Nursing Specialties in 2023

Nursing Specialties in 2023

Few careers in existence offer the same benefits as nursing. Pursuing a career in the field means working with interesting people, competitive salaries, guaranteed job security, and, perhaps the most important advantage of them all, improving the quality of people’s lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses is positive, with an expected growth rate of 7 percent over the next 10 years. This explains why nursing graduates hardly struggle to find jobs once they’re through with nursing school.

Depending on where your passion lies and how you want your career to progress, choosing the right nursing specialty is an important part of the process. This article explores the critical things you need to consider when choosing an area of specialization, the educational requirements for each, and how to know whether a particular specialty is right for you.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing Specialty

First things first – why is it important to have a specialty in nursing? Don’t get us wrong; there’s nothing wrong with being a registered nurse for the rest of your life. However, specializing in a nursing practice opens up a whole new world of opportunities that you otherwise would never have been exposed to.

For one thing, you would be regarded and recognized as an expert in your chosen nursing specialty. You get the chance to influence education and healthcare practices. It allows you to step into leadership roles where you can use your newfound designation to shape healthcare outcomes. It advances your nursing career and lends your voice to shape the future of the healthcare industry as a whole.

With that in mind, the next logical question would be – what nursing specialties are in demand right now? Here’s an overview of the top ones.

Nurse Anesthetist

A nurse anesthetist is a highly trained specialist whose work entails assisting with the administration of anesthesia during surgeries. Nurses with this medical specialty are among some of the highest-paid professionals in the nursing field, making it one of the best nursing careers to pursue in today’s day and age.

This is partly because of the specialized training they receive and the ever-growing demand for nurse anesthetists in surgical settings. If you’re passionate about patient pain management before, during, and after undergoing surgery, this is a career path worth exploring.

To become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), you’ll need to complete a bachelor of science degree in nursing, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN), acquire the relevant working experience with at least one year of practicing in an acute care setting, and earn a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis on anesthesiology.

Nurse Practitioner

Due to the growing shortage of doctors in the country, the nurse practitioner specialty is quickly becoming the most in-demand professional qualification in the healthcare industry. A nurse practitioner typically works with a wide range of patients – from infants (pediatric nurse practitioner) to geriatrics (gerontological nurse practitioner) – who require primary or acute care.

They are qualified to order tests, diagnose ailments, prescribe treatment, and administer medications. Whether or not a family nurse practitioner has to work under a doctor’s supervision ultimately boils down to the state regulations of the area they practice in. However, in many places, these nurses can set up their own independent practices, just like a doctor would.

If you desire to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, a geriatric nurse practitioner, or a family nurse practitioner, the good news is – the nursing school requirements are all the same. You need to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN), accumulate the relevant working experience, and earn a Master of Science degree in nursing practice.

Nurse Midwife

A certified nurse-midwife is an advanced practice registered nurse whose specialty lies in women’s reproductive health and childbirth. They assist expectant mothers and their newborn babies during and after the labor and delivery process.

Their single most important role is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of mother and child at every stage of the delivery process. Additionally, they provide much-needed support in the health and wellness of their patients in the time leading up to and after childbirth. They also offer pre and post-natal care, perform gynecological checkups, and provide family planning services to their patients.

To become a certified nurse-midwife, you will need to earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN), gain working experience, and then earn a master’s degree in midwifery.

Neonatal Nurse

Babies who are born prematurely commonly experience a wide range of health complications early on. The work of a neonatal nurse involves tending to premature babies, often in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), to ensure their healthcare needs are met until they’re strong and mature enough to be taken home.

To become a neonatal nurse, candidates must possess a minimum of a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN). Depending on the position you’re looking to fill, you might also need to have a Master of Science degree in nursing (MSN) and previous working experience with neonates.

Nurse Advocate

If you’re interested in non-direct patient care nursing jobs that are currently in high demand, becoming a nurse advocate is certainly an option worth looking into. Unlike other nursing specialties that focus on providing direct patient care, a nurse advocate’s work involves representing the interests of a patient and that of their family in a healthcare setting.

