifying.


Professionals in the field, in most cases, require constant supervision. Physicians or registered nurses are usually assigned to supervise them directly, double-checking their work and encouraging them in their role as caregivers. Local laws usually specify the specific rules of supervision, but even a highly skilled vocational nurse cannot work alone. In order to ensure that everyone is cared for, busy clinics and hospitals often allow more leeway, but work is almost always reviewed a superior, even if this relationship is not immediately obvious.

Requirements for Training

A person who wants to work as a vocational nurse must usually complete a one-year nursing program, which can be obtained from a community college or vocational school. The majority of coursework focuses on fundamentals such as anatomy, physiology, and basic patient care, with at least some hands-on experience required. Some schools provide online coursework, which includes interactive elements that allow students to virtually experience a variety of nursing settings. However, licensing boards can set rules about which programs are acceptable, so thoroughly researching local requirements before enrolling in any kind of preparatory course is critical.

Graduates must pass a national or regional certification exam in most places before they can start working. Some jurisdictions also demand a certain number of hours of on-the-job experience. Though time-consuming, most people agree that this requirement benefits candidates — even a basic understanding of how the field works on a day-to-day basis can make it easier to apply concepts from textbooks, which can improve a person’s chances of passing a certification exam.

Possibility of Promotion

Vocational nurses with many years of experience can often advance in terms of scheduling and shift preferences, but there is rarely room for advancement in terms of duties or complexity of work. Because much of this is governed law, no matter how hard a nurse works, he or she is unlikely to advance much without additional training.

Vocational nursing is frequently used as a stepping stone to more advanced medical careers. A person who isn’t sure if he or she enjoys health care enough to commit to a more intensive nursing or medical school program might start at this level to get a feel for things. Although a background in nursing is not usually required, many advanced training programs consider it to be an asset because it demonstrates a passion for the field as well as demonstrated aptitude for patient care.