How to Choose My Nursing Specialty

nursing specialty
Written by
Ana Gotter
June 1, 2023

Some people enter a nursing program with a specific career path. They know they absolutely want to work as dermatology nurses, emergency room (ER) nurses, or labor and delivery nurses.  

Others, however, may complete their program without much certainty about the exact career path they’d like to take. And that’s okay! The good news is that nursing is an extraordinarily flexible career, so you can always try different specialties to see what you like most.

Narrowing down your options can be a useful starting point, however, and in this post, we’re going to go over seven steps that will help you choose which nursing specialty is right for you (at least to start!). 

1. Start with Unbiased Resources for Each Specialty 

nurse with patient

Plenty of resources online talk about different specialties, and they aren’t all created equal. If you’re looking at several specialties across various sites, you may not get “equal” information; some may pull salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, and others cite anecdotal or regional data. 

Some resources may also have a clear bias. So, for example, if you’re looking at content created by a specific specialty’s association, they’re likely biased towards that specialty, which doesn’t give you a balanced perspective.

Look for high-quality sites that have equitable resources for each specialty, ideally including lists of job role tasks, salaries, and pros and cons. Here at Nursa, we have an extensive nursing specialties resource, which features guides on the most common nursing specialties—all unbiased, up-to-date, and detailed. Keep these guides on hand, and review them for your top specialty contenders! 

2. Consider Your Interests & Preferences 

As you completed clinical rotations in your nursing program, there’s a good chance that you noticed some interests or preferences developing. 

Maybe you’ve always wanted to work with babies, but you realize you do not want to be around for labor; in that case, working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may be a great option. Or, perhaps, you want to avoid working with children altogether. If so, leaning towards adult specialties (and even staying out of the emergency room specialty just to be safe) could be a good bet. 

And would you rather be prepping a patient before routine surgery or handling traumas as they come through the door? These two job roles are different at their core, with very different duties. 

3. Think about Your Desired Work Environment 

If all else were equal, would you rather work in a private office, a med spa, an outpatient facility, an inpatient facility, or a hospital? Private offices often include a slightly slower pace of work compared to outpatient or hospital facilities, though the latter may pay more. 

And think about your schedule, too. For example, would you rather work during standard business hours five days a week, or would you rather work twelve-hour shifts three days a week? A private office or surgical facility may have you in the former, while inpatient and hospital facilities may put you in the latter. 

Some nursing specialties can present multiple different opportunities for work environments. Hospice nursing, for example, often has job roles for those who want to work in a hospice facility or hospital setting or provide care to patients in their homes. 

4. Review Advancement Opportunities 

If you’re just starting a new career or specialty, career advancement may not necessarily be at the forefront of your thoughts, but it’s always good to think ahead.  

Many nurses plan to always work directly with patients and want to level up their salary with experience, seniority with their employer, and additional certifications. Others may wish to advance into different roles like charge nurse, nurse supervisor, or nurse administrator.

In many cases, working in a larger healthcare organization like a hospital offers more opportunities for advancement than working as a nurse for a physician in a private office. That being said, that steady business-hours role may make getting an advanced nursing degree easier, thanks to the predictable schedule.

5. Assess Potential Pay 

Pay isn’t everything, but a high salary never hurts, either. The positions and specialties you choose can significantly impact your income, and many nurses consider that when choosing a specialty. 

Wondering which specialties yield the most pay? We created a guide to the highest-paying nursing specialties

6. Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Position 

Every specialty—and every unique job role—has its clear pros and cons. Many of these will likely align with the interests and preferences that you considered earlier. For example, a job where you’re working with children could either be a pro or a con depending on whether or not you like working with kids.

Labor and delivery, for example, is high-pressure yet very rewarding—though it can be particularly devastating when things go wrong. And while some nurses want to work with new exciting high-adrenaline cases in acute care, for others, that’s incredibly stressful—especially considering they want to know the outcomes for each patient. For the latter type of nurse, considering a career in long-term care may be a better option. 

Common pros and cons of nursing specialties include the following:

  • Specific job tasks 
  • Pay
  • Advancement opportunities
  • Schedule
  • Work/life balance 
  • Required certifications

7. Make a List of Your Top Specialties & Research Positions 

nurse smiling

At this point, you may have an idea of the different specialties you’d like to work in. Write down the fields you’re most interested in, and revisit those unbiased nursing specialties guides we mentioned earlier. 

Once you have that narrowed-down list, start researching positions because choosing a specialty is just the start. For example, someone interested in dermatology nursing could work in a private office assisting a dermatologist. They may also become a cosmetic nurse or a nurse who works in a burn unit in a hospital based on the job roles, pay, and schedule that align with their preferences. 

It all comes down to what’s best suited for your skills, interests, and preferences. 

Still deciding which nursing specialty is right for you? Join our community and ask seasoned nurses about the pros and cons of their positions! 

Blog published on:
June 1, 2023

Meet Ana, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who specializes in content about nursing finances, career pathways, and nursing education.

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