5 questions to ask yourself when choosing a nursing specialty
With more than 100 nursing specialties to choose from, you’ll want to choose the right one to focus your skills.
Whether you’re still in the midst of nursing school or have a few years of experience under your belt, it’s never too early—or too late—to choose a nursing specialty.
While it’s usually not necessary to earn certifications, such as a CCRN, gaining years of experience in a specific specialty looks great on a resume and helps you feel valued at work.
There are more than 100 nursing specialties to choose from—most patient-facing, some managerial and others research-oriented. So if you’re in the process of choosing a nursing specialty, be sure to ask yourself these five questions first.
What age group do you best identify with?
As a nurse, you spend the most time with the patients, so knowing which age groups you feel most comfortable around is important when choosing a specialty.
Sort of like how elementary school teachers say they’re more comfortable working with children than adults, if you think you’d prefer caring for young kids you might choose a pediatric specialty. Are you the first person to offer to hold a newborn baby? If yes, consider a career in obstetrics or neonatal nursing.
But maybe you consider yourself an old soul, better able to identify with the needs of the elderly people in your life. Maybe you’d be perfect for a career in geriatrics. In any case, start by choosing the track that comes closest to the age group you’d most like to care for. (Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to work with people your own age or slightly older. They’re called your bosses.)
How well do you cope with stress and emergency situations?
While you will face life-threatening situations in every nursing specialty, some departments are calmer than others. Think about how you work best. If you thrived under pressure in nursing school, you might love being an ER nurse. If you like a quieter atmosphere and enjoy calming patients as they’re recovering, specializing in home health or rehabilitation might be a good idea.
Keep your personality in mind as you decide. If you don’t like feeling pressed for time now, you definitely won’t like it as a nurse.
Which aspects of your job do you like best?
The next time someone asks you what you like best about your job, think a little longer about the question before you answer. Some nurses love meeting new people every day. Others like seeing the same patients for years in a physician’s office or clinic. And some enjoy the aspect of fixing things, like bandaging a wound or ensuring someone gets medication for an infection. Consider which nursing specialty will let you perform the tasks you like best.
What facility would you feel most comfortable working in?
If you’ve never liked visiting hospitals, guess what: You don’t have to work in one.
But you can choose from one of the 34 nursing specialties that let you work outside of the hospital. For example, you might like working as a geriatric nurse in a nursing home or as a pediatric nurse in a small pediatrician’s office. Just like the above, your comfort is key. So choose a specialty that allows you to take a job where you’re comfortable.
What makes you feel most fulfilled as a nurse?
One of the most important aspects of a nursing job is fulfillment, and that means different things for different people. Think about what keeps you motivated at work. Maybe you’re satisfied when someone says thank you or gives you hug. You might be happiest when you’re helping other nurses to succeed—37 nursing specialties are managerial. Or you may feel most content when you leave the hospital at the end of your shift and know you made a difference in a patient’s life. Determine what brings you the most joy in your work and choose a specialty that will help you achieve that.
No matter how long you’ve worked as a nurse, asking yourself these questions can not only help determine which specialty is right for you, but also help you find a rewarding job and an even more satisfying career.
Eric Darienzo is president of RNnetwork, a travel nurse staffing company based in Boca Raton, Fla