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Nursing Specialties and Careers

By Bisk
Nursing Specialties and Careers

With an aging population comes the societal challenge of acquiring additional medical professionals to meet the burgeoning demand in healthcare. As a result of this and other related healthcare trends, growth in the field of nursing remains strong. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 16% from 2014 to 2024.

For career changers and current nurses looking to expand their professional versatility, the wide-range of specialty areas in nursing present many exciting opportunities. The most in-demand and lucrative nursing specialties include possibilities literally from A to (nearly) Z. Consider exploring some of the following: 

Ambulatory care nursing

Ambulatory care nurses interact with patients directly and often form long-term patient care relationships in a variety of settings. These registered nurses provide best-practice methods for achieving positive quality of care outcomes. Duties include carrying out a patient treatment plans for acute illnesses, promoting overall well being, keeping accurate records, coordinating with family members and possibly providing end of life care. Registered nurses working in ambulatory care have a wide-range of skills and knowledge to meet the diverse needs of patients across the lifespan.

Advanced practice registered nursing (APRN)

An advanced practice nurse has completed a master’s degree program and has obtained a variety of skills and knowledge required for advanced clinical practice. This rigorous training sets them apart from other registered nurses. Advanced practice nurses work in a range of highly esteemed roles including clinical nurse specialists (CNSs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurse anesthetists (CNAs) and certified nurse-midwives (CNMs). They play a more active and central role in direct patient diagnosis and treatment.

Cardiac nursing

Cardiac nurses receive special training related to the heart and supporting systems. They may work in special cardiac care centers or in more general hospital settings. In addition to treating the physical symptoms of cardiac patients, these special care providers are also skilled at addressing the often complex emotional, nutritional and on-going therapeutic needs of this particular group of patients. From monitoring electrocardiograms to talking with family members regarding the patient’s care plan, cardiac nurses support the health and recovery of patients dealing with cardiac challenges.

Case Management Nurse

Case management nurses are responsible for coordinating long-term care for patients, with the goal of developing a treatment plan designed so that the patient’s health remains as stable as possible and they can stay out of the hospital as much as possible.  A case management nurse is typically assigned to a specific group of patients, such as those with cancer or HIV/AIDS, or to a specific age group.  To land a job as a case management nurse, you will need an ASN or BSN degree, a passing score on the NCLEX-RN, a Case Management Nurse Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), as well as documented experience working as an RN and completing continuing education classes.

Critical care nursing

Patients who are critically ill or injured require vigilant monitoring and care. Nurses who specialize in critical care provide support and treatment for patients whose conditions make their overall health particularly unstable and vulnerable to overall deterioration or death. Critical care nurses ensure that patients with actual or potentially life-threatening conditions receive the best care possible.

Dialysis nursing

Dialysis nurses monitor, medicate, educate and support their patients through every step of dialysis. They help patients make important lifestyle choices and changes that can help manage kidney disease. These nursing professionals have an in-depth understanding of kidney disease and are specialists in offering their patients the best care during their dialysis treatment.  Dialysis is administered in patients’ homes, freestanding clinics and hospitals, so the work environment for this specialty will vary.  This specialty is growing primarily due to our growing population of seniors.  Most dialysis nursing positions typically require an ASN or BSN degree, several years of Med-Surg experience and the successful completion of a certification exam.

Emergency and trauma nursing

Emergency and trauma nurses are registered nurses who have specialized training and a personality geared toward handling chaotic situations with caring and calm professionalism. Many emergency nurses hold additional certifications in areas such as life-flight care and pediatric nursing. Many also hold training certificates in other areas such as injury prevention. A high degree of stamina and an ability to quickly integrate information into a care plan is essential for success in this specialty area.

Forensic nursing

Forensic nurses play a unique role in the legal system. After tending to the immediate needs of a person involved in a crime, the nurse will collect evidence and prepare reports that can be used in a court of law. These nurses are often called upon to give testimony in a courtroom based on their medical findings. The special training of forensic nurses provides invaluable support to victims of abuse, neglect and violent crimes.

Genetics nursing

Nurses specializing in the area of genetics help individuals understand the genetic component of disease and illness. They may assist in family risk assessment, analysis of genetic data or in the research of a particular disorder or disease. They help families better understand the genetic implications of disease as well as provide education and ongoing support for families dealing with health challenges that have a genetic cause.

Geriatric nursing

Working with elderly patients requires a wide-range of knowledge and empathy. From understanding complex pharmaceutical treatments to helping family members follow a loved one’s care plan, geriatric nurses play an important role in today’s aging population. Nurses in this field may further develop a niche in other areas such as home healthcare, psychology or health education.

Holistic nursing

Nurses who specialize in holistic nursing integrate traditional and alternative philosophies of healing. In addition to addressing an individual’s personal medical treatment, a holistic nurse also helps to meet interconnected emotional, spiritual and cultural needs that support healing. Holistic nursing involves cultivating a sense of personal empowerment and responsibility in patients and their family care givers.

