Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are advanced healthcare practitioners with similar responsibilities, such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. However, their training and paths toward certification differ in significant ways. This blog post unpacks the key differences between NPs and PAs to help you determine which career path best aligns with your goals. What Is a Nurse Practitioner? A nurse practitioner (NP) is a licensed clinician who provides comprehensive healthcare to patients of all ages. An NP can work in virtually any healthcare setting, diagnosing patient conditions and prescribing medications. As of October 2022, nurse practitioners have full practice authority in 27 states, meaning that they can practice Read more
One of the greatest benefits of choosing a career in nursing is the variety of roles and environments you can work in. Nurses have the opportunity to grow their knowledge and focus on the area of nursing they’re most passionate about. Below we cover some of the most popular specialties in nursing.
What Are Some Other Nursing Specialties?
If you have an undergraduate degree in nursing and are looking to advance your career, going to grad school to get your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a fantastic option. Look for MSN programs that offer the advanced nursing role specialization you are interested in, so that you receive your graduate degree with that specialization. Below are some of the most popular role specialties offered in masters in nursing programs.
1. Family Nurse Practitioner
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) work with infants, children, adults, and families to treat acute and chronic illnesses and promote preventative care. FNPs perform physical exams, prescribe medications, administer immunizations, provide family planning services, and much more.
An FNP is a nationally certified and state-licensed advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have a graduate-level education. FNPs are expert clinical providers who are able to teach others in the workplace setting.
2. Nurse Executive
Nurse executives are natural leaders who serve as role models in supporting the mission and vision of their organization. They are responsible for designing, developing, and directing processes for patient care delivery. The nurse executive specialization prepares students for a senior leadership role in a variety of disciplines, from manager and director to supervisor and chief nursing officer.
Nurse executives are critical thinkers and team leaders who have a graduate-level nursing degree. They build relationships with staff, advance the nursing discipline, manage financial and economic operations, and much more.
3. Nurse Educator
Nurse educators play a key role in preparing the next generation of nurses for practice. Nurse educators bridge the academic and clinical worlds by developing curricula and educating nursing students, practicing nurses, and other healthcare providers. Nurse educators must complete a graduate degree in nursing. A doctorate is required to teach at most universities.
4. Nurse Informaticist
Nurse informaticists work with emerging technology to help patients and hospitals. They are responsible for overseeing healthcare technology systems and the use of patient data. In order to become a nurse informaticist, candidates must have formal training in healthcare informatics (as well as clinical nursing experience). They could gain this experience within an MSN or doctoral program or in continuing education programs.
5. Nurse Anesthetist
A certified registered nurse anesthetist is an advanced practice nurse who works under the chief nurse anesthetist. They are responsible for administering anesthesia to patients undergoing obstetrical, surgical, routine screening, and trauma care procedures. Their responsibilities include monitoring patient vitals during procedures and overseeing patient recovery. To become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, candidates must earn a master’s degree and pass the National Certification Exam (NCE).
Nurse-midwives assist patients with pregnancy and delivery. They specialize in women’s reproductive health and childbirth, and are responsible for performing gynecological exams, educating new parents on infant care, providing postpartum care, and much more. In order to become a certified nurse-midwife, you must complete a nationally accredited graduate degree program and pass the national certification exam.
7. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
Neonatal nurse practitioners care for sick and premature newborns in need of specialized attention. They work in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), specialty clinics, emergency rooms, and delivery rooms. Neonatal nurse practitioners are highly educated advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who need to either earn an MSN degree with a specialization in neonatology or complete a two-year Advanced Practice Neonatal Nursing (APNN) program.
8. Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
Geriatric nursing is one of the most in-demand nursing roles. A gerontological nurse practitioner works with elderly patients who suffer from acute and chronic illnesses. They typically work in skilled nursing facilities, clinics, and hospitals and are skilled in memory care and end-of-life measures.
9. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
Orthopedic nurse practitioners care for patients with bone, joint, and muscle problems. They conduct physical exams, prescribe treatment, and work closely with physicians and nursing staff to develop a patient care plan from injury to discharge. Orthopedic nurse practitioners work in clinics, hospitals, and physicians’ offices.
10. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric nurse practitioners are responsible for diagnosing mental illness and prescribing medication for patients who suffer from mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder. They work primarily in hospitals and in-patient care facilities. In order to become an advanced practice nurse in the psychiatric specialty, candidates must earn a master’s degree in the nursing field and may have other requirements to meet, depending on the state.
11. Clinical Nurse Specialist
Clinical nurse specialists are master’s or doctoral-level nurses who can be certified in a variety of clinical specialties. They are different from most nurse practitioners, as they focus not only on clinical practice but also on education, research, and consulting. CNSs are considered leaders in the field of nursing. They educate, mentor, and advocate for other nurses and assist in improving patient care practices. To work in research, they need to get a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
12. Clinical Nurse Leader
Clinical nurse leaders take on a leadership role at the point of care. They are responsible for healthcare outcomes for a specific group of patients. They also coordinate direct care activities, evaluate patient outcomes, and change plans of care when necessary. The clinical nurse leader credential is a newer role created by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). To become a CNL, you must attend a master’s program that meets AACN requirements and pass a national certification exam.
