10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing Specialty

As health care grows complex, many nurses are deciding to focus their efforts on a particular area of nursing. There are many benefits to specializing – including increased respect and recognition, greater job security, enhanced career satisfaction, and increased salary potential. Here’s what you should consider to determine the specialty that’s perfect for you.

1. Your personality and interests. Every nursing specialty comes with its own pace and environment – try to choose one that complements your personal style, so you’ll fit in comfortably and be able to work at your optimum level. Do you thrive on an adrenaline rush, constant challenges, and expecting the unexpected? Maybe a trauma center or emergency department is the place for you. On the other hand, if you’re detail-oriented and methodical, a career in clinical research might suit you. You might also consider what you’re drawn to outside of work: do you love children or have an interest in nutrition? There are nursing specialties that will allow you to combine many kinds of personal interests with your career.

2. The job role. This is a natural tie-in with your personality type. If you’re comfortable in the role of a leader, you may make a great nurse manager or even rise to the ranks of nursing executive leadership. Do you want to work closely with patients in a “high touch” role, or would you prefer to be away from the bedside? There are many nursing specialties that allow you to use your clinical knowledge without engaging in direct patient care – like case management, education, infection control, and informatics.

3. The job setting. Nurses work in many non-hospital settings, including schools, public health departments, corrections facilities, industrial job sites, rescue helicopters, research labs, and more. Even if you do choose a more traditional hospital job, you’ll want to consider the setting before you choose a clinical specialty – there are vast differences between the intensive care unit, delivery room, and psychiatric unit in terms of pace, environment, and the kinds of interactions you’ll have with patients, physicians, and other caregivers.

4. Various levels of pressure. Often times, more demanding jobs come with higher prestige (chief nursing officer) or higher salaries (certified registered nurse anesthetist) – career perks that can be very rewarding for someone who thrives on meeting challenges head-on. But how much stress can you manage? Can you handle being on call 24/7, perhaps as a surgical nurse on a transplant team? Long or irregular hours can result not only in job stress, but also the strain of juggling work with home and family – so it may be wise to consider your existing support system before choosing a high-pressure specialty.

5. Typical salary ranges. If you’re very ambitious about making more money than the average floor nurse, you can aim for an executive position or choose an in-demand clinical specialty with a high salary potential – you can find lists of the highest paying nursing specialties in this article from Nursing Link. But again, you’ll have to balance the financial rewards with the higher demands that will be placed on you, and the fact that you’ll likely need to obtain higher levels of nursing education.

6. Special qualifications or certifications. Many specialties require nurses who have specific skills, training, and certifications. If you choose one of these, you can expect to spend a good amount of time advancing your professional education, building skills, and studying for certification exams. Once you’re certified, there may be annual requirements you’ll have to meet to maintain your status. But in the long run, it may very well be worth it: certified nurses are recognized and respected and often earn higher salaries.

7. Location and job market. In general, the job market is excellent for nurses with a specialization. If you don’t want to relocate however, you’ll have to choose a field that is currently in demand where you live now. As you get farther outside of big cities, you may not be able to practice in certain specialties. If you’re considering advanced practice nursing, you may also want to take a look at the licensure requirements of the state you live in. Some states allow nurse practitioners to practice independently, while many require direct physician supervision.

8. Your relationship with technology. If you’ve studied computer science or if you naturally gravitate toward technology, you should definitely consider the specialty fields of nursing informatics or telemetry.

9. Your level of engagement with people. Let’s face it, some nurses are naturally introverted or just don’t take pleasure in constantly meeting new people. Maybe you’re not really a “people person” but you’re good with numbers, have good analytical skills, enjoy a quiet environment, or prefer to listen rather than to talk. If engaging with and advocating for patients isn’t your cup of tea, it’s possible you’ll enjoy a career as a nurse researcher, legal nurse consultant, informatics specialist, or forensics nurse. Understanding which personality subgroup you fall into may help you choose a specialty.

10.  Education requirements. Nurses wanting to specialize will almost certainly need a master’s degree – so consider an online RN-to-MSN degree program as a potential first step toward any career specialty. American Sentinel University offers accredited, online MSN degree programs with focused coursework that helps prepare nurses for a career in case management, infection prevention and control, nursing education, and nursing management and organizational leadership. For those wanting to advance to top positions within their specialty field, a doctorate degree will be useful – consider American Sentinel’s online DNP Executive Leadership and the DNP Educational Leadership.

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