Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nursing: Choosing A Specialty

By: Cynthia Andrews

The nursing profession is a wide open field with many career paths. In today's increasingly specialized world, it is becoming more common for nurses to specialize within their field. The decision to specialize in the nursing field is not one to take lightly. There are advantages and disadvantages, but for an increasing number of nurses it is becoming necessary.

Because of the relatively new practice of choosing a specialty field, each field has different requirements for specialization. There are also some that have no requirements at all. Certainly, a nurse who has worked for thirty years in the obstetrics department should consider that their specialty, but that is not the case when compared to a nurse choosing their specialty field after graduating from nursing school.

Not all nursing fields have formal specialization programs. Some, such as pediatrics, have a national certification program. Even in fields that do not have a national certification process, many hospitals have guidelines for working in a specialized field. Many hospitals recommend that a recent nursing school graduate should work for at least one year on a general medicine floor before moving into any specialty. Nursing schools provide students with intensive training, and the year spent working in the hospital setting should provide invaluable experience in helping the young nurse refine skills and gain confidence.

Once you feel competent in general nursing, you may want to consider choosing a specialty field. Specializing often makes it easier to find a job in your chosen field, and it is possible to draw a higher salary by having skills that are in demand. Once you work in a specialized field, it may become difficult to gain employment outside this field, because employers may be concerned that your skills in some areas may not be up to date. For this reason, it is important to think carefully about what type of specialty you may want to work in before you commit.

Know what is required

Be sure to consider all sides of a specialty before deciding if it is the one for you. While many nurses think they want to work with babies, in reality, the NICU, while full of babies, is a stressful place to work, especially for a young nurse, who may have young children at home, or be thinking of starting a family.

Other nurses may want to work with the elderly, and while this can certainly be rewarding, it often requires a great deal of physical strength to help elderly patients with day-to-day tasks, so it is important to take that into consideration before making a decision.

Work in Different Areas

The best way to learn what is required in each nursing specialty is to work in different areas. Even if you do not work in the area that you are considering specializing in, you can still gain insight into the differences between the available nursing fields. Many hospitals hire “float” nurses that rotate through a variety of positions, filling in on different floors as needed. This is an excellent way to gain a variety of experience.


Before choosing a specialty, take the time to talk with people who work in the specialty that you are considering. The more people you talk to, the better understanding you can gain for the type of work that is required and how rewarding the career path is. Talk with people who are happy in their job as well as those who are not. Remember that what makes one person happy is not the same for another person. While you may relish working independently, someone else may feel isolated. The more nurses you talk with, the better understanding you can gain for the different nursing specialties.

What does the future look like?

Before committing the time and money to specialized training, you should consider the job outlook for your particular career. If the specialty requires intensive classes that you must take on your off duty hours and pay for on your own, and the outlook is stagnate, it may not be the best choice for you. If you can specialize in a career by taking in-service classes while continuing education, which you would be required to take anyway, or the job growth is the specialty is growing, it is probably a good field to choose.

Don't sweat it

Regardless of the choice that you make, it is reversible. Once you have your nursing degree, you are highly employable, regardless of the field of nursing in which you have experience. If you choose one area of nursing, and find that it is not a good fit, it is easy enough to move into another branch of nursing. You can make the switch easier by keeping your skills up to date and working an occasional shift on a floor outside your specialty.

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