Just as a physician might practice a specialty, registered nurses have a wide variety of career paths open to them. If a nurse feels a calling to serve a particular population, there almost certainly is a related specialty available to pursue.
The nursing field, as a whole, is expected to experience 16% growth through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average salary for a registered nurse in 2015 was more than $67,000; it was more than $104,000 annually for nurse practitioners, nursing midwives and nursing anesthetists.
What those statistics tell us is that demand for nurses is expected to continue to be strong for the foreseeable future, and nursing specialists stand to make better salaries.
In addition, nurses who earn advanced degrees position themselves for even greater financial reward, as well as a greater range of opportunities. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is considered an entry-level education requirement for many positions, according to the BLS; a Master of Science in Nursing is often required for nursing management positions.
The list below covers only a fraction of the hundreds of nursing specialties available, but it provides a useful overview for RNs who seek to advance their career and provide care for a particular group of patients.
Ambulatory care nurses work outside of a healthcare facility and assist patients with pain care and health education. This is a multi-faceted, patient-facing occupation in which nurses help develop treatment plans and focus on a patient’s general health. The goal is to help the patient live independently by managing tests, triage, screenings and case management issues.
Cardiac care nurses care for patients with heart disease and related conditions. A cardiac nurse is responsible for, among other things, monitoring and evaluating stress tests, monitoring echocardiograms, caring for patients who have undergone bypass, angioplasty and other heart procedures, and making health assessments during and after cardiac treatment and rehabilitation.
A critical care nurse is trained to respond to the immediate, often life-or-death, care needs of patients. Critical care nurses typically work in emergency departments at hospitals, but some work in nursing homes and as travel nurses (nurses who work in a specific location for a set time period). They use their expertise to operate life support systems, provide intensive therapy and treatment, perform on-the-spot assessments of treatment requirements and more. Nursing students who seek a fast-paced, high-energy working environment would feel at home in a critical care nursing position. They often are referred to as ICU, emergency or trauma nurses.
Forensic nurses help conduct investigations into murder, sexual assaults and other crimes. They might work in courts of law, hospital emergency rooms or for law-enforcement agencies. The job can include helping to collect tissue or blood samples from a crime scene, as well as taking forensic photographs of a crime scene to document the on-site evidence. Another facet of forensic nursing is emotional and psychological support for victims and friends or family members of victims.
A nurse who specializes in genetics spends his or her time caring for patients who have genetically acquired conditions such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. They might be called upon to help educate patients and family members about treatment options for genetic diseases, and to help patients understand the challenges related to a family history of potentially dangerous health conditions.
A geriatric nurse provides treatment and ongoing care for the elderly. These nurses can work in nursing homes or for home-care agencies, or can be hired by a hospital or university to provide geriatric-specific care or perform related research. A geriatric nurse develops treatment and care plans, assists with preventing bed sores and other age-related maladies, and conducts routine checkups, screenings and other duties related to helping geriatric patients who are bedridden, low-mobility or facing other challenges.
Nursing informatics combines the skills and knowledge of registered nurses, data analytics and heath records. Nursing informatics professionals develop electronic health records systems and train others on how to use them. Many nursing informatics specialists begin their careers in either nursing or information technology and transition into this growing field.
Mental Health Nursing
Patients who deal with depression, psychosis, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric or psychological issues receive treatment from mental health nurses. These types of nurses work in facilities that specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illness.
Obstetrics & Gynecology
An OB/GYN nurse cares for women with issues related to the reproductive system. Nurses in this specialty might provide guidance before and during pregnancy, as well as assist with labor and childbirth. They might conduct mammograms and other screenings, inform patients about birth control options, administer HPV vaccinations and conduct annual exams.
An oncology nurse provides care for cancer patients before, during and after treatment. The nurse might help monitor a patient’s condition, administer chemotherapy, conduct examinations and provide cancer treatment counseling for a patient and a patient’s family. Oncology nurses might also be responsible for maintaining patient records.
An orthopaedic (or orthopedic) nurse cares for patients with musculoskeletal diseases or injuries. Orthopaedic nurses provide education about preventative measures and risk factors for bone disease, as well as treatment plans. An ortho nurse might also be called on to assist with orthopaedic surgery, as well as post-surgical treatment and rehabilitation.
A pediatric nurse cares for children from infancy to adolescence. He or she works with a family doctor to develop a long-term treatment plan for children, including a vaccine schedule, monitoring growth development, diet advice and other preventive and critical care treatment.