Which areas of specialization are open to registered nurses in the US?

Nurses work in exciting environments across the US healthcare system. They face new, fascinating challenges each day and are called to make key decisions independently. Modern nurses enjoy a fulfilling role in a dynamic profession. They help to bring about changes in care and, after gaining experience, can pursue a career in many nursing specialties. 

Take a nursing career to the next level

Professional development is part of life as a nurse because US healthcare is constantly changing and improving. If you are newly qualified or planning your next move, there are always opportunities for further study and career advancement. Here is a look at some of the available career tracks and information about what each role entails.

Family nurse practitioner

Family nurse practitioners care for patients of all generations, often those in the same family. They are usually the first point of contact in clinics and hospitals. They focus on monitoring the long-term health of their patients and delivering preventative care, such as education and inoculations. Nurses in this field have qualified through a nursing degree and have taken a master’s program to specialize in family nursing.

Qualified nurses with an MSN in a different specialism can expand their scope of practice and train as family nurse practitioners, in a post masters FNP program online at Rockhurst University. The coursework is delivered online to fit in with the lifestyle of a working nurse, and after completing a local clinical placement, students can graduate within 16 months. If you want to work with children and families in a front-line post, as well as collaborate with senior physicians, this could be a great career path to explore.

Nurse educator

After qualifying as a registered nurse and taking a master’s degree in their chosen field, nurse educators will also complete a certified nurse educator examination. A high level of training is required because nurse educators teach and support the next generation of nurses. They explain how to deliver effective patient care on a general ward or look at specific fields of medical practice. Many take part in designing research programs, applying for grants, and organizing the project once it has received sufficient funds.

Working in universities, teaching hospitals, and community colleges, they will assess and update the existing curriculum, as well as teach in a traditional classroom or medical setting. Part of their role includes evaluating and marking their students’ work, researching the latest advances in nursing, and speaking at conferences. If you would like to support and inspire new nurses, working as a nurse educator could be a very satisfying career track.

Pediatric nurse

Pediatric nurses work with children from infancy through to the teenage years and have specialist knowledge of caring for this age group. They will perform physical examinations of their patients, diagnose complaints and conditions, and then formulate a treatment plan in collaboration with a healthcare team. Their role is partly clinical and partly educational, as PNs often need to educate children and their parents. Therefore, the ability to communicate effectively with a range of people is essential. This helps to build the trust necessary to care for children and form a bond with their guardians, which can be vital to ensuring a patient gets the aftercare they need.

Once they have earned a nursing degree and have their licensure, nurses can gain a year’s experience in the profession before following a pediatric route. If you love working with children and are an excellent communicator, a career in pediatric nursing could be very gratifying.

Clinical nurse specialist

Clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses. They deliver direct patient care in collaboration with other nurses and physicians. Their role on the ward is the improvement of patient outcomes and being educators and advisors to other medical staff. During the day, they can be asked to manage a range of medical situations and patient care tasks, as well as mentor junior colleagues. They examine patients, diagnose conditions, and prescribe courses of treatment. Working with the wider healthcare team, they also create and implement treatment plans. Many nurses in this field will design and carry out independent research and gather medical data for national studies.

After qualifying as registered nurses, clinical nurse specialists will take a master’s qualification, possibly followed by a doctoral degree. If you want to combine bedside care with advanced clinical knowledge and earn a high salary, this could be the ideal specialism. 

Public health nurse

Public health nurses are teachers and advocates for the people in their local community. They provide educational resources, run pop-up clinics, and hold face-to-face appointments. Their guidance focuses on preventing disease, healthy living practices, and gaining access to medical care. PHNs can work independently or as part of a community team to reach patients in rural areas and underserved urban locations. If a natural disaster strikes, they are ready to step in and help a community to recover from the effects and prepare itself for future incidents. Part of this role will also include gathering data that will be used in searching for patterns in viral outbreaks and instances of chronic disease.

Public health nurses have either a bachelor’s degree in nursing or an associate’s degree. They have followed this with registered nurse licensure and at least 2,000 hours of experience in public health nursing. Next, they will take a public or community health nursing certification before looking for a role in this specialism. If you are keen to help out your local community and would prefer to manage the health of large groups of people, public health nursing could be right for you.

Cardiac nurse

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the USA, so nurses specializing in this field are always in high demand. They have a key role in preventing the disease from worsening in a patient, diagnosing a heart problem, and treating people living with this or a related cardiovascular condition. They can care for patients who are in hospital following a cardiac arrest, as well as assist with cardiac surgeries, along with a larger team. Frequently their patients have already had a heart attack or suffer from angina or congenital heart failure. They try to educate and empower those in their care to provide the best possible health outcomes.  

Cardiac nurses have either a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing or an associate degree and are registered nurses. Some will have the relevant certification from the state in which they practice. If you are interested in medical issues that affect the heart and would like to help patients to manage their condition, this could be a very fulfilling career.

Emergency nurse

Working mainly in hospitals, emergency nurses are part of the ER team. They help with evaluating patients after they are brought in by an ambulance crew or arrive at the hospital independently. They also work to get a patient stabilized, select the right treatment path after examining their patient’s notes and manage wound care. While some patients will have extensive injuries, others will be in the ward due to a fever or a minor complaint.

