The 6 Top Nursing Specialties (and How to Choose One for Yourself)

May 8

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The nursing profession can be rewarding beyond your wildest dreams. It can also be extremely challenging, nerve-wracking, heart-breaking and even with all that, tremendously fulfilling.

Many new nurses, when just starting out, really don’t have a clue what they want to eventually end up doing. There are so many areas of specialization, it can make your head swim…

The following information is intended to give nurses, no matter the stage in their professional development, some insight as to just what’s out there, as well as what is required to gain entry, expertise and competency in those areas.

Over the years, nursing (especially the Registered Nurse licensure) has evolved to include educational programs ranging from the traditional “diploma” programs to Bachelors and Masters level education.

In upcoming segments, we will take a “30,000 ft.” look at the various specialties that are available to RNs, what they involve, and what it takes from a basic experience and training perspective. We will also explore different things you may want to consider, but might not think about, before accepting a position at a hospital, clinic, or physician practice.

About Nursing Degrees

While there are several educational programs that will help set you up to achieve your RN title and licensure (Diploma, Associates Degree, Bachelors (BSN) and Masters Degrees (MSN)), always remember, it’s the “RN” that really counts. The degree itself comes into play when there are education-level requirements for specific positions and in specific specialties.

For New Grad Nurses

When you’re fresh out of a program, you may have some idea of where you’d like to spend your time (i.e. OB, Med/Surg, OR, PACU, etc.), but you may find that many specialty areas require a year of general or Medical/Surgical nursing under your belt before employers will consider you for a specialty area. This is by no means a bad thing. Getting that all-important direct patient care experience will do nothing but make you a better nurse, regardless of where you finally “light.”

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The General Nursing Specialty

Unless you have totally made up your mind about where you want to invest your energy in career development, it would be a very good idea to get some “direct patient care” experience. Why? Because nursing in any specialty that you may choose to enter, is totally predicated on delivery of the best patient care possible, whether the patient is an adult or a child, conscious or unconscious, elderly, under anesthesia, mobile or totally immobile…you get the picture. Compassionate, expert patient care is universal.

What changes is the manner in which you deliver that care. Many new nurses don’t have a clue what they would like to pursue in terms of an area that really “calls” to them, so the general nursing experience offers a wide variety of experiences with all kinds of patients. Many nurses I have encountered wouldn’t trade “Med/Surg” nursing for the world. The diversity, challenges, and gratification are unique to that environment. It’s ok to not know or be sure early on, so take advantage of what general nursing offers and get that much-needed experience.

Coming Next...

So, the big takeaway here is that nursing is a wide open field, with too many options to list here right now and do them any justice (we’ll reserve that for upcoming segments). And, sometimes just getting the basics down for the first year or so may be just the ticket for making your career truly memorable, and getting it off on the right foot!

In upcoming segments, we can “pick apart” some of the more specialized areas, what it might take to get into them, and be happy in them. Such segments will include, Operating Room/PACU Nursing, Nurse Anesthetist (CNRA) and Advanced Practice Nursing, to name a few.

Stay Tuned!

If you're looking for a new opoprtunity in your specialty, you can browse hundreds of nurse job opportunities here.

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Ken Chisholm, RN, MBA, BS | Director, Mercy Health Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine