Improving care delivery is the health care industry’s ultimate goal. This goal is supported by a range of objectives, such as expanding access to care through telehealth; improving nursing education; and encouraging proactive patient-centric wellness strategies by educating patients and providing them with the resources to make informed health care decisions.
At the forefront of these efforts are nurses, who often provide the most direct care to patients. Promoting nurse specialization is another crucial strategy for improving care delivery, as it enables nurses to acquire the expertise and skills to provide high-quality care to patients with specific needs. Specialization contributes to better patient outcomes and can help reduce the overall cost of health care.
For nurses, pursuing some of the more in-demand nursing specialties can lead to opportunities for career advancement. Individuals who want to find the nursing specialty that’s best for them should consider the benefits of advanced nursing education.
Why Is Nurse Specialization Important?
When nurses possess expertise in a specific field, they can deliver more comprehensive care within that field, improving the patient experience. For example, while many nurses can assist in childbirth, certified nurse midwives are specifically trained to do so and have certifications that attest to their expertise. Their advanced medical training, ability to assist in delivery, and provision of pre-and postnatal care can reduce the chance of complications, resulting in better outcomes for patients.
Additionally, specialization can enable nurses to provide a specific type of care or deliver services to a particular patient demographic that nonspecialized nurses can’t. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, for instance, are equipped to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions, including providing therapy and prescribing medication. With demand for mental health care on the rise — approximately 1 in 5 Americans experiences a mental illness each year, yet nearly 160 million people live in areas where there’s a shortage of mental health providers, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration — there is a need for more psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners.
Specialized nurses also can improve community health by making care more accessible to patients, particularly in rural areas that often lack adequate health care resources. A 2022 survey from The Chartis Group found that 36% of rural health care facilities couldn’t admit patients within 60 days due to nursing staff shortages.
Specialized nurses in these communities can provide a higher level of care, enabling them to bridge gaps in care created by the ongoing physician shortage. A 2021 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges projected that the U.S. will face a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034 — which is compounded by a concurrent shortage of nurses.
4 In-Demand Nursing Specialties
Individuals looking to specialize in a particular field of nursing should consider the range of different nursing categories, as these often require different qualifications. Once individuals have determined what role is ideal for them, they can begin working toward that specialty with the help of advanced education. The following are four examples of in-demand nursing specialties a nurse may consider pursuing.
1. Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have completed graduate-level education and clinical training. They provide primary and specialty care services to patients, including diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medication, and ordering lab tests. NPs often work in primary care clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes.
NPs can dedicate themselves even further to a specific type of care or group of patients. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) are among the most in-demand NP specializations due to their ability to provide primary care. While FNPs provide direct care to patients of all ages, AGNPs specialize in caring for adults and older adults.
Employment of NPs is projected to grow by 46% between 2021 and 2031, making it the most in-demand nursing specialty, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The growing population of older adults, and the consequent increase in demand for health care services, are expected to drive much of this growth.
2. Nurse Anesthetist
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are another type of APRN. Their role is to administer anesthesia and manage pain during surgical and other medical procedures. These nurses work alongside surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other surgical team members to ensure patient safety and comfort. CRNAs usually work in operating rooms, labor and delivery units, and other areas where anesthesia is needed.
The number of nurse anesthetists is expected to grow by 12% by 2031, more than double the average for all occupations (5%), according to the BLS.
3. Nurse Midwife
Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) are APRNs who provide women with primary care and obstetric services, including prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care. They work in hospitals, birthing centers, and private practices and may also provide care in a patient’s home. CNMs frequently offer well-woman care, including pap smears, pelvic exams, and family planning advice.
Employment of nurse midwives is projected to grow by 7% by 2031, the BLS reports.
4. Nursing Home Administrator
Nursing home administrators (NHAs) oversee the daily operations of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care settings. They ensure the facility complies with state and federal regulations, manage budgets and staffing, and work to improve residents’ quality of care.
The BLS projects that employment of medical and health services managers, which includes nursing home administrators, will grow by 28% between 2021 and 2031. Similar to nurse practitioners, this growth will be driven in part by increased demand for health care services from the nation’s aging population. According to ConsumerAffairs, over the next 20 years, the number of Americans over 65 will grow by 42% and the number of people over 85 will more than double, leading to an increased need for assisted living, which will likely lead to greater demand for nursing home administrators.
Salaries for In-Demand Nursing Specialties
Among the more in-demand nursing specialties, salaries can vary greatly. Compensation is determined by factors such as the specialization’s required training, the position’s location, the individual’s experience level, and the size and type of facility. For example, nurses in metropolitan areas tend to earn higher salaries than those in rural areas because the increased cost of living is a factor in salary negotiations. However, due to a shortage of available nurses, many may find that rural areas have more open positions or other valuable benefits.
Here are a few salaries based on the specialties discussed previously.
- The median annual salary for nurse practitioners is $120,680, according to 2021 data from the BLS. This salary can vary depending on the nurse practitioner’s area of specialization and the location where they work.
- The median annual salary for nurse anesthetists was $195,610 in 2021, according to the BLS. Factors influencing compensation for nurse anesthetists include the type of facility they work in, such as a hospital or private practice, and the region of the country they operate in.
- The median annual salary for nurse midwives was $112,830 in 2021, the BLS reports. Nurse midwives who work in private practices often earn higher salaries than those in hospitals or other settings.
- The median annual salary for nursing home administrators was $94,900 as of January 2023, according to data from the compensation website Payscale. Meanwhile, the BLS reports that medical and health services managers working in nursing and residential care facilities earned $83,550 in 2021. Various factors can influence the salary for this role, including the size and type of facility they work in and its location.
Make a Difference in Health Care
By focusing on a specific area of nursing, nurses can acquire the knowledge and skills to provide expert, targeted care to patients. Specializations such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nursing home administrator are in high demand as the population ages and the health care landscape continues to evolve. Patients living in underserved or rural communities can also benefit from the specialized skills of these professionals.
An advanced education can prepare individuals for many of the most in-demand nursing specialties. The online post master’s certificate nurse practitioner program offers several nurse practitioner specializations, such as pediatrics, family, and women’s health. The program meets the needs of working nurses and offers the possibility of graduation in as little as 12 months.
Discover the nursing opportunities available to you at Regis College.