This is a fast-paced setting where nurses must react swiftly and make crucial decisions in seconds. Every day brings new challenges, but the rewards of helping people recover from their emergencies are immense. To be an emergency nurse, registered nurses with a nursing degree can take a certified emergency nurse qualification. You could be a fantastic emergency nurse if you thrive in an exciting environment and can multitask despite any distractions.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists are highly trained clinicians who take responsibility for anesthetizing a patient during surgery. They have to undertake detailed and intense training to qualify for this role, which means they command a generous salary. The nature of this work means that NAs make the connection between patient and surgeon, so their communication skills need to be excellent. They are dedicated to keeping the patient calm and comfortable, so the procedure has every chance of success. Part of the work involves answering questions and providing information to the patient and the specialist. NAs do much of their direct patient care independently, so should an emergency arise, they are expected to manage it.

After taking an initial nursing qualification and gaining their registered nurse license, NAs will take a master’s degree in their specialism. If you have a passion for science and enjoy working with a range of people in a very focused environment, a nurse anesthetist job could be ideal.

Nurse manager

Nurse managers have taken either a bachelor’s or an associate degree in nursing, followed by their registered nurse license exam. They have added to these qualifications with a certified nurse manager or an executive nursing practice certification. This is very much a supervisory role, and the intensive training reflects that. However, once they have qualified and found a post, nurse managers can expect a high wage.

Nurse managers work in a hectic environment. They manage the hiring of new staff and the supervision of the nursing team in their facility. They work independently to guide and advise other nurses, in order to optimize patient care. Many liaise with nurses, physicians, managers, and other stakeholders to oversee the building’s finances, arrange meetings, and organize patient health records. If you want to work in a hospital or a different type of medical facility but prefer a senior administrative role, a nurse manager position could be the right path for you.

Nurse executive

Nurse executives are registered nurses who have a master’s degree in nursing or healthcare, or business administration. Many work in different executive roles before taking the executive nursing certification exam and starting their new career. Working at the top level of many different healthcare organizations, nurse executives ensure that daily operations run smoothly and goals are met. To do this, they collaborate with all levels of staff, ensuring everyone has the resources they need to perform well and deliver an excellent standard of care.

They also work on the budget of their facility, planning for new equipment, additional staff, and other future costs. As well as taking care of the immediate requirements of their team, NEs are engaged with the professional development of their staff. They can signpost career opportunities, run training programs and ensure that everyone on the healthcare team can reach their full potential. If you want to work in a senior managerial role in a busy healthcare environment, you could pursue a career as a nurse executive.

Critical care nurse

Critical care nurses have taken a bachelor of science nursing degree and completed the 

registered nursing license exam. They will also have state certification in advanced life support. In terms of their educational level, critical care nurses are similar to registered nurses, but their additional certification readies them for work in intensive and critical care wards, as well as emergencies. They are trained to dress serious wounds and injuries, manage life support systems and cope in a high-stress environment. Part of this job involves caring for patients in recovery after experiencing a serious medical emergency or an accident. 

This is a very hands-on role in which practitioners must remain alert and ready for any situation. The ability to assess and treat patients with life-threatening conditions is crucial, as is the ability to communicate with families concerned for their loved ones. If you want to provide care to patients after a traumatic event and help them on the road to recovery, this will be a very gratifying role.

Nurse midwife

Nurse midwives work in hospitals and physicians’ offices, but many choose to practice independently. They have earned their nursing degree and registered nurse licensing and then taken the American College of Nurse Midwives certification. Nurse midwives are nurses who specialize in caring for pregnant women, before, during, and after the baby is born. They call women in for prenatal appointments, provide advice and guide them through their childbirth journey. Part of this involves confirming the pregnancy, monitoring how the fetus is developing, and testing for congenital conditions.  

During labor, they provide assistance focused on the mother having a smooth delivery and a healthy baby. Once the baby has arrived, they can educate parents on looking after their newborn and adjusting to a new way of life. NMs also teach their patients about family planning and provide advice on choosing a form of contraception. If you want to play an important role in women’s health and bring new lives into the world, being a nurse midwife will feel very fulfilling.

Geriatric nursing

Geriatric nurses have either an associate degree, or Bachelor of Science in nursing, and they also have a registered nurse license. Finally, to work in this specialism, they will commit to certification in geriatric nursing. Geriatric nurses work closely with physicians to care for older patients experiencing physical or mental health problems. These people need specialist care because they are at increased risk of disease and injury compared to the general population. GNs can manage a person’s injuries, deliver treatment for a long-term condition or help someone enjoy a better quality of life. 

In this role, nurses work directly with patients, tackling a range of different tasks and situations. They are trained to keep people mobile and nurture their independence. Frequently geriatric nurses liaise with the patient’s family and carers to provide information or answer questions. If you like to work with seniors and support their various needs, this could be a gratifying career choice.

Oncology nurse

Oncology nurses have qualified via the traditional route. They have a degree in nursing and are registered to practice. In addition, they have completed 1000 hours of training in a clinical environment, and at least ten of these hours will have been on an oncology ward.

Oncology nurses work to prevent, diagnose and treat various forms of cancer. They are highly trained in their area of specialism, allowing them to discuss complex treatment options with patients and their families. Once a course of therapy is underway, ONs will continue to monitor progress and the symptoms experienced throughout. If necessary, they have the authority to prescribe medications that can help people to cope with the side effects of cancer treatment. When the program is complete, oncology nurses meet with patients to discuss their remission status and ongoing health. If you are ready to work in an emotional environment and want to support patients who are fighting cancer, you could consider becoming an oncology nurse.