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Nursing Specialties

August 10, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Only a handful of careers offer the same benefits as nursing. As a registered nurse, you change lives and interact with all kinds of people. The registered nurse workforce is undergoing unprecedented growth as the medical field grapples with intensifying labor shortages. The good thing about this is that any registered nurse will not struggle to find jobs in the industry. 

The high demand for healthcare services has brought a massive opportunity for prospective nurses who hope to find a nursing specialty. Each nurse can focus on things that interest them the most.  

Pursuing these competitive nursing specializations offers more excellent employment opportunities, more responsibilities, and a chance to advance your nursing career. But since there are no one-size-fits-all nursing specialties, this article will help you get insights into your job and the kind of nurse you can become. 

Categories of Nursing Specialties

Each nursing specialization requires a significant amount of time, resources, passion, and a commitment to work at various health-care levels. So, all factors considered, which nursing specialty is right for you?

Kinds of Nursing Specializations

  1. Nursing Assistant
    Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) or nursing aides are healthcare professionals that are front liners and primary patient caregivers. They help Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses, who act as supervisors to nursing assistants.

    Nursing assistants provide personal and hands-on care for patients in hospitals and residential healthcare facilities. They can bathe, dress, feed, lift, move, or help patients use the bathroom. Some states can even allow CNAs to measure the patient’s vital signs or dispense medication. 

    Unlike other healthcare professionals, nursing assistants do not require a college degree. Instead, they need to train in state-sanctioned education programs and obtain a certificate or diploma. 
  2. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
    Also known as Licensed Vocational Nurses, LPNs are aides to doctors and registered nurses. These nurses perform quality primary care-giving to patients in hospitals, assisted living homes, and long-term care settings. 

    This job does not require a bachelor’s degree but rather a practical nursing training program from a certified institution. 

    A licensed practical nurse collects patients’ samples, inserts catheters, ensures patients’ well-being, administers medication, takes vital signs, and reports the patient’s status to doctors and RNs. They also oversee nursing assistants. 
  3. Registered Nurse (RN)
    These caregivers are the health workforce’s backbone, working in various settings such as assisted living facilities and hospitals. 

    As a registered nurse, it is your responsibility to provide far-reaching patient care, including recording patient medical history,  preventive and primary care, and administering medication. You are also in charge of operating and monitoring medical equipment and performing diagnostic tests. 

    RNs collaborate with doctors and can oversee LPNs and CNAs. However, you need some nursing degrees to become a registered nurse. First off, you should have an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).  A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is essential since most health care facilities insist on hiring nurses who have the degree.
  4. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)
    You can become an advanced practice nurse if you meet advanced educational and clinical practice requirements such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). APRNs handle duties ranging from primary and preventive care, mental health, to birthing and anesthesia.

    An APRN can perform all of the registered nurses’ duties and more particular tasks like assessing test results, suggesting patient referrals to experts, diagnosing and treating in hospitals and community-based settings. 

    The four APRN specialties include nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife, certified nurse practitioner, and clinical nurse specialist. 

The Best Nursing Specialties

  1. Certified Nurse Practitioner
    A certified nurse practitioner is an APRN with an MSN degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

    As licensed and autonomous clinicians, Nurse Practitioners (NPs) collaborate with their peers in the healthcare industry to provide a full range of general, critical, and specialty healthcare services. 

    Besides being general nurse practitioners, NPs can attend a nurse practitioner program to focus their care on a specific population such as families, children, and or the elderly. 

    Here, you can obtain clinical proficiency as a pediatric nurse practitioner or a gerontological nurse practitioner. Special populations aren’t always age-based –  you can also specialize in mental health and become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. 

    NPs have more authority than RNs and can perform doctor duties in some situations.
  2. Nurse Anesthetist
    Nurse anesthetists work with healthcare providers like surgeons to administer anesthesia to patients before, during, and after surgery and other medical procedures. They also provide emergency services, patient evaluations, and pain management. Besides a master’s degree, nurse anesthetists need advanced nursing degrees and must obtain national certification. 

    You can always find nurse anesthetists in settings like hospitals, surgery rooms, medical offices, and dental clinics. 
  3. Nurse Midwife
    A Certified Nurse Midwife (CNW) nursing specialty is among the most profitable and fulfilling you can consider pursuing. Although you may know the significant role of midwives in assisting with childbirth, these healthcare providers take part in clinical practices throughout pregnancy and recovery. 

    Nursing midwives care for and counsel patients from preconception through postpartum. They also offer gynecological services, write prescriptions, educate, diagnose, treat, and suggest patient referrals.
  4. Clinical Nurse Specialists
    A clinical nurse specialist is an APRN that’s certified in a specific niche of choice. For this reason, they demonstrate expertise and maintain strong clinical skills while overseeing a particular patient category’s intermediate care. 

