One of the greatest aspects of being a nurse is that career and specialty options in nursing are virtually limitless. Often hospitals and doctors’ offices are the first places that come to mind when one thinks about nurses. While nurses certainly play significant roles in both of those settings, nurses can also be found in schools, correctional facilities, corporations, and in patient homes. Nurses can choose to specialize as much or as little as they desire within the field of nursing.
Regardless of where a nurse is in his/her career, it is never too early or late to choose a specialty. Both new nurses and experienced nurses have numerous career options within health care. The options can feel overwhelming, but one important factor to remember is that as you grow and change, your nursing career can grow and change with you. Some new nurses choose a specialty early in their career and continue in that area until they are ready to retire. Other nurses are drawn to different specialty areas at different times in their career. One common concern or question nurses have is how to choose a nursing specialty. Whether you are a new nurse or an experienced nurse, there are several factors to consider when choosing a specialty.
6 Steps in Choosing a Nursing Specialty:
One of the first steps to choosing the right nursing career path is to decide if you are looking at a career path that requires general nursing education or a path that requires continuing education or additional certification. There are many specialty areas new nurses can start immediately upon completing an undergraduate nursing program. Traditional advice for nurses has been to start their career in a hospital on a medical-surgical nursing unit. This is great advice for nurses who are looking to gain experience and are unsure whether they want to specialize or what their preferred specialty may be. New nurses can also choose to enter certain specialty areas immediately upon completion of their undergraduate pre-licensure program. Areas such as pediatrics, emergency medicine, intensive care, and geriatrics are just a few of the options available to new nurses. There are other areas, such as advance practice and nursing education, which require additional experience or education.
The next step to choosing the right nursing career path is to reflect back on why you chose nursing as a profession. Reflecting back on what made you want to become a nurse will likely help you narrow down what you are looking for in your health care career. Perhaps you chose nursing because you want to be part of the fight against cancer, help create healthier communities, or help manage medical emergencies and critically ill patients. Maybe you were drawn to the prospect of assisting in bringing new life in to the world, or caring for sick and injured children. Many pre-licensure programs require clinical experiences in many different specialty areas. Those clinical experiences can help identify your interests within nursing and guide your career path. Finally, consider what excites you about nursing. Choosing a specialty that aligns with your personal interests and passions will help ensure ongoing job satisfaction.
Once you have an idea of your nursing interests, the next step is to think about the future of your nursing career and what you want to accomplish. When considering how to choose a nursing specialty, it is important to ask yourself where you see your nursing career in ten years. Identifying the desired trajectory of your nursing career will help you determine the steps you need to take to reach that goal. Identifying nurses who are currently working in your desired specialty opens up great resources. Talking with those nurses about their nursing journey, learning more about exactly what they do and how they do it, and even shadowing them to gain some firsthand experience are all excellent opportunities to ensure that you understand the specialty and that it is a good fit.
Considering your own personality and how you like to engage with others is another key step to choosing the right nursing career path. If you are more of an introvert, you may enjoy nursing specialties such as nurse researcher or nursing informatics. If you enjoy more routine and predictable situations, you might enjoy a career in a doctor’s office or as a school nurse. If you thrive on unpredictability and enjoy new challenges daily, emergency department or intensive care may be good career choices. If you enjoy supporting nurses and want to be part of changes and progress within nursing, perhaps a career in nursing leadership is a good fit for you. If you want more autonomy and to be involved in diagnosis and treatment of patients, a career as a nurse practitioner may be fitting. If you enjoy teaching others and impacting the future of nursing through students, a career in nursing education is an option.
Another consideration is work-life balance. Some specialty areas require unconventional hours or on-call hours. Many careers within hospitals require working overnights and holidays, but those nurses often only work three days per week. Such specialty areas as primary care usually have a more traditional weekday schedule and do not work on holidays. The best schedule is the one that works best for your life and career and promotes work-life balance and meets the needs of yourself and your family.
For both new and experienced nurses, an important factor is the additional training required for the specialty area. Some career paths require basic undergraduate nursing education, and involve the nurse remaining in the same specialty area, gaining experience and expertise in that area and becoming an expert in their chosen area of specialization. In these cases, additional specialty certifications can often be obtained based on experience and successful completion of certification examinations. Other career paths, such as nursing education advanced practice, require additional formal education. Many of these are masters or doctoral level programs that also require additional clinical hours. Additional education is certainly a significant commitment, but increased autonomy generally comes with increased education. Ultimately it is important to understand the educational requirements of your chosen specialty and ensure that you are willing to commit to those requirements.
Career options within nursing are so vast that no nurse should ever feel that they have to settle for a career path that does not ignite professional passion and joy. Nursing is full of challenges and successes, joys and sorrows, long days, intense victories, and hard work. Choosing a specialty area that brings you professional joy and fulfillment will ultimately promote a successful and enriching career. The things that bring you joy, challenge you, and fulfill you may change over the years. We each have a different nursing journey, and the beauty of nursing is that you can switch your focus to different specialty areas over the course of your nursing journey to ensure that you are always fulfilled professionally.
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