Choosing a nursing specialty can feel overwhelming, but by asking yourself a few questions, you can whittle down the options to a manageable few.
Maybe you’re one of those people who entered nursing school knowing exactly what specialty you wanted to practice. If you’re like most of us, however, you’ve probably considered a range of specialties and even decided then changed your mind a few times.
The good news is that you still have plenty of time. Even if you don’t land your dream job right out of school, you’ll be able to explore other options with a little more experience. After all, one of the appealing things about a career in nursing is the flexibility it provides.
All the options can be a little overwhelming, however. Here are a few tips to help you narrow your choices down, even if you still plan to explore your options for a bit.
Would I go on a date with this specialty?
“Is this a good fit with my personality, interests, and preferences?” may sound more like the kind of question you’d ask yourself before a first date, but it’s a great way to narrow down nursing specialties, too.
If you love children and naturally connect with younger patients, for example, pediatrics or school nursing might be a better fit for you than working with older adults. Here are a few other questions that might help you find a specialty you share some sparks with:
- Do you enjoy a more structured, detail-oriented environment? If so, you might enjoy working in the operating room or clinical research.
- Do you enjoy meeting new people and consider yourself to be extroverted? An emergency department or medical-surgical (med-Surg) nursing might be a good fit.
- Do you prefer more solitary work and consider yourself introverted? If you’re more of a lone wolf, you might enjoy forensic nursing or research.
- Do you thrive under pressure and enjoy the demands it brings? You might enjoy emergency nursing or intensive/critical care.
Is this environment the right home for me?
The culture, pace, and style of each specialty is unique. As you complete your clinical rotations, pay attention to the culture and pace of each environment. How do they feel to you? Would you feel at home in that environment day after day?
Some people love nursing, for example, but prefer environments that don’t involve direct patient care. For those folks, infection control, case management, or work as a legal nurse consultant might offer more pleasant work environments than other specialties. Nursing Informatics is also a growing field for those who love technology and research.
Of course, many nurses thrive in high-touch roles serving patients with more complex needs. They would likely prefer an environment closer to the one you’re likely to find in an ICU.
Plenty of nurses also thrive in a fast-paced, challenging, and rapidly changing environment. For those adrenaline chasers, an emergency department, a trauma intensive care unit, or even flight nursing are environments where they find the most satisfaction.
Is this specialty practical for me?
When choosing a specialty, there are some very practical things to consider, such as salary expectations and regional demand. Demand for particular specialties varies from region to region. What specialties are in the highest demand in your community? The decision to relocate is a big one, but it can open up a lot of options.
In addition to researching specialty demand, doing your due diligence on salary ranges will be a benefit to you as you begin your career. Establishing base salary expectations in advance will rule out certain areas of specialty.
While salary shouldn’t be the only factor in choosing your area of specialty, it is a practical component in your decision-making process.
Can I commit to this specialty?
Different specialties have differing requirements for education, experience, and certification. Do you have the required qualifications? If not, are you willing to pursue them?
A career in nursing education, for example, will usually require a master’s degree. Some facilities require infusion nurses to have additional education or certification. Requirements for an RN first assistant vary but often include two years of perioperative experience and certification. Do your research in advance to see if you are qualified for a specialty or how much additional education or certification you will need to acquire.
I hope these suggestions have been helpful as you consider the field of nursing you want to pursue. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in the process. New experiences, shifting interests, and unexpected opportunities will also be factors that will eventually lead you to a specialty you’ll love and one in which you will find ultimate career satisfaction.
Teresa Mauk, MSN, RN, CNE, is a Certified Nurse Educator through the National League for Nursing. She also uses her field expertise to serve as a Remote Nursing Author at UWorld. In this role, she creates fundamental, adult and child health, and mental health nursing content. Teresa has over 20 years of experience in nursing education, including both classroom and administrative responsibilities. Teresa received her BSN from Western Carolina University and her MSN from the University of Kentucky. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International and the Kentucky and American Nurses Associations.