How to Choose a Nursing Specialty You’ll Love

picture of a nurse working in a specialty
Written by
Laila Ighani
July 12, 2022

There are a few different types of degrees you can receive to become a nurse, but there are so many more options for how you can put your degree to use. You can work for different types of facilities, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, memory care facilities, hospice centers, urgent care centers, surgical centers, and even private care practitioners’ offices. And then, from there, you can niche down further. Hospitals alone have a wide range of specialties, including positions specific to intensive care units (ICUs), general care, neurology, cardiology, pediatrics, labor and delivery, emergency, trauma, and more. 

There is an enormous list of nursing specialties you can choose from, so how do you decide which is right for you? Whether you’re a brand new nurse looking for your first job or an experienced care provider looking for a change, let’s take a look at five steps that can help you choose the right specialty for you. 

1. Test Out Different Roles with PRN Work 

Pro re nata (PRN) stands for “as the situation demands.” PRN shifts are on-demand, individual shifts that nurses can pick up as contracted workers when the jobs are convenient for them. PRN work is a highly effective way for nurses to test out different facilities and job roles. If you want to see how you love working in a long-term care facility, helping patients with rehabilitation one day and working on the cardiac floor at a local hospital the next, PRN gigs are the best way to do this. 

And here is the best news: PRN shifts are easy to pick up with a healthcare staffing app like Nursa, and they typically pay more than your standard staff rates do. 

2. Consider What Work Schedule You’d Like 

The type of work-life balance and the shift schedule you want will greatly impact the types of roles you should be considering. Want to work a tight nine to five with half days on Fridays? You’ll want to find a job as an office nurse working for individual practitioners or perhaps at a “days only” walk-in clinic. If you love the idea of working 12-hour shifts three days in a row so that you have four days to relax, travel, or invest time into continuing education, a hospital role could be the perfect fit. And if you only want to work occasionally at your convenience, you can look into PRN work more long-term.

The type of hours you want to work and when you want to work them is a significant quality-of-life choice. Make sure that you’re picking a nursing specialty that works with your lifestyle. 

3. Check Out the Pay for Each Nursing Specialty 

Money matters, and different types of nursing roles each have a standard pay range. Even just 10K a year can significantly impact people’s ability to save enough for retirement, buy homes, or provide for their families. So, do your research for the different specialties you’re considering, and see what pays best near you. While money isn’t everything — and many nurses choose to work in specialties they prefer over those that might earn top dollar — it certainly doesn’t hurt. 

And pro tip: Don’t forget to account for potential or expected overtime. Right now, there’s a shortage of nurses, and hospitals are more likely to have plenty of high-paid overtime hours available compared to private doctors’ offices. 

4. Look Into Professional Advancement Opportunities 

Thinking about your long-term goals and potential career trajectories will likely play a role in choosing what type of nursing position you want to take. The reality is that working directly for a provider as an in-office nurse won’t offer an abundance of career advancement opportunities at your fingertips. You’ll have consistency, but there isn’t much room for growth.

At a hospital, on the other hand, you might have the opportunity to grow into different roles. You could grow to become the charge nurse or a higher-level nursing manager. There would be more potential for upward mobility if you wanted it because many more positions are available at large healthcare facilities. 

5. Think about the Best & Worst Moments of Each 

This is a big one. 

Healthcare is not an easy job. It’s emotionally taxing and physically draining, and it’s essential for each nurse to consider what kinds of physical and emotional burdens they can handle. Think about the highest highs and lowest lows of the different types of specialties you’re considering. A labor and delivery nurse, for example, gets to experience so many new parents welcoming their children into the world. On the other hand, they might also have to be the ones to call social services if a mother who is birthing a baby is addicted to drugs, and they’ll almost certainly have to experience traumatic births, maternal deaths, and stillbirths throughout their careers. In this unit, there are mostly highs, but the lows are rough, and for some nurses, there are few things more traumatizing than sick or dying infants.  

It’s also possible that your own trauma and life experiences might influence what roles you prefer to take. If cancer runs in your family, you may be motivated to work in oncology, or the trauma may be too great, and you avoid it at all costs.

There’s no correct answer here, so think about what feels right for you. 

Final Thoughts 

Choosing a nursing specialty is typically going to take more thought than simply applying to every opening online and seeing who calls you back (though if that’s your style, no judgment here — do your thing!). 

Taking the time to carefully consider what roles will be best for you is crucial. Find what interests you, what motivates you, what works with your schedule, and what ultimately won’t leave you feeling drained. 

Considering all the previous factors can admittedly be a tricky balance to strike, which is why trying out different specialties through hands-on, real shifts can be such an eye-opening and valuable experience. PRN shifts can be the best way to dabble in different roles and see what draws you in the most. That’s an excellent place to start.

Choosing your nursing specialty and trying to determine what role will suit you best? Snag  PRN shifts with Nursa to test out different positions, one shift at a time! 

Laila Ighani
Blog published on:
July 12, 2022

Laila is a contributing copywriter and editor at Nursa who specializes in writing compelling long-form content about nursing finances, per diem job locations, areas of specialization, guides, and resources that help nurses navigate their career paths.

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