How to Specialize in Nursing

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For many nurses, the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” has evolved into “what kind of nurse do you want to be?” After becoming comfortable with the day-to-day responsibilities of their duties, some see specializing in nursing as the next natural step in career advancement and fulfillment.

The nursing field will need excellent professionals for quite some time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide shortage of registered nurses will continue through 2030 because of population growth and turnover in the nursing workforce, as well as other issues. This will result in an anticipated 15 percent growth in job opportunities for specialized nurses and NPs between 2016 and 2026.

Those who enter nursing are greeted with an abundance of specialization options. From pediatric and family nursing to adult-geriatric nursing and psychiatric mental health nursing, nurses have a host of choices when looking for the nursing specialty that suits them best.

Specializing in Nursing: How to Get There

Many would-be nurses ask, “how do I specialize in nursing?” Finding the best-suited nursing specialty for an individual doesn’t just happen. Each nurse will need to identify the area for which he or she feels the strongest affinity, which requires introspection and self-assessment. From there, the individual will need to take the necessary steps toward required degrees, licensure, and certification.

  1. Choose a Specialty

In an American Nurse Today article, one nursing career coach advises nurses to “[discover] what lights you up and makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Think about what kind of work environment would be best for your personality and work needs. [For example], do you like to be constantly busy with unexpected challenges? Or do you prefer a slower pace with a fairly predictable routine?” Volunteer and work experience with different populations, age groups, and treatment areas will also help inform a nurse’s chosen direction.

Informational interviewing is another effective way to judge whether a specialty is the right fit. It can be difficult to ask questions about a specific career track with little or no experience, so shadowing a nurse in that specialty can illustrate what the field is really like. Additionally, networking with other nurses is possible through online conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and in LinkedIn groups.

  1. Pursue the Right Education

After a nurse discovers his or her ideal specialty, the next step is to research what’s required to get there. Requirements can include certifications, additional education and training, previous experience, and physical requirements. In addition, there are national associations with local chapters for most nursing specialties that can answer practically any question.

If additional education is required, nurses can earn advanced credentials, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It can take as few as two years to earn an MSN while simultaneously working and raising a family.

When selecting a school for an MSN, accreditation is a vital aspect to consider. Because of the strict national standards, employers often prefer graduates of accredited programs, making them more competitive in the job market. In addition, graduating from an accredited school means a nurse will be qualified to attend other accredited schools for advanced studies.

  1. Get Licensed and Certified

Choosing the right nursing program is crucial because it will prepare graduates to sit for licensing and certification exams for a host of boards, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, National Certification Corporation, and National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

While a nursing specialty typically requires a master’s degree, the payoff can offer a tremendous return on investment. For example, even though licensing is a requirement for registered nurses, adding a certification in specific areas, such as pediatrics, women’s health, gerontology, mental health, or family practice, can position a nurse practitioner for more opportunities and higher pay.

As reported by the BLS, the median pay in 2017 for an NP sat above $100,000 in these settings:

  • Hospitals: $117,850
  • Outpatient care centers: $112,940
  • Physicians’ offices: 108,300
  • Educational services: $101,600

Specialization in nursing can also serve as a direct path toward management-level roles, including director of nursing and chief nursing officer. The business component of health care can be a popular career destination for nurses choosing to specialize, as employers such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance providers, and managed care organizations seek specialized nurses to help with policy development, quality assurance, and health planning.

For the nurse wanting to take advantage of a field rich in opportunities by choosing a nursing specialty, education is the gateway. While there are many online degree offerings, nurses who enter the field with an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) are finding time to earn an MSN, an online post-master’s certificate, and even a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). There are more than 100 different nursing specialties, and each has its own demands, niche, environment, and schedule. By choosing to specialize in a specific area, nurses can become experts in their fields and play a crucial role in influencing health care education, practice, and outcomes.

Learn More

Choosing a specialization is appealing for nurses and NPs who are trying to advance their careers. Regis College offers flexible online Post-Master’s Nursing Certificate programs that prepare students to sit for a certification exam.

Recommended Reading

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Specializations and Concentrations

How Nurse Practitioners Can Close the Gap in Healthcare

Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
Academic Medicine
U.S. News & World Report
Discover Nursing