They play a significant role in bridging the gap between the patient and their team of healthcare professionals to ensure they understand everything that’s going on. They offer advocacy in issues regarding care, treatment, billing, and all matters surrounding the patient’s wellbeing.

To become a nurse advocate, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and become a practicing registered nurse (RN). Once you’ve accumulated a substantial amount of experience working as an RN, you can then apply for nurse advocate positions when they open up.

Job Outlook for Different Nursing Specialties

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment opportunities for certified registered nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists are projected to grow by 45 percent over the next 10 years. This is considered a faster-than-average growth rate.

Professionals working in this field also happen to be among the highest-paid specialist nurses in the healthcare industry. Nonetheless, these are not the only nursing specialties in high demand. We’ve ranked some of the top nursing professions whose job outlook is equally as good.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Median nurse salary: $117,760 annually

Job outlook: 45% growth by 2029

A clinical nursing specialist (CNS) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Their nursing job revolves around providing specialized direct care for patients suffering from serious or advanced health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or chronic illness. In other instances, they take on a consultant role to the staff in medical facilities. A clinical nurse specialist typically works in a clinical or hospital setting.

Like other APRNs, the qualifications required to become a CNS include having a bachelor’s degree, an RN license, relevant working experience, and a master’s degree with an emphasis on clinical nursing.

Informatics Nurse

Median nurse salary: $177,760 annually

Job outlook: 45% growth by 2029

An informatics nurse is an advanced registered nurse practitioner whose day-to-day work revolves around integrating nursing science with analytical sciences for the identification, definition, management, and communication of knowledge and information in nursing practice.

Put simply, their work is to merge medical knowledge and the information technology realm.

With the ever-increasing reliance and continued evolution of healthcare technology, the demand for informatics nurses is on the rise. They work closely with IT experts to develop information systems based on the existing, evidence-based healthcare standards to ensure that the technology in use remains up-to-date for better patient outcomes.

To become an informatics nurse, you will need to graduate from nursing school with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, have an RN license, obtain a master’s degree, and acquire the associated certifications in nursing informatics.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Median nurse salary: $177,760 annually

Job outlook: 45% growth by 2029

A psychiatric nurse practitioner, or mental health nurse, specializes in diagnosing and treating individuals suffering from psychological disorders. They work closely with individuals, families, and communities to assess their mental health needs.  Their work also involves coming up with an appropriate care plan for individuals diagnosed with mental illness and evaluating its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

The practice of psychiatric nursing falls within the realm of advanced practice. It is often performed by a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. To specialize in the field, you will need to graduate from nursing school with a bachelor’s degree, obtain an RN license, and earn a master’s degree with a focus on psychiatric nursing.

Nurse Researcher

Median nurse salary: $117,760 annually

Job outlook: 45% growth by 2029

A nurse researcher is a scientist who studies various aspects of the healthcare system, illnesses, and health-related matters and then designs and implements scientific studies to find ways of improving medical services for better healthcare outcomes.

Since they mainly rely on grants to fund their research, they’re also involved in writing grant proposals and ensuring that they meet the stipulated reporting requirements. Nurse researchers often work collaboratively with scientists in other fields, including medicine, pharmacy, and engineering, to address complex problems.

To become a nurse researcher, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, have a valid RN license, obtain a master’s degree and have a doctoral degree in your chosen area of focus.

Critical Care Nurse

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, or critical care nurses, are often responsible for providing direct care to acutely and critically ill patients. Their day-to-day tasks involve monitoring life support equipment and tending to serious injuries.

As far as the education requirements go, most critical care nurses are RNs, although several of them also happen to be APRNs. The main difference between the two categories of healthcare professionals is that ICU nurses have typically undergone some kind of critical care nursing training, particularly for emergencies.

