Exploring Different Types of Nurses: How to Choose Your Specialty

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There are many different types of nurses and almost too many different types of nursing specialties to count. Based on your education, training, and interests, a career in nursing offers many unique nursing career options, including many nursing specialties in demand.

nurse sitting with elderly patient

Nursing is dynamic and ever-evolving, offering many career opportunities for those passionate about health care. Whether you are considering a career in nursing or are already on your nursing journey, it's good to understand the different types of nurses and nursing specialties.

At Pacific Lutheran University, our ABSN program includes guidance to help you find what type of nursing you enjoy, explore new nursing opportunities, and set you up for success in multiple career paths.

Let’s explore the various types of nurses based on education, a few of the many nursing specialties you can choose, and the available nursing career options.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)/Patient Care Assistant (PCA) and Nurse Technician

CNAs, PCAs and Nurse Technicians provide similar levels of hands-on care to patients, including bathing, feeding, and assisting with mobility under the supervision of nurses. They can be licensed or unlicensed depending on the state and area in which they work and are often the primary caregivers in long-term care settings. However, keep in mind that some states require nurse technicians to have an associate degree.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

LPNs or LVNs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) or physicians to provide basic patient care. As suggested by their titles, both are licensed healthcare professionals and perform advanced patient tasks such as measuring vital signs, administering medications, and assisting with activities of daily living as directed by the RN.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

With just a two-year nursing degree program, an ADN is the quickest path to becoming a RN. They are licensed and registered in the state where they practice. Different types of nurses provide a range of essential patient care, administer medications, and assist advanced practice nurses and doctors in various healthcare settings.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

BSN degree holders make up the majority of RNs in health care in the United States. You do not have to have an ADN to pursue a BSN, but most jobs now require applicants to have a BSN. BSNs can provide direct patient care in all nursing settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

BSNs are responsible for assessing patients, administering medications, collaborating with doctors and advanced practitioners, and creating nursing care plans in many different nursing specialties. They can also serve in administrative roles, such as unit managers and nurse educators, to name a few.

nurses looking out window

The opportunities to specialize in an area of nursing expand for nurses with a BSN degree, and many specialties offer additional certifications. Here are some of the nursing specialties to consider:

Obstetrics (OB) Nurse

Obstetrics nursing is a very popular specialty. OB nurses provide care and education to expectant parents and their families on normal and abnormal pregnancy situations and how to prepare to care for a newborn.

Neonatal Nurse

Neonatal nurses care for premature or ill newborns who require close monitoring or specialized care after birth. In neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), nurses monitor vital signs and care for the most vulnerable infants.

Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses care for children of all ages, from infants to adolescents. They have an extensive understanding of child development and provide specialized care for young patients. They provide care in hospitals and clinics and sometimes as home health pediatric nurses.

Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses specialize in caring for patients with cancers of all types. They administer cancer-fighting medications, monitor side effects, and offer emotional support to patients and their families.

Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

ER nurses thrive in fast-paced environments, providing critical care to patients in emergencies. ER nurses are skilled at thinking on their feet and handling high-stress situations.

Operating Room (OR) Nurse

OR nurses assist with surgeries to ensure the patients remain safe before, during, and after and that the surgical room and instruments are properly maintained and sterilized. They work closely with the surgical team to ensure that surgery goes smoothly.

Critical Care/Intensive Care Nurse

Critical care units (CCUs) and intensive care units (ICUs) require highly skilled and specialized nurses to care for very ill adults after traumatic accidents, following complicated surgeries, or with life-threatening injuries. ICU nurses can further specialize in cardiovascular, neurological, trauma, and other units.

four nurses together

Home Health Nurse

Home health nurses visit patients and provide medical care in the patient’s residence. They monitor acute and chronic conditions and educate patients and families on managing their health independently.

Travel Nurse

Travel nurses are adventurous souls who work short-term assignments in various locations. They are often CCU or ER nurses who can jump in and care for many types of patients with little additional training. They gain valuable experience while exploring new places.

Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses combine nursing skills with specialized exam techniques and situationally sensitive care for victims of abuse, trauma, or violence. They often collect evidence for legal purposes.

Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses provide compassionate care to patients at the end of life, focusing on providing comfort and support to terminally ill patients and their families. They can provide care in a facility or the patient’s home, whichever offers more comfort.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

After completing your ABSN, postgraduate education in nursing can take many paths. Advanced practice nurses with an MSN degree can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and offer specialized care in many different areas. Other paths include nurse midwifery, nursing education, nursing informatics, and nurse anesthesia. MSNs can practice independently in several U.S. states, whereas in others, they require the oversight of a medical doctor.

nurse in surgical room

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

One of the most common postgraduate qualifications is the nurse practitioner (NP) degree. NPs, also called advanced practice nurses (APNs), can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and offer specialized care in family medicine, pediatrics, and acute care.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

CNSs are experts in a specific area of nursing, such as critical care or oncology. They provide advanced care, conduct research, and educate staff.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

CNMs specialize in women's health, providing prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum care. They can also offer gynecological services.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

CRNAs are responsible for administering anesthesia during surgical procedures. They are crucial in ensuring patients' safety and comfort during surgery by monitoring critical vital signs, airway access, and lab values. CRNAs are also among the best-compensated advanced practice nurses.

Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse (PMHNP)

PMHNPs are high on the list of nursing specialties in demand. They work with individuals experiencing mental health issues. They assess patients, develop treatment plans, and provide emotional support and therapy.

How to Choose Your Nursing Specialty

Choosing the right nursing specialty is a decision that can shape your nursing career options. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect fit:

  1. Research Career Options: Dive into the various nursing specialties to understand their scope, job responsibilities, and level of patient interaction involved.
  2. Self-Assessment: Reflect on your interests, values, and strengths. Consider the type of patients you enjoy working with, the health care environments that appeal to you, and which clinical rotations you enjoyed the best.
  3. Talk to Nursing Professionals: Reach out to nurses working in different specialties. They can provide valuable insights and firsthand experiences regarding their day-to-day work.
  4. Educational Path: Determine whether you need additional education in your desired specialty. Some roles require certifications or advanced degrees, which may influence where you pursue your education.
  5. Shadowing Opportunities: Shadow other nurses in the specialties you are interested in to get a feel for the daily responsibilities.
  6. Stay Flexible: Keep in mind that your nursing journey can evolve. You may start in one specialty and transition to another as your interests change or new opportunities arise.
  7. Research Nursing Programs: Investigate the offerings of nursing programs. Select one such as Pacific Lutheran University, which offers a well-rounded education and exposure to multiple nursing specialties. These programs can help you explore various paths before committing to a specific one.
medical staff looking at computer

A World of Opportunity for Nurses

The world of nursing is rich with opportunity, offering many nursing career options for those passionate about health care. From the gentle care of pediatric nursing to the high-stress environment of the emergency room, all types of nurses face unique challenges and rewards, especially nursing specialties in demand. When deciding what nursing specialty you want to pursue, remember to consider your interests, values, and strengths, and don't hesitate to consider different options when you want to learn more.

Pacific Lutheran University’s ABSN program will provide the knowledge and experience to be exposed to various nursing specialties, ensuring you eventually find your perfect fit. Nursing offers many ways to make a difference in the lives of your patients and their families, so contact us today to start your journey of nursing discovery.