You feel called to the nursing profession—and you’re excited to embark on a career path that grants you personal satisfaction and the opportunity to help those in need. Now, however, you might be asking yourself: What type of nurse should I be?
For some aspiring nurses, this question is easily answered. From the moment they’ve expressed interest in nursing, they’ve known that they want to work in a certain type of facility or with specific kinds of patients. Others only feel called to the general concept of nursing. As the profession advances, however, nurses at all levels require more specialized skills and knowledge. As such, specialty selection may eventually be required, particularly for those who hope to move up the career ladder.
The good news? While the sheer variety of niches available can make choosing one feel a bit overwhelming, it also means that there truly is something for everyone.
Do you love working with seniors? You could be a great fit for geriatrics or gerontology. Would you like to honor a loved one who passed away due to cancer? Oncology nurses are in high demand. If you’re passionate about disease prevention, epidemiology may be your preferred niche. Options abound—but it’s up to you to determine which specialty works best based on your personal strengths and passions.
Types of Nursing Specialties
Before you can determine your ideal nursing specialty, it helps to get a basic sense of the options that are available. As you explore your options, take a moment to consider:
- Age of the population served (as in pediatric, neonatal, or geriatric care)
- Patient gender (gynecology)
- Specific health issues that patients face (oncology or cardiac nursing)
- Equipment used to treat patients (nurse anesthetists)
- Philosophy underscoring approach (holistic nursing)
- Whether you work directly with patients or in an administrative capacity
- Whether the role involves in-depth research or nursing education
How to Know Which Nursing Specialty to Pursue
Now that you understand the vast range of specialties available, it’s time to narrow down your options. A lot goes into this process, so don’t feel discouraged if you lack an immediate sense of calling for any one specialty.
With a little research, you may get a better sense for which areas of nursing are preferable and which are best avoided. Keep these key considerations in mind as you determine which nursing specialty is right for you:
No one personality type is “right” for nursing. Many nurses have naturally bubbly, cheerful personalities, but others are calm and collected … even stoic. With these differences come varying means of interacting with patients or handling stress. The ideal nursing niche will ensure that, when the going gets tough, your natural personality style will bring out the best of your professional abilities.
In general, nursing calls for high levels of compassion. This is particularly important for nurses who regularly need to deliver upsetting news to patients and their families. Before entering a high-emotion area practice such as oncology or hospice, determine whether you have the capacity to provide warm, empathetic care in those difficult moments.
Do you enjoy being part of a close-knit team of professionals? Or would you rather complete the majority of your work on a solo basis? Perhaps you prefer a blend of the two—or maybe you’d rather avoid direct patient care. No matter your preferred work style, it’s important to take the potential for individual tasks or teamwork into account.
While all nurses need to collaborate with other health care workers to an extent, some spend more time with fellow professionals than others. Surgery and obstetrics, for example, may involve the almost constant presence of physicians, specialists, or other nurses. Extroverted professionals also work well in educational or management roles.
Some introverted nurses have found success in the intensive care unit (ICU), where they’re often left to their own devices—especially during the night shift. Home health and community nurses spend a lot of time interacting with patients but are not constantly in the presence of fellow health care workers. Nurses who work extensively in research or informatics may spend a significant time working on their own.
Preferred Age Group
As mentioned previously, the age of patients can play heavily into nursing preferences. Some nurses are happy to work with patients of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds. Others are most passionate about babies, children, or seniors.
Each age-based niche holds unique challenges and opportunities that aspiring nurses will want to take into account. Communication style, for example, can have a dramatic impact on a nurse’s abilities in or enjoyment of a specific niche. Some nurses simply find it easier to converse with children—so they may be better suited to pediatrics or family practice.
Job Outlook and Salary
Nearly any nursing niche holds the potential for strong earnings. After all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earned a median annual $75,330 as of 2020. Still, some areas of nursing surpass these wages (sometimes even approaching six figures).
Pay is often determined based on demand, although geography and work settings can also play a role. Educational credentials also impact pay ranges, especially as many upper-level nursing jobs require specialized certifications. Opportunities for advancement should also be considered; some niches provide options to move into lead positions, while nurses in other specialties may struggle to climb the career ladder.
Know the Education Requirements
Certain areas of nursing call for specialized training, which may only be possible with a master’s degree or specific certifications. Jobs in other niches may be available with a bachelor’s or even an associate degree. Increasingly, however, high-pay specialties are only available to nurses with extensive training. This is especially true for management roles or positions that involve extensive research. Nurses who aspire to work in case management, nursing education, or informatics, for example, will likely need to seek specialized education.
Hospitals and clinics represent the most common work settings for modern nurses, but these are by no means the only locations in which these talented professionals can operate. Nurses are also commonly found in schools and even corporate environments. Others travel to visit patients within their homes. Some prefer the excitement of the ICU or ER, while others work better in a calmer environment, such as a physician’s office.
Work environment plays heavily into the times at which nurses are on the job or on call. While many will work stereotypical 10 or 12-hour shifts, regular business hours are more common in select niches.
If you’re able to work successfully at any time of the day and don’t mind missing out on the occasional holiday celebration, you’ll have no trouble with shift work. If, however, you prefer a stable schedule that allows you to be home at night and with family during the holidays, you might be a better fit for a research or management-related position. Nursing education may also provide a higher degree of control over work hours.
No single nursing specialty is ideal for every healthcare professional. Don’t be surprised if you need to think carefully about how you fit into this vast career field. With a little soul-searching, you may discover a compelling niche that allows you to achieve the ultimate in career fulfillment.
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