To become an ICU nurse, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and an RN license.

Dialysis Nurse

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

Patients whose kidneys no longer function as they should need to go for dialysis to filter waste from their blood. As a result, they have to make routine trips to the dialysis center. A dialysis nurse works with these patients to ensure they get the treatment they need. They also specialize in peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis.

The education requirements for dialysis nurses are similar to that of RNs. They need to have a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree, an RN license, and certification that focuses on dialysis.

Oncology Nurse

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

An oncology nurse is highly trained in the treatment of cancer. Their role involves educating cancer patients on the best options for treatment, sensitizing them on their remission status, monitoring their symptoms and how well they’re responding to treatment, and in some cases, even prescribing medication.

To become an oncology nurse, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, have an RN license, and obtain relevant certifications in courses related to cancer treatment.

Pediatric Nurse

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

A pediatric nurse specializes in care for children. Like other registered nurses, a pediatric nurse performs physical examinations on, diagnoses illnesses, and develops appropriate treatment plans for children in their infancy stages right up to those in their teenage years.

To become a practicing nurse in this field, you need to earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree and have a valid RN license.

School Nurse

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

A school nurse is a registered nurse hired by public schools, private schools, charter schools, or parochial schools to offer intervention when students show signs and symptoms of potential health problems.

Their work also involves actively monitoring and assessing students’ immunization status, encouraging healthy physical and mental development, screening for potential illnesses or health-related conditions, providing a referral if need be, and collaborating with faculty, students, and parents on safety and health awareness programs.

To become a school nurse, you’ll need to have a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree as well as a valid RN license. Depending on the state you live in, you may also require a master’s degree and teacher certification.

Orthopedic Nurse

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

An orthopedic nurse specializes in health conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. Some of these include bone fractures, arthritis, osteoporosis, and joint replacements. These healthcare professionals are skilled in providing care and treatment for physical injuries, disabilities affecting the bones, as well as intricate disease management.

To become an orthopedic nurse, you need to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and have a valid RN license. You may also be required to take the Orthopedic Nurse Certification Exam.

Nurse Educator

Median nurse salary: $75,330 annually

Job outlook: 7% growth by 2029

A nurse educator is a professional with extensive experience and advanced education in their nursing practice. Most educators have typically worked for several years before transitioning to become educators in teaching hospitals and nursing schools. They share their clinical experience to train the next generation of nurses.

To become a nurse educator, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a valid RN license, and a master’s degree. You’re also required to take the Certified Nurse Educator Examination.

Can Nurses Change Specialties

Even if you intend to spend the rest of your life working in a specific nursing specialty, it is quite common for nurses to change their field of work. A pain management nurse, for instance, may want to transition into nursing informatics. If this is something you’re seriously contemplating, here are a few things to keep in mind while you prepare to make the switch.

  • Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Dig down deep and take the time to understand why you no longer want to work in your existing specialty.
  • Research and evaluate the available specialties. Comb through news articles, industry publications, and relevant journals to explore the different career paths available to you and their job outlook.
  • Get hands-on experience once you narrow down your specialty options. Shadow the nurses who are already in the field just like you did when you were in nursing school. Remember, you’ll have to learn everything from scratch. That way, you can get a feel for what it truly feels like to work in the field.
  • Consider furthering your education. This is especially important if you’re planning to make a drastic switch. Additional education may include certification courses or day-long workshops. If you don’t have a master’s in nursing degree, now’s as good a time as any to get it.
  • Timing is crucial. Make the switch once you’ve adequately mastered the area you originally specialized in and plateaued during your career growth.

