Choosing-Nursing-SpecialtyBeing a part of the healthcare world, on many occasions I find myself thrown into discussions with healthcare professionals or future healthcare professionals in some way, shape, or form. One of my absolute favorite things about my job is the opportunity to work with local colleges and universities to have discussions with healthcare students. These opportunities not only give us a platform for our company branding, but they also give students the chance to learn about travel and per-diem work. They have been surprisingly educational for me as well.

In recent discussions with some nursing students, the topic of nursing specialties came up. One particular student (very eager and apprehensive about her upcoming year) made a great point – “I have no idea what specialty I want to go into!” This got me thinking about how and why experienced nurses choose their nursing path.

In an effort to better understand, I went straight to the source – RNs already working in the field. I used social media to reach out and interview nurses I already knew, and I was thoroughly impressed, not only by their willingness to share their stories, but by the magnitude of their answers. One of my most trusted sources, my mother, has been a nurse for almost 34 years and after talking with her, she has no intention of changing that anytime soon. Starting her career off as critical care nurse and eventually working her way through the ranks to her current role as Director of Critical Care and Emergency Services, Mom has always enjoyed the fast paced and demanding atmosphere of these units. What you don’t know is that she is the calmest and most collected person I know, and therefore having her as your nurse is probably one of the luckiest things that could happen to any patient. As her career progressed she was determined to teach, train and be a role model with her nursing techniques and behaviors. She was able to expand and maintain amazing units – something she attributes to her team of quality and capable staff. My mom is one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet and let me tell you something – she will be so upset with me for putting this out here for the entire world to see, but how can I just ignore this role model right in my back pocket? Mom chose ICU for her love of taking care of cardiac patients and fixing issues quickly. That rush is what has made her stick with it for life.

Mom may have stayed put in one area of focus, but many nurses have a different experience. Beth Hogan, a LinkedIn connection from New York, responded to one of my posts about specialties and she stated that, “One of the biggest benefits of a nursing career, you do not have to choose one specialty and be in it for life!” While this sentiment was expressed on several occasions by many nurses, she went on to say, “My moves seemed to be more around life events, when I wanted off 3 p.m.-11 p.m. to start a family, when I wanted less on-call to be home for kids events, and most recently finishing my Master’s degree and looking for a personal career challenge.” Her advice for students is simple – “commit fully to whichever path you choose in the moment, but be open to possibilities.”

Based on the responses I’ve received, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a nursing specialty that nursing students should keep in mind.

  • Personality and interests – Do you prefer children (pediatrics) or elderly (geriatrics)? Do you enjoy fast paced and challenging – ICU, ED? Or methodical and detail oriented – research, case management?
  • Setting – Hospital, long-term care, schools, clinics or underserved populations such as corrections, veterans, homeless, etc.
  • Education and Certifications – Sometimes there is more schooling required for the specialty you aspire to, such as becoming a Nurse Practitioner. While this may be the end goal, starting in a different specialty may be a necessary step to gain experience. Additional certifications are required to work in the ED, Pediatrics, ICU and more.
  • Schedule – If you want to work Monday through Friday. It is possible, you just have to find the right specialty, such as research, outpatient clinics, public health, or school nurse.
  • Wages – The more demanding and high-stress specialties tend to pay more, such as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
  • Location – If you want to move to a specific market, research what is most in demand there to have more ease in getting a job! FYI: Hawaii is looking for labor and delivery nurses right now!

As you can see, so many things go into your nursing specialty choice! Don’t fret about making a decision and for goodness sake, don’t feel like you’re stuck when you do. Ultimately you will find your perfect fit when the time is right. My LinkedIn connection, Tracy Reese said it best, “Nursing is the best profession to truly have abundant opportunities to explore what speaks to your soul.” How true is this? Have you ever met a nurse who really truly thinks he or she made the wrong choice? Every nurse I’ve spoken with over the years is a proud nurse. The possibilities are endless and even more opportunities become available every day. I came across a photo a few weeks back and I think it’s a great summary of every conversation I’ve had – Nursing is more than a job, it’s a duty!