Things to Consider When Choosing Your Nursing Specialty

NursingApril 13, 2017

So, you have decided to pursue your RN to BSN. Congratulations. Your career is moving onward and upwards. Once you have been accepted into a nursing program, whether it is an online nursing program or a nursing program at a bricks-and-mortar institution, you will eventually be confronted with some decisions. Should you specialize, for instance? If so, what specialty is right for you?

The choices are numerous and diverse, and obviously, some nurses are better suited for certain specialties than others. The ICU, for example, is a high-pressure, high-responsibility area that may not be for everyone. On the other hand, some nurses excel under these conditions and would not have it any other way. They are willing, if not eager, to stay on top of continuing education. They understand that technology is always advancing, and keeping abreast of those changes is all part of the job.

As an RN, it is quite possible that you have already identified a specialty that appeals to you. Traditional specialties, such as OB/GYN, pediatrics, or nurse practitioner, are common popular choices. But increasingly, nurses are specializing in various other specialties and sub-specialties, such as telephone triage nursing, correctional nursing, critical care, and even travel nursing.

Ask the Hard Questions

Choosing the specialty that is right for you involves some honest self-assessment. Do you thrive under pressure, for example? Do you mind being on call relatively often, or would you prefer a more predictable schedule? Do you like working nights, or would you prefer to stay on day shift? Do you have a special affinity for children? How about pregnant women? If you handle stress well, and thrive under pressure, working in an Emergency Department may be ideal for you. You are certainly less likely to become bored under the often chaotic conditions typically encountered in a busy ED, especially one located in a large urban center.

On the other hand, if near chaos rattles you, you might consider a less stressful, more predictable specialty, such as working in pediatrics. Many specialties will involve additional or advanced training and special certifications. Working as an oncology or intensive care nurse, for example, requires a commitment to continuing education and advanced training, in subjects such as chemotherapy and other specialized areas of knowledge.

Are you a strong leader? Are you bilingual or multilingual? Are you a good communicator? Tech savvy? Do you crave stability and familiarity? Or do you enjoy travel and the thrill of meeting new people in new places? If you answer these and other questions honestly, it will be possible to piece together the puzzle that reveals your optimal role in nursing.


Once you have done some honest self-assessment, it may be helpful to do a simple visioning exercise. Close your eyes and picture your ideal workplace. Attempt to recall what drew you to nursing in the first place, no matter how long ago that might have been. Did you picture yourself caring for new mothers? Teaching them to breastfeed, for example, or to care for their newborns? Did you see yourself assisting in high-profile, complex surgeries? Or did you see yourself remaining calm and coolly efficient while surrounded by the energy and excitement of a busy emergency room? Or perhaps you envisioned working in a relatively quiet, majestically paced research capacity, helping to further humanity’s knowledge and understanding of disease?

Engaging in such an exercise may help you identify the precise area of nursing that most appeals to you. Of course, clinical rotations are also an excellent opportunity to separate fantasy from fact. Perhaps working on a geriatric ward is not as fulfilling as you had imagined. Perhaps working with neonates in NICU touches something fundamental within you, in ways you never expected. Listen to these inner voices. Forget what you have been told is best, and give yourself permission to feel what resonates with you. Your temperament, experiences, expectations, strengths, weaknesses, skills, and talents will all figure into your final calculation.

Good communicators make excellent instructors, for example. Compassionate, patient people are often called to minister to the sickest of the sick. Perhaps palliative care appeals to your best instincts? Only you can answer these questions for yourself. But remember, there’s plenty of time. For now, you must focus on obtaining your degree. After that, the future is wide open.