13. Nurse Researcher
In order to become a nurse researcher, you must have a research-focused master’s or doctoral degree. The nurse researcher analyzes data and designs studies in order to improve the field of nursing. They are scientists who study health, illness, and healthcare and look for ways to improve healthcare services and outcomes. They conduct studies with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for patients, advance healthcare services, and ensure patient safety.
14. Health Policy Nurse
Unlike nurses in many other specialties, health policy nurses don’t treat patients directly. Rather, they examine healthcare protocols and how they affect patients. They play an active role in public health by analyzing healthcare laws and regulations. Then, they construct plans to advocate for change and promote new health policies. They work in a variety of settings from healthcare and advocacy organizations to government and legislative offices.
15. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric nurses are dedicated to treating the special healthcare needs of children. They need excellent communication skills to relate well to children and educate family members on the care and protection of their child’s health. In order to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, you must earn a Master of Science in Nursing that includes specialized coursework in pediatrics and be recognized as an advanced practice nurse (APN) by your state board of nursing.
Additional Types of Nursing Specialties
16. Critical Care Nurse
Critical care nurses focus on patients with acute, critical, and life-threatening issues. They provide hands-on care and typically work in intensive care units, telemetry units, and trauma floors. Some of the typical nursing job responsibilities of a critical care nurse are cleaning patient wounds, tracking life support equipment, checking vital signs, diagnosing illnesses and injuries, and caring for a patient’s body immediately after death.
17. Dialysis Nurse
Dialysis nurses work in a nursing specialty of nephrology, which is the care of patients who are experiencing or who are at risk for kidney disease. These nurses monitor patients on dialysis treatments. They are responsible for administering dialysis and medication, maintaining patient reports and records, and educating patients about their conditions and treatment protocols.
18. Nurse Advocate
Nurse advocates serve as middlemen between patients or families and medical teams. They are experts in communication who advocate for patients in order to protect their rights and maintain quality of care. They listen to patient concerns and intervene when needed in order to resolve any patient care issues.
19. Pain Management Nurse
Nurses who specialize in pain management are responsible for the care of patients with acute or chronic pain. Their job is to help patients ease and manage their pain by listening to patient concerns and administering the appropriate medications. In order to become a pain management nurse, you need to earn your associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, plus your RN. Pain management nurses usually work in hospitals, clinics, and physician’s offices.
20. Trauma Nurse
Trauma nurses care for patients of all ages who suffer from acute injury or illness. These cases include anything from car accidents and head injuries to gunshot wounds and assault. Trauma nurses usually work in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and ambulance transport. In order to be a trauma nurse, you must be able to keep your cool in a high-stress and chaotic environment.
21. Travel Nurse
Travel nurses are RNs who are hired to work on a contract basis at hospitals that have short-term staffing needs. This is an excellent career choice for those who enjoy freedom, flexibility, travel, and working in a variety of environments.
Travel nurses are an important part of the healthcare team. They help bridge the gap between supply and demand and they also bring different educational backgrounds and areas of expertise to hospitals across the country.
22. Public Health Nurse
Nurses who choose to specialize in public health play a huge role in community health and safety. Instead of caring for individual patients, they care for entire special populations. They are involved in education, evaluation, assessment, advocacy, and activism. They work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, community health centers, nonprofit organizations, and more.
23. Oncology Nurse
Oncology nurses have one of the most challenging—and rewarding—specialties. They administer chemotherapy treatments to patients with cancer and monitor their symptoms and progress. They help patients and family members manage the stress and anxiety of diagnosis and treatment, providing education and support.
24. Case Management Nurse
A case management nurse or long term care nurse works with patients who need ongoing medical treatment, such as older adults, people with cancer, and patients with other chronic diseases. They oversee long-term care plans and often develop close working relationships with their patients. Most case management nurses hold a BSN; however, some hold an MSN degree.
25. Dermatology Nurse
Nurses who specialize in dermatology focus on the diagnosis and treatment of various skin injuries and conditions, such as skin cancer, warts, acne, and burns. They conduct skin exams and administer cosmetic procedures, including chemical peels and laser treatment. Additionally, they work in hospitals, plastic surgeons’ offices, and dermatology clinics. They also educate on proper care and prevention.
When you first become a nurse, your focus will be on building your experience. However, as you refine your practice, you may want to dedicate your career to a specialized area of nursing. If you’re interested in specializing in an area of nursing or obtaining a certain level of nursing, make sure to choose a university that has the nursing programs you are looking for.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator**, and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.
- Nurse Journal, “The 20 Best Nursing Career Specialties”: https://nursejournal.org/community/20-best-nursing-career-specialties-for-the-future/
- Nursing License Map, “Nursing Specialties”: https://nursinglicensemap.com/nursing-specialties/