Becoming a nurse is a rewarding career choice, but once you decide on this path, there are other choices you’ll need to make about your healthcare career. One of these is the type of nursing you want to specialize in. In fact, there are more options than you might have thought. Here, we look at the most common specialties and what your role in each of these might involve.
Family nurse practitioner
A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is a registered nurse who has completed a qualification and clinical training. Their role covers diagnosing and managing the range of common acute and chronic medical conditions across a patient’s lifespan, from infancy to adulthood.
FNPs provide comprehensive care to individuals and families and can choose to work in a variety of settings, including clinics, hospitals, and private practices. The specific duties of a family nurse practitioner vary based on where they work but may include being the first to assess patients in non-emergency situations, from carrying out physical exams and performing diagnostic tests to developing treatment plans and making referrals to specialists.
Other duties involve prescribing medication and helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma; providing support on a variety of health issues, including nutrition, exercise, stress management, and quitting smoking and working with other healthcare providers, such as physicians, other nurses, and social workers, to coordinate care for patients.
Providing preventative care, including routine check-ups, immunizations, and health screenings to help patients maintain good health and to prevent illness, is essential.
You can gain the skills and knowledge to do all this and much more with the online FNP programs Marymount University offers. The programs are accredited, allowing students the flexibility of online study, and students are supported in finding clinical placements.
A pediatric nurse specializes in caring for infants, children, and adolescents. To prepare for this role, your education, and clinical training will cover the specific needs of young patients.
The role of a pediatric nurse includes carrying out patient assessments, specifically in babies, young children, and teenagers, including physical exams, taking medical histories, and performing diagnostic tests. They also work closely with the parents and help educate them on the best way to manage diagnosed conditions.
Other duties include administering medications and treatments such as intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, and chemotherapy to children. Because of the young age of the patients, different dosages may be needed compared to adults. Your approach must be gentler, with simpler but not patronizing explanations to help reassure them.
It is necessary to provide emotional support to the patient and their family to manage the stress and anxiety associated with illness and hospitalization.
This role shares some similarities with an FNP, who will see a variety of patients, including children. Many other specializations cross over in other ways. If you opt to change from one discipline to another, your new qualification can often take less time than your initial degree because you’re not starting from the beginning. Instead, you’re building on and adapting your existing skills and knowledge.
Oncology nursing is a specialty area that focuses on the care of patients with cancer. However, these nurses also work with those at risk to prevent cancer.
Prevention measures can include:
- Helping patients to stop smoking.
- Providing stress management techniques and referrals.
- Prompting regular screenings and reminders when these are due/overdue.
- Offering advice for skin protection, such as sun protection or not using sunbeds.
- Providing help and advice on following a healthy diet containing foods that can reduce cancer risk.
- Ensuring the patient is up to date with vaccines such as the HPV and hepatitis B vaccines.
This is in addition to treating patients already diagnosed with cancer. You would help administer medications and treatments, such as chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and pain management, while providing emotional support.
Geriatric nursing focuses on the care of older adults. This typically covers those aged 65 years and older. A qualification in this specialism will prepare you for issues that are common in older adults.
This includes (but is not limited to) arthritis, which makes walking, moving around, and day-to-day tasks difficult or impossible, depending on the severity, and osteoporosis, a condition more serious in the elderly that increases the risk of bone fractures.
With dementia patients, you will help them, and their families adjust to the decline of cognitive functions such as memory and decision-making while providing extra care for patients who can no longer look after themselves due to the condition.
Vision and hearing problems can occur or worsen in older adults making it more challenging to carry on the same lifestyle or hold on to their independence without the right help adjusting to these changes.
Other duties of a geriatric nurse include advising older adults and their families on various health topics, such as fall prevention, nutrition, medication management, and disease management.
As an emergency nurse, you will care for emergency admission critical care patients. Your education and clinical training will cover the management of patients with acute illnesses or injuries. You could work in emergency departments, trauma centers, and other critical care areas.
Your duties will include quickly assessing patients based on the severity of their condition and providing emergency medical care to stabilize them, performing emergency interventions such as airway management or defibrillation, and administering medications and treatments, such as intravenous fluids, pain management, and other therapies.
You will also be expected to provide support to the patient or family. In an emergency setting, this can be just as important for keeping them calm when something might look worse than it is or if you need to act fast and require their cooperation.
A cardiac nurse specializes in caring for patients with heart disease or cardiovascular conditions.
This role includes performing physical exams and medical evaluations and developing treatment plans that implement medication management, cardiac rehabilitation, and other interventions. Administering medications and treatments, including intravenous medications, electrocardiograms (ECGs), and other cardiac monitoring, is also part of the duties.