    CNSs work in dynamic healthcare settings, ranging from pediatric disease specialty to elderly long-term care. They provide attentive and individualized health management services to improve patient and health system outcomes. They work as clinicians, consultants, educators, researchers, and leaders to promote and improve practices. 

    A CNS can choose from a wide range of specialties and become a geriatric nurse, pediatric nurse, perianesthesia nurse, emergency nurse, care nurse, neonatal nurse, or ICU nurse. 
  5. Nurse Educator
    A nurse educator is the industry’s driving force that ensures that the nursing sector is always producing more skilled nursing professionals.

    You can find these professionals in classroom settings such as universities and technical schools, research clinics, and set-ups requiring nursing practice. They work as mentors to help mold new nurses and provide practicing nurses with additional knowledge and skills during their practice. 

    Since they are an authority in the nursing world, nursing educators should be ready to conduct research and have inspirational confidence.  
  6. Nurse Administrator
    The Healthcare Administrator is responsible for the nursing staff in healthcare facilities. Their primary task is to supervise and oversee other nursing staff, improve patient care, and ensure protocol compliance. 

    Most importantly, nurse administrators deal with an institution’s confidential information, such as keeping patients’ records and financial information. 

    Nurse administrators begin as registered nurses to gain deeper insights into the nursing career’s daily tasks and challenges. After garnering valuable skills, including communication skills, you can get a graduate degree and transition into an administrator. 

Pros and Cons of Specializing as a Nurse 

Although prospective nurses usually think about the excitement and opportunities of specializing in a nursing career, it’s a big investment of time and money. For this reason, it’s vital to weigh options. Let’s first see the advantages of specializing as a nurse.

The Advantages of Specializing as a Nurse

  1. More Job Opportunities
    Specializing as a nurse exposes you to more work options and allows you to work in your area of choice and outside the typical hospital setting. 

    Popular choices and best nurse careers for specialized perspectives include working as a legal nurse consultant in an office setting or a researcher. 

    Better still, those with a love for children may choose to pursue school nursing and become a school nurse in education institutions or as a pediatric nurse at a children’s hospital. 
  2. Earning More Salary
    Advancing your skills from being a general nurse practitioner to specialized personnel allows nurses to handle challenging responsibilities that pay more. 

    A specialized nurse can move occupational ladders and take managerial positions to become a nurse manager or transition into more challenging nursing career choices like being a nurse educator in colleges and universities.
  3. Independence
    With the new-found skills, a nurse can confidently work independently without supervision, and even start their own nursing practice. 

    You can choose various facilities and settings to work, including remote and freelance services such as treating patients in their homes or conducting travel nursing while exploring new cultures. 
  4. Building Clinical Confidence
    Specialization allows a nurse to find fulfillment, analyze and unearth new treatments. The confidence a nurse gets in the process helps them react and quickly make necessary decisions. 
  5. Contributes to Better Patient Outcomes
    Nurse specialization helps shape the future of the healthcare industry and impact the patients and their families. It allows for earlier patient diagnoses and effective treatments. 

    Better still, an expert nurse acts as a patient’s advocate and voice within the multidisciplinary medical team.  

Drawbacks of Specializing as a Nurse

  1. Even More Time in School
    Specializing in a nursing field is a commitment that requires a nurse to complete extensive education. It means a registered nurse must go back to school and get an MSN degree before specializing in any nursing niche. 

    The master’s degree program usually takes at least two years of full-time studies, or more if you study and work simultaneously. 

    Some institutions might require minimum time for practical experience or more when waiting for national certifications before specializing.
  2. High Cost of Medical Education
    The inflated cost of MSN degrees is a significant drawback for most prospective nurses, holding them back from fulfilling their dreams. 

    More prospective nurses, especially those struggling to pay off existing student loans, feel that taking on even more debt isn’t worth the career advancement. 
  3. Legal Risks
    Advancing your nursing career comes with more responsibilities that might expose you to malpractice legal actions. Most patients that sue may be dissatisfied with your care, don’t recuperate, or battle side effects. For instance, a nurse anesthetist may face malpractice or lawsuits for anesthesia complications like administering the wrong dosage to a patient. 
  4. Unfamiliarity and Resistance from Clinicians
    It might be difficult for established physicians to put confidence and trust in new specialized nurses. Various stakeholders may doubt whether you have enough qualifications or if delegating duties to you is a good idea. This attitude is a drawback for hardworking nurses who have to prove that they are fit for greater responsibility.

How to Weigh the Pros and Cons of a Nurse Specialization

It is not strange for nursing professionals to have trouble deciding whether to specialize in one nursing job or continue as a career generalist. But the truth is, there are both advantages and drawbacks to specialization. 

