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As health care grows more complex, there’s no shortage of specialty areas where today’s ambitious nurses could focus. What is most important is how a nurse zeroes in on a preferred specialty that can help fulfill his or her career goals.

“There are many benefits to specializing, including increased respect and recognition, greater job security, enhanced career satisfaction and increased salary potential,” says Cheryl Wagner, Ph.D., MSN/MBA, RN, associate dean of graduate nursing programs at American Sentinel University. Wagner details what nurses should consider to help determine the specialty that’s perfect for them.

1. Personality and interests

Every nursing specialty comes with its own pace and environment. Wagner recommends that nurses try to choose one that complements their personal style.

“For nurses who thrive on an adrenaline rush, constant challenges and expecting the unexpected, a trauma center or emergency department is the right specialty,” Wagner says. On the other hand, for nurses who are detail-oriented and methodical, a career in clinical research might be a better fit.

2. Job role

For nurses comfortable in the role of a leader, Wagner notes that they may make a great nurse manager or even rise to the ranks of nursing executive leadership.

For those nurses who would prefer to be away from the bedside, Wagner says that there are many nursing specialties that allow nurses to use their clinical knowledge without engaging in direct patient care – in such specialties as case management, education, infection control and informatics.

3. Job setting

Nurses work in many non-hospital settings, including schools, public health departments, corrections facilities, industrial job sites, rescue helicopters, research labs and more.

Wagner points out that there are also vast differences between the intensive care unit, delivery room and psychiatric unit in terms of pace, environment and the kinds of interactions nurses will have with patients, physicians and other caregivers.

4. Various levels of pressure

Often times, more demanding jobs come with higher prestige (chief nursing officer) or higher salaries (certified registered nurse anesthetist) – career perks that can be very rewarding for someone who thrives on meeting challenges head-on.

But long or irregular hours can result not only in job stress, but also the strain of juggling work with home and family – so it may be wise for nurses to consider their existing support systems before choosing a high-pressure specialty.

5. Typical salary ranges

Nurses who are ambitious about making more money can aim for an executive position or choose an in-demand clinical. Wagner points out that nurses will have to balance the financial rewards with the higher demands that will be placed on them, not to mention the fact that they’ll likely need to obtain higher levels of education.

6. Special qualifications or certifications

“In order to specialize, nurses must have the requisite education,” says Wagner. “Nurses cannot just learn the ropes, and experience must be coupled with a strong educational background – an advanced degree or certification of some type is the most desirable in the nursing profession.”

Wagner points out that once a nurse is certified, there may be annual requirements they’ll have to meet to maintain their status, but in the long run, it will be well be worth it as certified nurses are recognized and respected and often earn higher salaries.

7. Location and job market

In general, the job market is excellent for nurses with a specialization, but Wagner notes that if a nurse doesn’t want to relocate, she or he may have to choose a field that is currently in demand where they live now.

As nurses get farther outside of big cities, they may not be able to practice in certain specialties. If a nurse is considering advanced practice nursing, they may also want to take a look at the licensure requirements of the state in which they live. Some states allow nurse practitioners to practice independently, while many require direct physician supervision.

8. Relationship with technology

Nurses who’ve studied computer science or who naturally gravitate toward technology should definitely consider the specialty fields of nursing informatics or telemetry. Nursing informatics is a growing field, especially with the advent of accountable care and meaningful use.

9. Level of engagement with people

Wagner says it is important that nurses understand that the personality-style subgroup they fall into plays an important role when choosing a specialty.

If a nurse is not a “people person” but is good with numbers, has good analytical skills, enjoys a quiet environment, or prefers to listen rather than to talk, he or she should a career as a nurse researcher, legal nurse consultant, informatics specialist or forensics nurse.

10. Education requirements

Nurses wanting to specialize will almost certainly need a master’s degree, so Wagner says it is important to consider an online RN-to-MSN degree program as a potential first step toward any career specialty.

“Gone are the days when a nurse was just a nurse,” says Wagner. “Today nurses have to be able to specialize in various areas, and there is so much to know about nursing and health care in general. Education plays an important role when considering the benefits to specializing and the professional rewards that come with it.”

American Sentinel University offers accredited, online RN to MSN degree and an MSN degree with course work focused on popular specializations.

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