You will work with a team of other healthcare providers, such as cardiologists and rehabilitation therapists, to coordinate patient care while providing emotional support to manage the patient’s stress levels. Raised stress levels could worsen certain heart conditions if not addressed appropriately.
Critical care nursing
Critical care nursing covers the care of patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Nurses in this specialism work in intensive care units (ICUs), emergency departments, or other critical care units.
This role shares several similarities with emergency nursing. However, there are some differences, such as critical care settings are more structured as patients have pre-planned treatment, compared to emergency nursing, where there is no structure or knowledge of who might present needing treatment.
Although critical care can be busy, the nurses tend to have a little more time to spend with each patient.
Critical care nurses have the time to provide more detailed care.
The role involves continuously monitoring patients’ vital signs, including heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation, and performing emergency interventions, such as airway management, mechanical ventilation, and medication administration. Administering medications and treatments and advising patients and their families on various health topics, including injury or illness prevention, medication management, and disease management, is also required.
Overall, the primary goal of a critical care nurse is to provide high-quality, compassionate care to critically ill patients, with an emphasis on evidence-based practice and promoting the best possible outcomes for their patients.
Perioperative nursing is a specialty area that focuses on patient care before, during, and after surgical procedures. Perioperative nurses work in operating rooms, day surgery units, and other surgical settings.
The specific duties of a perioperative nurse generally include carrying out preoperative assessments, including physical exams, being aware of medical histories, and performing diagnostic tests on patients before surgery to reduce unnecessary risks.
Nurses are also required to help prepare patients for surgery by providing guidance on what to expect before, during, and after the procedure and ensuring that the patient is as comfortable and relaxed as possible.
During surgery, assistance might be needed with positioning the patient, handing instruments to the surgeon, and managing patient care during the procedure.
After surgery, monitoring and managing patients is required, including pain management, wound care, and vital signs monitoring.
Psychiatric nursing focuses on the care of patients with mental health and behavioral disorders. Psychiatric nurses work in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, outpatient clinics, and community mental health centers.
The specific duties include performing psychiatric evaluations and developing treatment plans that may consist of medication management, psychotherapy, and other interventions, plus administering medications and treatments such as oral medication, injectable medications, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and other psychiatric interventions as needed.
Nurses also work with patients and their families, advising them on a variety of health topics, including mental health disorders, medication management, and lifestyle modifications.
Other tasks include working with and referring patients to other healthcare providers, such as rehabilitation therapists, to coordinate care for their patients.
The overall goal of a psychiatric nurse is to provide non-judgmental and compassionate care to patients with mental health conditions. You would play a vital role in improving the lives of those affected by mental illness and could help reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
Public health nursing
Public health nursing focuses on promoting and protecting the health of populations and communities. Such nurses work hard to improve the well-being of communities through health education, disease prevention, and promoting healthy lifestyles.
The responsibilities of a public health nurse include conducting assessments of communities to identify health problems, environmental hazards, and other health-related issues, developing health education programs for topics such as disease prevention and health promotion, and providing immunizations to children and adults.
They also carry out health screenings such as blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings, and diabetes screenings to identify those most at risk of health problems.
Nurses are sometimes needed to respond to public health emergencies like disease outbreaks or natural disasters. They also collaborate with other healthcare providers, community organizations, and government agencies to coordinate and implement public health programs.
Public health nurses play a critical role in addressing the health needs of underserved populations, reducing health disparities, and promoting health equity.
Hospice and palliative care nursing
Hospice and palliative care nursing is a specialty area that involves caring for patients with severe illnesses and their families. These nurses help patients manage their pain and symptoms and ensure that patients and their families receive the care and support they need during difficult times.
The responsibilities of this specialism include carrying out comprehensive assessments of patients with serious illnesses and evaluating their pain and symptom management needs; developing and implementing care plans for patients with serious conditions; managing pain and other symptoms and providing emotional support. They work closely with other healthcare providers, including physicians, social workers, and chaplains. Nurses also inform patients and families about symptom management, medication management, and end-of-life care.
The aim of a hospice and palliative care nurse is to provide compassionate care and support to patients with serious illnesses and their families. The emphasis is on ensuring that patients can live their lives with dignity and respect during a difficult time. These nurses play a critical role in helping patients and families navigate the challenges of serious illnesses. Their work helps improve the quality of life for those affected by serious illnesses.
In general, nursing requires many qualities valued in all its various specialisms. However, by looking at what particularly interests you about nursing and the types of patients you prefer to work with or the settings you prefer, you can choose the specialism that suits you best.