10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing Specialty

10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing Specialty

As health care grows more 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 are a few questions you can ask to determine the specialty that’s perfect for you.

1. What is 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. A few questions to think about:

  • 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.
  • Are you detail-oriented and methodical? A career in clinical research might suit you. What are you 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. How Do You Like to Engage with People?

Let’s face it, some nurses are naturally introverted and 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 working in a quiet environment or prefer to listen rather than to talk. Understanding your personality may help you choose a nursing specialty.

Possible Nursing Specialties for Introverts:

  • Nurse Researcher
  • Legal Nurse Consultant
  • Informatics Specialist
  • Forensics Nurse

Nursing Specialties for Extroverts:

3. Consider the Day-to-Day Job

Considering what your day-to-day work will look like 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.

Nursing Specialties Away from the Bedside:

High-Touch Nursing Specialties:

4. What Job Setting is Best for You?

Nurses work in many non-hospital settings, including schools, public health departments, corrections facilities, industrial job sites, rescue helicopters, research labs, and of course, physicians’ offices and private or hospital-based (but offsite) clinics. 

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.

<Sidebar/callout> “In home health, I see so many gaps in healthcare where I thought, ‘I want to be the person with prescriptive authority who can help these patients.’ Being able to serve my patients fully is more fulfilling to me than just having the Nurse Practitioner.” – Jessica Hernandez, MSN Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner student

5. Do You Thrive Under Pressure or Find it Stressful?

Often, 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 those who thrive 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 be stressful at work and when juggling work with home and family, so you should consider your existing support system before choosing a high-pressure specialty.

6. What is the Typical Salary for Your Specialty?

If you’re very ambitious about making more money than the average RN, you pursue management and leadership positions or choose an in-demand clinical specialty with a high salary potential. With a higher salary you can expect higher demands, and you’ll likely need to earn a BSN, MSN and possibly a DNP.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses made a median salary of $71,730 per year in 2018. Nurse Practitioners made a media salary of $113,930 per year in 2018. And someone holding a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree earns an average of $120,460 per year according to Medscape.

7. How is the Job Market Where You Want to Live and Work?

In general, the job market is excellent for nurses with specializations. If you don’t want to relocate, you’ll need to choose a field that is currently in demand where you live now.

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. How Technologically Inclined Are You?

If you like computers and helping your hospital or healthcare organization with its Electronic Health Records (EHR) system or if you naturally gravitate toward technology, you should consider the many roles in nursing informatics.

And while all nurses must be comfortable working in EHRs, a role in nursing informatics might not be a great fit

9. What Additional Certifications Will You Need?

Many specialties require nurses who have specific training and certifications on top of their education and prior experience. If you choose one of these specialties, you can expect to be requested to take these certification exams later on. Once you’re certified, there may be annual requirements you’ll have to meet to maintain your status. In the long run, the extra requirements may very well be worth it, as you’ll have the professional recognition and more earning potential.

10. What Educational Prerequisites Do You Need for Your Specialty?

Nurses wanting to advance their practice will almost certainly need a master’s degree – so consider an online RN-to-MSN degree program. American Sentinel University offers accredited, online MSN degree programs with focused coursework that helps prepare nurses for careers in case management, infection prevention and control, nursing education, and nursing management and organizational leadership. We also offer MSN Nurse Practitioner programs, and if you need help deciding on your MSN Nurse Practitioner specialty, we have a post for that, too.

“When I think about nursing and the role I play, I realize that I am in the specialty area of nursing that I know I was meant for. I’ve had my own very serious health issues. Not every nurse feels comfortable talking with patients about end-of-life decisions. I feel like I am made for this position.”

Tammy Stokes,
MSN Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership (2018),
Director of Palliative Care Services at Maury Regional Medical Center

For those wanting to advance to leadership positions in education, hospital management, informatics or other related areas, consider American Sentinel’s online DNP Executive Leadership, DNP Educational Leadership, DNP Informatics Leadership and DNP Professional Leadership, check out our blog about DNP specialties to help you make this decision.

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