How to Choose a Nursing Specialty


One of the appeals of going into nursing is the incredible diversity of paths within the profession. There are numerous specialties to choose from, which leverage different skillsets and care for different patient populations.

‘Trying On’ a Nursing Specialty

At the start of nursing school, you might be convinced about the right specialty for you. Maybe you had thought for years that you would like to become a nurse-midwife, until observing labor and delivery during clinical rotations entirely changed your mind. You will definitely want to keep an open mind and have just a bit of patience. A few years down the road, you might find that your excellent speaking skills and upbeat personality make you the most effective nurse educator on a hospital staff. That is the thing about clinical: They are a chance to glimpse different parts of the nursing landscape.  

The other thing you might do is consider a nurse externship, another way to “try on” a nursing specialty and see how it fits. A small number of externships are paid—though most are not—and can be a stepping stone to a permanent position. You will have a chance to see if you enjoy working in that setting or patient population. It might sound daunting to add an externship to your school responsibilities; read how one nurse transitioned from school to a full-time position because of her embracing the opportunity to take one. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

It helps tremendously to consider your long-term professional goals and the areas of nursing that interest you the most. Think about the type of lifestyle you aspire to achieve, your work/life balance, and how demanding you expect a given specialty to be. Some nurses thrive on big, demanding projects, and others want to be able to leave work at work and achieve a slower pace overall. It is essential to factor in your personality, work-style, and strengths when making these types of career decisions. You should also think about any certifications and advanced education required to pursue your specialty of choice, along with factoring in the time and cost of such training.

Ask yourself this: what demographic are you most comfortable interacting with? If you are young at heart and have a tender spot for little ones, you might thrive in pediatrics. As one pediatric nurse aptly said, “You need to be able to take nursing to a child’s level.” If you have a hard time seeing children when they are sick or vulnerable, you might gravitate toward adult patients or go into geriatrics. 

Here is another question to ask: do you prefer those aspects of nursing that do not involve direct interaction with patients? It is okay to admit that you love nursing and caring for others, but prefer to perform your job in capacities such as research, teaching or unit leadership. If that is the case, you might consider a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) that focuses on population health, clinical nursing leadership or healthcare policy. 

What is your ideal work pace? Do you thrive in high-energy settings or do you need a slower pace to work effectively? Nurse practitioners often get to work in private clinics and focus on one patient at a time. The wonderful thing about getting a nurse practitioner advanced degree is the variety of demographics and healthcare concerns to practice in.  

If job security and a higher income are your priorities, you should definitely think about current or expectant demands in the market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there should be a growth of 12% for registered nurses in the next 10 years. Nursing continues to have a promising future as nearly 400,000 new nursing jobs will be needed by 2028, and a number of those positions will be for nurse specialists, especially nurse practitioners. That is encouraging news for new graduates and those considering nursing school!

Nursing Specialties for Advanced Practice Nurses

There are four major types of advanced practice nurses: certified nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist and clinical nurse specialist. The need for new nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 26% by 2028. These three specialties, along with informatics nurses, neonatal nurse practitioners and travel nurses, have especially positive job outlooks for the near future.  

Clinical nurse specialists also specialize in a variety of patient populations, much like advanced practice nurses. The difference between a clinical nurse specialist and, for example, a nurse practitioner can appear subtle. Nurse practitioners often work in private practices and can prescribe medications, while clinical nurse specialists are usually found in collaborative environments and take supervisory, policy or research roles. Those certified as a clinical nurse specialist are considered experts in a particular area, demonstrating that they are ready to assume an authoritative position in improving the function of nursing units, solution-finding and researching specific types of patients. In fact, clinical care specialists often go into public health, pediatrics, gerontology and mental health.

Getting Into Your Specialty of Choice

The sheer variety of specialties—hundreds, in fact—shows that nursing is anything but boring. Keep in mind that pursuing a specialization will probably involve earning a certificate or advanced degree. Certificate programs or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program can be perfect for nurses working full-time and looking to enhance their expertise within a specialty.

Written by Jordan

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