Legal nursing

This specialty area of nursing requires additional legal training for nurses who wish to consult as a liaison with legal teams. They may review policies and standards of care to ensure legal compliance or may be called on to review medical records and prepare depositions. Legal nurse consultants may also screen records for tampering, prepare arguments for use in court or help prepare other medical professionals for a court appearance. Having a strong nursing background and impeccable legal knowledge is imperative for those wishing to secure career longevity in this important area.

Medical-surgical nursing

Assisting surgeons in today’s operating rooms and caring for patients post-operatively means that medical-surgical nurses need a clear understanding of the technological advancements inherent to 21st century surgical medicine. Ongoing training is essential in this specialty area, which can have an intense environment and exposure to consistent high stress situations. Many nurses in this field find working with surgeons and directly assisting in possible life-saving surgical care plans deeply rewarding despite the challenges.

Mental health or psychiatric nursing

Nurses who find psychology interesting and enjoy working in the mental health field may gravitate toward a career in mental health or psychiatric nursing. Some of these nurses prefer to work in out-patient facilities while others enjoy the long term relationships built over time with patients in residential facilities. From administering medicine to helping patients work on other treatment goals, psychiatric nurses provide an invaluable service to those struggling with mental health issues.


Assisting in the birth of babies is both exciting and challenging. Nurse midwives provide education and long term support to women as they move through the process of gestation to birth. In addition to solid clinical training, nurse midwives must also complete a significant amount of hours of practical training directed by established mentors in the field. Certification requirements and parameters of birthing practices vary from state to state.

Neonatal nursing

Supporting the health and emergent medical needs of the youngest patients in a hospital require highly specialized training and experience. Neonatal nurses not only support the individual care plan of infants in their charge, but also play an important role in parent education and training. Because many newborns with health challenges require ongoing medical care, neonatal nurses provide a compassionate bridge for parents who may at first struggle with the medical realities of caring for a newborn with health complications.

Nursing informatics

Nurses who enjoy working with data communication and electronic file management systems are in demand to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of electronic medical record keeping. Nursing informatics specialists may coordinate patient records, prepare reports and train other nurses on new technology. Some nurses within this niche consult on health policy issues and serve on governance boards.

Nursing management

With the growing number of nurses entering the profession, strong leaders are needed to support a well-prepared workforce committed to providing the best patient care available. Nurse management specialists play a vital role in creating a stronger healthcare system. A nurse management leader wears many hats. Some of their diverse duties include: working with other healthcare leaders to streamline established protocol; reviewing records and updating technology; arranging on-going training opportunities for other nurses; and managing a team of nurses in a specific department. Overall nurse managers help coordinate a strong infrastructure across divisions.

Obstetrical nursing

Nurses who enjoy working with expectant mothers may obtain specialized training in the field of obstetrics. Obstetrical nurses assess and implement care plans for women in all stages of pregnancy. They play an important role assisting in birth and caring for women after delivery. Some nurses additionally seek complementary specializations in other niche areas such as neonatal care or labor and delivery.

Occupational health nursing

Organizations may hire an occupational health nurse to assess potential risks and develop appropriate plans of action to reduce the probability of workplace injury. Some occupational health nurses provide education to workers over important workplace issues such as decreasing the likelihood of repetitive motion injury. Other nurses in this specialty area work in public health policy to establish guidelines aimed at protecting the health of workers across industry.

Oncology nursing

Nurses who specialize in oncology work with cancer patients and their families. While some oncology nurses specialize in diagnostics and treatments, others may choose to work with families as a health educator or home health nurse. There are a wide range of areas in this specialty from nuclear medicine to palliative care.

Orthopaedic nursing

Orthopaedic nurses play an important role in the management and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. From assisting in surgery to administering medication, nurses who specialize in this area assist patients of all ages achieve health goals through a best practice approach to orthopaedic care. Education is also an important role in this specialty area. Orthopaedic nurses assist patients and their families in better understanding the injury or condition. They also help to implement short-term and long-term treatment plans.

Pediatric nursing

For nurses who enjoy working with infants and young children, pediatric nursing offers many opportunities to develop long lasting relationships with young patients and growing families. This fast-paced specialty area requires great stamina and a personality that can put patients and their caregivers at ease.

Wound Care - Ostomy nursing

Ostomy nurses provide care for ostomies of the gastrointestinal and urinary systems which are necessary for the elimination of bodily wastes in certain conditions. This important and highly specialized area requires extensive practical training after the completion of a four-year nursing degree. It is not uncommon for an ostomy nurse to have five or more years of training before being competitive for top jobs in the field. In addition to caring for patients with surgical ostomies, ostomy nurses may also care for wounds caused by injury or infection, as well as pressure ulcers of all stages.

The wide range of opportunities in nursing allow for a nurse’s individual interests to grow and expand over time. Whether a nurse wants to work in a hospital setting, travel abroad or see patients of a particular age during home healthcare visits, a professional path leading to a specialty area in nursing can open many doors.

For current nurses and career changers, specialties may increase job opportunities over the course of a career. In addition, increasing knowledge and expanding areas of expertise may also lead to leadership and management opportunities. Education and training can be sound investments in any career path, but with the impressive job outlook in nursing, investments in a specialty area may offer larger returns in light of current demographic and societal health trends. For more information about building a career in nursing, request more information below.


Category: Nursing