Nurses remain vitally important to the whole healthcare system and ensure patients get the best quality of care possible. Although training to become a registered nurse is an effective way to get into the nursing profession, many in the industry will choose to specialize as time progresses.
But what is specialization in nursing, what areas can nurses specialize in and what positive benefits can it have for their professional opportunities?
What is specialization in nursing?
Specialization within nursing involves professionals in the sector choosing to focus on a specific area of practice as they progress in their careers. As one would expect, this involves moving from roles/areas with a broader focus to those geared toward caring for a certain patient group or demographic. Specialization within nursing can also include working in specific leadership roles in the sector or moving into roles that provide particular types of treatment/care or deal with certain conditions/illnesses.
This differs from the entry-level roles nurses usually move into when they start work. Registered nurses, for example, are not seen as a specialist position per se because the tasks they carry out, the conditions they help manage/treat and the patients they care for cover a broad spectrum. The qualifications required to become a registered nurse are also not seen as specialist in sector terms because they are not devoted to training students to work in one specific area.
How do nurses specialize in their careers?
Once registered nurses have qualified and passed the relevant licensing requirements, they can move into their new role. After they have gained some experience in this, they may soon look to specialize in a particular area. This would enable them to pick up specific skills to work in a dedicated nursing niche and gain the extra knowledge needed to do successfully.
The online MSN degree from Wilkes University is one of the best ways to go about this and shows how higher-level qualifications can help nurses specialize in advanced roles within the industry. With 100% online coursework and real-world clinical placements, this program is the ideal way to move into specialist nurse practitioner roles. Once nursing professionals have gained the relevant qualifications and licensure, they are able to operate in the specific area of nursing they wish.
What specializations are there to follow in nursing?
The great thing about nursing specialization is that there is lots of choice when it comes to the various areas to focus on. This means nurses should easily find one they like, and a role that will bring superb job satisfaction.
This is especially true if they are starting to find working in more general roles tiresome or get a real kick from helping certain patient groups. For those who are looking to specialize into more leadership roles or admin positions, it represents a way to step back from front-line nursing, if this is preferable.
But what are some of the main specializations for qualified nurses to think about pursuing?
Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner
This is a very popular area for nurses to move into professionally, and comes with many benefits. It is of course a good option for nurses who enjoy helping care for those with mental health issues. These high-level nurses can assess, diagnose and draw up effective treatment plans for people with mental health problems.
They are also trained to prescribe appropriate medication to patients, educate the family of patients on their needs, lead psychotherapy sessions and help co-ordinate services for other health needs. With the average salary for psychiatric nurse practitioners sitting around the $118,000 mark, and a rising demand for experts in mental health care across nursing, this is a specialism that should only grow over time.
Family nurse practitioner
Another popular specialism for nurses to aim for is family nurse practitioner (FNP). This role involves delivering primary care to patients of all ages in the local community. As the name implies, this role often sees FNPs delivering high level care to whole families and the various generations within it.
This is a great choice for nurses who enjoy seeing patients through their whole journey in health, and building up long-standing relations with them. Depending on the state they operate within, many nurses specialize as a family nurse practitioner for the autonomy it offers in how they work.
Common tasks in this role include:
- Prescription of medication
- Patient assessments/examinations
- Educating patients on healthy lifestyles/prevention of illness
- Ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests
- Developing a treatment plan for acute illnesses
Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner
This specialized nursing role involves providing quality care for elderly patients. This makes it a great choice for those who enjoy working with this demographic. Nurses in this specialized role also have great variety in terms of where they can operate, with hospitals, clinics and community centers being good examples.
The main responsibility of this specialist role is helping patients to address the mental, physical, and societal impacts of ageing. With this in mind, nurse practitioners who focus on adult gerontology are able to conduct tests, develop treatment plans and prescribe medication.
Many healthcare facilities now employ specialist informatics nurses to manage their communications/data. This specialist role usually involves computer science training at a higher level and a love for IT. The main aim of this advanced nursing professional is to manage data integration among healthcare providers to improve patient care and efficiency.