As much as being an expert in a nursing niche can be incredibly beneficial, it can take a toll on you too.  Specialization helps you to brand, sell, and build a strong resume for your future employment. But, it is also expensive, time-consuming, and demanding. 

If you are still debating whether specializing is the best route, it’s worth taking a look at future nursing trends. Industry projections will help you understand the ever-changing healthcare landscape and aid in your decision-making. 

How to Determine a Nursing Specialty That is Right For You

With so many nursing specialties to choose from, it’s helpful to narrow down and compare before you begin working towards one niche. 

How To Find Out if You Are Suited For a Particular Nursing Specialty

  1. Have you Earned a Degree?
    A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a notable nursing school acts as a stepping stone to any nursing specialty. This undergraduate degree is a primary requirement for starting as a registered nurse before enrolling in a master’s program. 

    A master’s degree program will dictate if you can pursue, qualify, and get a license as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist.
  2. Have a Registered Nurse License
    After completing all required degrees, you need an RN license prior to pursuing a specialization. You need to apply, complete academic requirements, and pass the nursing licensing exam.
  3. Obtain Certification from the National Certification Corporation
    Before going for state licensure, a prospective must be certified by the National Certification Corporation. 

    Some certifications for professionals like clinical nurse specialists might also require  you to pass a competency-based exam. 

How Long Does It Take to Study For a Nursing Specialty?

A nursing specialty requires candidates to complete a minimum four-year undergraduate degree in nursing.  

A nurse practitioner can then go through programs meant for registered nurses to train as a diabetes nurse, nurse midwife, or psychiatric nurse to prepare for the National Council Licensure Exams. 

After a 4-year undergraduate degree, you must complete a 2-4 year MSN program before applying for nursing informatics and other nursing jobs.  

How To Determine Which Nurse You Want to Be

  1. Consider Your Traits and Interests
    Various healthcare settings require different levels of personal and emotional inputs. For instance, you can become an emergency nurse if adrenaline-filling and challenging situations don’t bother you. 

    If you are laid-back and organized, you can work with children as a pediatric endocrinology nurse or get into research practice. 
  2. How Do You Like to Engage with People?
    It would be best to determine if you are a people-person or prefer minimal interactions when choosing your nursing specialty.

    An introverted nurse can choose low-key fields like forensics, research, or consultancy, while extroverted nurses can thrive as family nurse practitioners, pediatric, emergency, and critical care nurses. 
  3. What’s Your Most Suitable Job Setting?
    A nurse can work in various locales, including off-site centers like correctional facilities, schools, research centers, rescue airplanes, and private clinics. 

    If you prefer a hospital-based setting, you still have to choose between the ICU, delivery room, or psychiatric wards. 
  4. Are You Tech-Savvy?
    If computers excite you and can comfortably handle your institution’s Electronic Health Records (EHR), consider pursuing a nursing career in nursing informatics. 
  5. Requires Additional Certifications
    Besides educational qualifications, each nursing specialty has its own standards of practice, certifications, and training that prospective nurses require to meet.

    For this reason, expect to submit these certifications, sit for certification exams, and other annual requirements even after the certification. 

Nursing Specialties in High Demand

It’s no secret that the nursing career is experiencing a boom. It’s a good time for every nurse or prospective nurse to consider choosing a niche. Let’s see the nursing trends that have made specialties incredibly lucrative. 

  1. Increased Specialization
    The demand for expert nurses handling niches like gerontology, psychiatry, and obstetrics is on the rise. This is because patients and institutions requiring such services have realized that they can get individualized and competent care even in complex fields. 
  2. Nurse Entrepreneurs
    More and more nurses are using their expertise and education to start their private practice in the health industry. Nurses who provide direct services to clients and value independence, like nurse practitioners, consultants, nurse educators, and traveling nurses, are the best examples of entrepreneurial nurses. 
  3. Late Retirement
    More senior nurses hold onto their nursing jobs to prevent a nursing shortage, showing that the nursing profession is booming. 
  4. Increased Demand for Doctoral Education
    The demand for doctoral health caregivers has stimulated nurses’ need to pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs to fill the void created by the nursing shortage. 
  5. Further Online Nursing Education
    More nursing colleges and universities have begun including online educational programs for nurses in institutions to help nurses meet job qualifications that employers require. 

    Online degree learning programs allow full-time nurses to learn and work simultaneously and pursue their degrees in their free time.
  6. Increased Salaries and Incentives
    The global shortage of nurses has pushed employers to keep and impress prospects and practice nurses through benefits, salaries, and incentives. 
  7. The Growth of Telehealth and Chatbot Services
    The application of telehealth and Chatbot technological services has helped with task automation. Physicians can conduct patient care while respecting their privacy and health information security. 

    Patients have more control over their health matters because they can access their medical files, doctors, and nurses, thanks to this technology.  