Educational Requirements for Different Nursing Specialties

The educational requirements for nursing specialties are all generally the same. What is different is the path you use to get there. Here’s an overview of the requirements for the main nursing specializations.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

CRNAs provide specialized care in various settings, including physician’s offices, pain clinics, and medical centers. The educational requirements you need to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist are:

  • Bachelor’s in science in nursing degree
  • A valid registered nurse practitioner license
  • One year of working experience as a nurse in a critical care setting
  • Complete an accredited nursing program in anesthesia education
  • Take and pass the certification exam from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)

It takes 4-6 years on average from bachelor’s level to become an advanced practice nurse in anesthetics. It may take longer if you begin at an associate degree level.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

This is yet another advanced practice nurse role. While clinical nurse specialists are often involved in direct patient care, they may also work as consultants for staff in healthcare facilities. The educational requirements needed to become a CNS are:

  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • Valid registered nursing (RN) license
  • Earn a master’s in nursing degree
  • Take a CNS specialty certification exam
  • Apply for CNS state certification in the state you intend to practice

It takes 4-6 years on average to become a clinical nurse specialist if you start at a bachelor’s degree level. If, on the other hand, you begin at associate degree level, it may take 6-8 years.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Any nurse with a valid RN license who advances their education to master’s degree level is considered a nurse practitioner. If you’re thinking of pursuing a nursing career with this specialty, here’s a list of the educational requirements you need to have:

  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • Valid registered nursing (RN) license
  • Master’s in nursing degree or Ph.D. in nursing practice
  • Take an NP certification exam for your chosen specialty

It takes 4-6 years on average to become a nurse practitioner. It may take longer if you begin at an associate degree level or choose to advance to a doctoral level.

How to Choose the Right Nursing Specialty for You

As the healthcare realm continues to evolve, more nurses are gravitating toward focusing their skills and efforts on a specific field of nursing. Not only does this come with a higher earning potential, but it also offers more job security, career satisfaction, and more recognition in your chosen field of practice.

That being said, choosing the right nursing specialty forms an important part of the equation. Here’s a guide to determine if a particular area of specialization is right for your nursing career.

1. Understand Your Personality

No two nursing environments are the same. Each nursing job moves at a different pace and comes with its own set of unique. The question then becomes, does it complement your personality?

If, for instance, you have a natural affinity for children, and vice versa, becoming a pediatric nurse would appear to the most natural fit. If you’re the sort of person who has an eye for detail and is often methodical in your approach to the way you do things, a clinical research specialty will make the most sense. If you consider yourself a bit of a free spirit who’s not confined by borders, travel nursing might just be what the doctor ordered.

It helps to take a nursing personality test before you zero in on the specialty you want to focus on.

2. Figure Out if You’re a “People Person”

This closely ties to your personality type. If you’re naturally an introverted person, you may not take to a nursing career that requires you to interact with lots of people on a day-to-day basis. A suitable specialty might be something along the lines of an informatics nurse, a nurse researcher, or a forensics nurse.

On the flip side, if you enjoy interacting with people, a suitable specialty may be a family nurse practitioner, critical care nurse, or nurse advocate.

3. Understand the Daily Demands of the Job

Consider what the day-to-day work on the job looks like. If you enjoy taking on a leadership role, a nurse manager specialty might be just the thing for you. If you would rather not work in a high-touch role, a nursing career as a nurse educator, a nurse researcher, or an informatics nurse might be more to your liking. Understand what the role involves before you and dive in headfirst.

4. Figure Out if the Job Environment Is Right for You

Some nursing specialties are based in traditional hospital settings, while others may involve working in non-hospital environments. You need to figure out where nursing specialists in your chosen area of focus spend the majority of their time. Do you prefer working in research labs, rescue helicopters, schools, off-site clinics? This should help guide your decision on which area to specialize in.

5. Money Matters

Last but certainly not least, you need to take the nurse salary for your chosen specialty into consideration. While it should not be the only deciding factor, it needs to play a significant part in your decision. Remember, you’re looking for a lucrative option that guarantees long-term progression.

The average registered nurse (RN) makes $75,330 a year, whereas an advanced registered nurse practitioner (APRN) makes $117,760 annually. Do your research and find out what the typical salary for your desired field of specialization is before making your final decision.


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