Nursing Specialties, Their Requirements & How To Choose Right One

Nursing Specialties, Their Requirements & How To Choose Right One? Nursing is an expansive profession comprising over 100 nursing specialties in various patient populations within bedside and non-clinical settings.

In this field, you can choose from an array of nursing career paths in the healthcare field.

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This article overviews a few nursing specialties, their licensure requirements and how to choose the right specialties.

Nurses can pursue specialties in countless roles and settings. Each specialty requires different levels of experience and credentials. Certifications can vouch for clinical expertise and are often optional, but some roles may require them.

Below is an overview of 13 popular nursing specialties you can pursue.

1. Clinical Nurse Specialist

Average Annual Salary: Around $96,000 (Payscale)
Required Education: Master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
Required Certification/Licensure: Registered nurse (RN) license, Clinical Nurse Specialist certification in neonatal, pediatrics or adult/gerontology
Specialty Overview: Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with specialized clinical experience in a field of practice or patient population.

CNSs can diagnose and treat acute or chronic illnesses within their area of practice. For more information, see our guide on how to become a clinical nurse specialist.

2. Flight Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $86,700 (Payscale)
Required Education: Associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license, Certified Flight Registered Nurse
Specialty Overview: Flight nurses administer comprehensive pre-hospital, emergency and critical care to patients while transporting patients. Flight nurses work in aeromedical evacuation teams aboard helicopters or airplanes and collaborate with paramedics and physicians to care for patients during transit. Our guide on how to become a flight nurse has more information.

3. Informatics Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $82,800 (Payscale)
Required Education: BSN at a minimum. Some employers require advanced-practice degrees, such as an MSN or DNP.
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license, Informatics Nursing Certification
Specialty Overview: Informatics nurses research, maintain and develop healthcare technology, medical data and systems. These healthcare professionals work with data and IT nursing to improve patient care outcomes, streamline clinical procedures and support healthcare providers, nurses and patients.

4. Labour and Delivery Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $70,000 (Payscale)
Required Education: ADN or BSN
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license, Basic Life Support training, Advanced Cardiac Life Support training, Inpatient Obstetric Nursing certification
Specialty Overview: Labour and delivery (L&D) nurses care for birthing patients and infants before, during and after birth.

L&D nurses monitor patients’ vital signs and identify possible complications during and after birth.

These professionals provide initial postpartum care under the supervision of a physician or nurse midwife.

For more information, check out our guide on how to become a labor and delivery nurse.

5. Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse

Median Annual Salary: $48,070 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Required Education: A diploma from an accredited practical or vocational nursing program
Required Certification/Licensure: Pass the NCLEX-PN to gain licensure, CPR certification
Specialty Overview: Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) support nurses and physicians in providing basic medical care to patients.

Typical entry-level duties include administering medication, taking patients’ vital signs, cleaning and managing medical equipment and tracking patients’ medical history.

6. Neonatal Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $75,350 (Payscale)
Required Education: ADN or BSN
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license, Critical Care Registered Nurse (Neonatal) certification
Specialty Overview: Neonatal nurses work with newborn babies and older infants with prematurity, infections, congenital and acquired disorders or medical and surgical complications.

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Neonatal nurses aid in high-risk deliveries, coordinate medical treatments and comprehensively assess and administer medications.

7. Nurse Anesthetist

Median Annual Salary: $195,610 (BLS)
Required Education: MSN or DNP. Currently, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) must hold at least an MSN; however, nursing associations recommend new CRNAs earn a doctoral degree by 2025.
Required Certification/Licensure: RN or APRN license, pass the National Certification Examination to earn CRNA certification
Specialty Overview: CRNAs determine pain relief and anesthesia needs, prescribe medication, and prepare and administer anesthesia in surgical facilities, intensive care units and operating rooms.

CRNAs work closely with anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists, podiatrists and other healthcare professionals.

8. Nurse Midwife

Median Annual Salary: $112,830 (BLS)
Required Education: MSN, graduate or terminal degree from accredited nurse-midwifery program
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license and Certified Nurse-Midwife credential
Specialty Overview: Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) specialize in reproductive health and childbirth. CNMs comprehensively care for female-bodied patients of all ages, from adolescence to beyond menopause, including in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.

CNMs educate patients in prenatal, postnatal and infant care.

9. Nurse Practitioner

Median Annual Salary: $120,680 (BLS)
Required Education: MSN or DNP
Required Certification/Licensure: Nurse practitioner (NP) license, national board NP certification
Specialty Overview: What is a nurse practitioner? Nurse practitioners are APRNs who provide advanced primary and specialty care. NPs work with specific patient populations, such as neonatal, pediatric, women’s health or adult-gerontology.

These healthcare professionals assess patients’ health, oversee treatment plans and work independently in some states.

10. Oncology Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $80,500 (Payscale)
Required Education: ADN or BSN
Required Certification/Licensure: An RN license is the minimum requirement. Many employers prefer or require certification, such as Oncology Certified Nurse certification
Specialty Overview: Oncology nurses care for cancer patients and their families from diagnosis to treatment and remission.

Job responsibilities include monitoring patient conditions, developing care plans, administering chemotherapy and radiation treatments and managing pain and side effects.

11. Pediatric Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $60,500 (Payscale)
Required Education: ADN or BSN
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license, Certified Pediatric Nurse credential
Specialty Overview: Pediatric nurses provide comprehensive healthcare to children. They work closely with doctors to assist with exams, administer immunizations, treat illnesses and record patients’ medical histories.

12. Public Health Nurse

Average Annual Salary: Around $69,100 (Payscale)
Required Education: ADN or BSN
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license
Specialty Overview: Public health nurses promote public wellness and disease prevention education in primarily underserved and at-risk communities.

These healthcare professionals research specific populations to best address healthcare needs and can work in health policy.

13. Registered Nurse

Median Annual Salary: $77,600
Required Education: ADN or BSN
Required Certification/Licensure: RN license
Specialty Overview: Registered nurses coordinate and provide care through assessing and evaluating patients’ conditions, administering treatment and medication, and recording symptoms and medical histories.

Most RNs work in a larger team alongside physicians and other healthcare specialists.

How to Choose the Right Nursing Specialty for You

With the expansive amount of specialties and subspecialties available to nurses, it can feel hard to choose the right one.

Nursing students select a specialty after graduation, but nurses can pursue new specialties at any point in their careers.

Whether you’re choosing your first nursing specialty or switching mid-career, it may be helpful to consider:

  • Your long-term professional goals
  • The patient population you enjoy working with (neonatal, pediatric, geriatric, etc.)
  • Whether or not you want to work in client and patient-facing roles
  • Preferred work environment (neonatal intensive care units, emergency rooms, cardiac care units, medical-surgical units, etc.)
  • Specific health issues you’re passionate about (reproductive health, oncology, cardiology, anesthesia, etc.)
  • The level of education and certification you’re willing to pursue

If you’re still unsure, you can transition into a specialty after working as a general nurse.

Be sure to research the educational and licensing requirements for any specialties of interest.

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