    Plus, health practitioners can schedule appointments, document test results, and handle prescription refill requests, allowing both nurses and patients to save time. 
  1. Self-Care in Nursing
    Nurses experience trauma, fatigue, burnout, and stress in their day-to-day activities, but often neglect to take care of themselves afterward. It builds up and takes a toll on them over time, costing their psychological, health, and emotional well-being.

    For this reason, more and more employers and healthcare leaders are taking the initiative to provide healthy work environments, advocate for self-care among nurses, and promote positive patient outcomes. 
  2. Nurses Stretching into Community Outpatient Setting
    More patients are getting informed and taking better charge of their health. For this reason, nurses that offer outpatient services have grown in demand, shifting the healthcare from traditional inpatient to outpatient settings. 

    Some nurses even consider signing into an LPN program to offset the demand. 

The Demand for Nursing Specialties in the Future 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the demand for specialized nurses like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners will keep increasing into the future. This is possible because as the population gets bigger and more people become older, the need for medical care increases across all healthcare levels.

Nursing Specialties That Provide the Biggest Boost to Your Earning Power

  1. Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
    An adult gerontological nurse practitioner addresses the complications that come with aging. This specialist has a multi-disciplined work environment and can work in nursing homes, hospitals, patients’ homes, or private practices. 

    A gerontological nurse diagnoses and manages conditions impacting older adults affecting their cognitive, physical, psychological, and social well-being. 
  2. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
    You can opt to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner if you are a nurse interested in psychology and psychiatry. These healthcare practitioners use their knowledge and experience in mental health to assess and diagnose patients’ mental health status. 

    A psychiatric nurse practitioner helps patients with day-to-day tasks, studies patients’ relevant medical history, administers medication, conducts psychiatric evaluations and identifies potential risks affecting a patient’s mental health. 
  3. Critical Care Nurse
    A critical care nurse works with patients of all ages with life-threatening issues. Such nurses work in high-dependency care settings such as intensive care units, burn centers, and accidents and emergency rooms.
  4. Oncology Nurse
    An oncology nurse provides specialized care for and educates cancer patients. This nurse works in various settings, from the bone marrow transplant units, home, inpatient ward, or clinical care centers.

    Oncology nurses administer chemotherapy and assess both young and elderly patients in outpatient to palliative care. 
  5. Neonatal Nurse
    Neonatal nurses work with newborn infants in the NICU. Some infants might be born premature, have congenital disabilities, infections, surgical problems, or cardiac concerns. A neonatal nurse caters to their needs until they are strong enough to leave the hospital. 
  6. Nurse Researcher
    Research nurses take part in clinical research. They find new treatments and improve the public health system and outcomes of patient management. 

    A nurse researcher structures and implements scientific studies and facilitates their publication in medical and nursing journals. 
  7. Dialysis Nurse
    A dialysis nurse specializes in working with patients with kidney-related issues. A patient with malfunctioning kidneys requires dialysis – manual filtering of unwanted waste from the blood.

    A dialysis nurse treats these patients to extend their lives. These nurses handle both types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal.
  8. Family Nurse Practitioner
    A family nurse practitioner provides patient care and alleviates pain and aches throughout a patient’s lifespan. This nursing job includes examining, prescribing treatments, disease management, diagnosing ailments, and overall health management.  
  9. Informatics Nurse
    Informatics nurses do not interact with patients directly. However, they still help impact the patient’s outcomes behind the scenes. 

    Informatics nurses improve patient care by analyzing data and submitting it to doctors, nurses, and patients as needed. They also provide updated training and help institutions implement up-to-date patient care technology. 
  10. Trauma Nurse
    This specialty requires grounded personalities with a tough skin. A trauma nurse is a fearless and fast-paced nurse that aids accident, burn, crash, and physical violence victims in emergency and urgent care centers. 
  11. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
    These nurses are high in demand, enjoy hefty paychecks, and get to work closely with other specialized medical personnel like dentists, anesthesiologists, and surgeons. 

    CRNAs conduct patient evaluations before and after administering anesthesia, provide pain management, and follow up on a patient’s recovery after a procedure. 
  12. Traveling Nurse
    A travel nurse is a regular RN that provides short-term healthcare services in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities worldwide. 

    These nurses are employed by an independent nursing staffing agency and work to fill gaps in places where there are nursing shortages. Since they are not hospital employees, they can travel, explore, interact with different cultures as they treat. 
  13. Emergency Nurse
    Emergency nurses are first-responders who work through the chaos in a disaster in saving patients’ lives. They handle heart attacks, stroke, gunshots, motor accidents, trauma, fractured bones, and acute-onset symptoms in patients of all ages. They observe, learn and act quickly to treat the most urgent life-threatening symptoms.

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