The most common tasks carried out by these kinds of nurses include:
- Planning and carrying out nurse informatics projects
- Establishing and maintaining electronic information systems in health facilities
- Maintaining accurate patient data on electronic information systems in health
- Assessing the IT needs of departments/organizations
- Promoting the use of technology within healthcare organizations
- Delivering training and support to health professionals when using IT systems
- Analysing clinical statistics
These nurses work in NICUs that care for at-risk infants who need expert help. This can include babies born with specific conditions, or premature babies whose early arrival puts them at risk. The most common tasks involved in this nursing specialism includes bathing, feeding, and changing diapers.
Most neonatal nurses will care for these infants until they leave the facility but may sometimes deliver care beyond this if needed. As one might expect, this is a good specialism to choose if one likes working with young infants and babies.
It is also a good choice for nurses who enjoy helping families deal with issues around their newborn child and giving them support. It is a specialism that can be very satisfying when a very ill infant that a nurse has cared for becomes well enough to go home. It is a must, though, for a nurse to be able to manage the emotions that arise when a baby they have been caring for sadly does not make it.
Specialization — important for careers in nursing
One of the major reasons specializations like those shown above are so important for nurses is the positive impact they can have on career opportunities. This is something that most nurses value and something that begins to become important as they build up more experience in the industry.
But how can specialization help expand the career opportunities for working nurses?
Opens up new career horizons to follow
One of the most crucial benefits of specialization for nursing careers is the number of new positions and opportunities it opens up. The simple truth is that people with specialist skills remain in high demand across the industry, and this enables people who possess them to access a much wider range of job opportunities that would otherwise be off limits. Although one might see a vacancy for a pediatric nurse which they would love to move into for example, this is only possible with the right training behind them. The same is true for being able to progress a career into areas such as midwifery or oncology nursing.
Specialization works so well for expanding career horizons in certain areas because it teaches in-depth knowledge others do not have and new skills that are key to working in them. The training needed to specialize as a nurse also helps one to gain practical clinical experience of working in specific settings, which is essential for career progression. Without this, one would not have the required skillset and experience to perform successfully in any new, specialist role. This would hamper any future career aspirations and be far from ideal in terms of a professional journey.
This is not just true on a local or national level either. Many nurses now enjoy the adventure of working abroad and specializing is a great way to access these kinds of opportunities. By training to become an expert in one specific nursing niche, professionals in the sector can work anywhere in the world that needs them. Just remember to find the best tips for working as a nurse abroad if planning to head this route.
Soft skills gained from specialization are crucial
Although additional clinical skills and knowledge is one reason that specialization can expand any nurses career plans, the development of soft skills through specialist training is also key. This includes things like communication, people skills and active listening, which can be important when trying to advance in nursing.
By developing qualities like this to a higher level through training to specialize in a certain discipline, nurses can boost their career prospects overall and find it easier to make the most of any career opportunities they come across. The development of personal skills also helps a nurse stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs and possess skills that employers are looking for.
Networking and new career openings through specialization
The benefits of networking have long been known in business, and this is also something that can help expand the career horizons of nurses. Specialization can come in useful here because it enables nurses studying to work in one specific discipline to network with fellow students.
Once graduated, they can utilize this professional network moving ahead to find the latest openings in their niche to apply for. By networking with tutors when studying, and speaking with the institution’s careers advisor, students can also find new opportunities to consider or advice on how to progress their career post-graduation.
Once qualified as a specialist nurse in a certain niche, it may also be possible to join professional groups, which are focused on this area. A nurse may for example find an organization that exists to look after trauma nurses and is only open to people working in this niche. By joining this kind of group as a specialist nurse, one will be able to network with people in it and expand their career opportunities.
Confidence to pursue career goals
Although a nurse may know what their ultimate career ambitions are in nursing, they may not yet have the confidence to go for them. Deciding to specialize as a nurse can help with this because the study it involves gives them more self-belief to kick on with.
By nursing students not only picking up new skills but also interacting with other students and having what it takes to gain a new qualification, they are proving to themselves that they can reach their goals. This in turn can provide the impetus to not only search out new career opportunities but also go for them.
Better professional opportunities for nurses through specialization
Considering that specialization helps nurses to work in area of the industry which they will get most satisfaction from, one can see just how it can aid professional opportunities over time. While most nurses are happy to pick up experience as an RN to begin with, they will soon look to progress their careers locally, nationally, or even abroad. Specialization can help with this goal and open up a greater range of career opportunities.