Nursing Specialties & Specializations | NursingProgram.org

Nursing Specialties & Specializations

During your training and throughout the first few years of your career, you will discover the wide range of nursing specialties that exist. There are nurse specialties related to various nursing practices, as well as the types of care a nurse can provide. By focusing on one of these areas during your training, you can gain crucial skills that you can use to advance further in your nursing career.

Different Types of Nurse Specializations

Nursing specialties can be related to the types of career practice a nurse can pursue, including the care setting, type of patient, or type of condition. For example, a licensed practical nurse provides short-term bedside care for patients in hospitals and other clinical settings, while a nursing home nurse works with nursing home residents.

Nurse specialties can also be based on the type of care a nurse provides within a hospital setting. For example, an emergency room nurse works in hospital ERs, while a labor and delivery nurse works in the maternity ward caring for mothers and infants.

A few common nursing specialties are listed below.

Practice Specialties

These nursing specialties are based on the type of practice a nurse might perform. Generally, a nurse may pursue one of these specialties for the length of a career, though nurses may switch specialties during their careers. Examples of nursing practice specialties include:

  • Registered Nurse (RN) – This is the most common type of nurse, and the most flexible. RNs typically have more career options than nurses at other career levels, and can specialize to become some of the other types of nurse on this list.
  • Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) – LPNs (LVNs in some states) are associate’s degree-level nurses who perform the basic bedside tasks of a nurse, without the planning and strategic aspects of an RN.
  • Travel Nurse – This specialty involves traveling around the country and working different environments for a short period of time. These types of nurses usually work in hospitals that are short staffed. Travel nurses are usually RNs.
  • Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) – This entry-level nurse works under the supervision of a registered nurse, and provides basic bedside care and assistance to patients.
  • Public Health Nurse (PHN) – In addition to typical nursing duties, a PHN will travel throughout a community, helping organizations such as schools and businesses maintain a healthy environment.
  • Nurse Midwife – A midwife specializes with pregnant women and assists throughout the delivery process, instructing them in basic infant care following birth.
  • Occupational Health Nurse – This type of nurse provides care for individuals working in different commercial settings.
  • Nurse Anesthetist – This type of nurse specialization involves administering anesthetics to patients and monitoring them during procedures.
  • Case Management Nurse – Case management nurses plan and execute long-term care for patients with chronic or recurring conditions.
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP) – These nurses are RNs who have achieved near autonomy, and practice similarly to physicians.

Care Specialties

Within a hospital setting, there are other nursing specialties based on various stages and types of care. These care specialties are usually performed in specific departments of a hospital, and most nurses who perform them are registered nurses. A nurse may specialize in one or several of these areas.

  • Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nursing – This type of nurse works with patients who need intense monitoring, such as those who have been transferred from the emergency room or those who come into the hospital with severe conditions.
  • Emergency Room (ER) Nursing – These nurses deal with emergency cases such as trauma, shock, and other urgent conditions. Once a patient is stabilized, these nurses may transfer the patient to another area of the hospital.
  • Operating Room (OR) Nursing – OR nurses work closely with surgeons, assisting doctors and monitoring the patient during a surgery.
  • Labor and Delivery (L&D) Nursing – The L&D nurse specialization has to do with monitoring patients and assisting doctors during labor, and caring for infants and mothers immediately following delivery.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nursing  – NICU nurses work with infants who are in need of intensive care, such as those born prematurely or with serious conditions that require close supervision after delivery.
  • Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Nursing – This nurse specialty has to do with caring for patients who are recovering from the effects of anesthesia. They typically monitor vitals and ensure a smooth recovery following an operation.
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing – This is the most common nursing specialty, and a relatively broad one. Medical-surgical nurses care for patients before and after surgery and other procedures, providing general bedside care.
  • Telemetry Nursing – This nurse specialization has to do with monitoring patients’ vitals remotely, such as from a nursing station.

Choosing a Nursing Specialty

The best way to choose one of the nurse specialties is to start with your interests. For example, if you have always been interested in helping seniors, then hospice care might be your best option. For those interested in providing emergency care, you may want to consider a specialization in ambulatory or critical care. During your time at one of the nursing education programs, you will learn about all of these nursing specialties and more, allowing you to spend some time focusing on each one before making your decision.

There are several steps you must take before you can advance in one of the nursing specialties. Although there are both licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) and registered nurses (RNs), typically only RNs become specialized in a particular area. Because of this, pursuing one of the nursing specialties is not that different from becoming an RN, the steps of which include the following:

  • Earning a Degree – You can become a registered nurse by either earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. This can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years, and must be done through an accredited nursing education program. During the degree earning process, you will participate in both clinical training and typical coursework. While you will not yet choose one of the nursing specialties, you will learn about the various options available for RNs, allowing you to narrow your focus.
  • Becoming Licensed – Before you can practice as an RN or pursue one of the nursing specialties, you must first become a licensed nurse. To do this, you must pass the licensing exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. This exam will test you on all aspects of the nurse job description.
  • Beginning Your Career – Most nurses begin an entry level job before becoming certified in one of the nursing specialties. Your first job will allow you to experience an actual workplace and what it is like to perform nursing duties on a daily basis. There are many entry level nursing jobs available in hospitals, physician offices, elderly care facilities, and more.
  • Earning a Specialty Certification – For just about all of the nursing specialties, there are nursing certifications available. While certifications are voluntary in some cases, you will find many employers require them before hiring you for a specialized positions. Different nursing specialties are handled by different organizations that have their own specific certification process.