One of the most common misconceptions about nursing degree programs is that they solely prepare students to become an LPN or an RN. However, there are a wide variety of types of nurses that practice in the field, and a bachelor's degree in nursing can provide the foundation for a specialized nursing career.
Top Nursing Specialties
By being aware of different types of nurses in the medical field, you can focus on a nursing specialty that’s best suited to your personal interests, strengths and professional goals. Below are the top nursing specialties in the field:
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
A family nurse practitioner, or FNP, is a specialized type of nurse who focuses on developing long-term relationships with patients. For students seeking connection with their patients and looking to serve them in an intimate and compassionate way, the FNP specialty is ideal. To become an FNP, you would need to earn a BSN along with an MSN. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a family nurse practitioner makes an average salary of about $125,000 per year, and the field is expected to grow by more than 38 percent between 2022 and 2032.
Nurses who crave freedom and adventure are often captivated by the idea of becoming a travel nurse. According to Johnson & Johnson, travel nurses are frequently contract workers who are temporarily assigned to destinations in need of medical care. Travel nurse assignments might be short-term assignments in areas of the United States where there has been a natural disaster or unexpected tragedy, or they might include assignments abroad that last for up to two years. Travel nurses typically work directly with patients, which allows them to gain diverse professional experience. To become a travel nurse, you need an ADN or BSN.
Nurse practitioners are highly-qualified nurses who can provide comprehensive patient care. Often, they focus on preventative healthcare and effective health management. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, these are the most common responsibilities of NPs:
- Examining patients and learning more about their health history.
- Ordering diagnostic tests to provide patients with effective, comprehensive care.
- Prescribing medication.
- Educating patients and providing them with additional information about available resources that could potentially improve their health and well-being.
To practice as an NP, you would need to pursue an MSN or a doctoral degree program.
Nurse administrators are professionals with experience working as an RN but have decided to go into the managerial side of nursing. According to the American Nurses Association, nurse practitioners commonly work with hospital or clinic administrators in order to hire and retain the most qualified nurses, create a cohesive schedule and oversee the organization of the nurses within the facility. The ANA notes that an RN with a BSN could work as a nursing administrator, but an MSN degree could help them stand out as a stronger candidate for the position. Nurse administrators can make up to $100,000 per year.
Similar to nurse administrators, nurse educators are nursing professionals who have decided to move on from a career focused on patient care and instead focus on a different aspect of nursing. According to RegisteredNursing.org, nurse educators are professionals who have significant experience working as an RN in a clinical setting and who aspire to educate the next generation of nurses. Nurse educators commonly work at universities or colleges as instructors or professors, but some focus on professional development opportunities within the field. Most nurse educators have not only a BSN but also an advanced degree, such as an MSN or a doctoral degree in nursing.
Nurse managers often work in the hospital setting, and they oversee a team of nurses who are providing direct patient care. Nurse managers must have significant experience working directly with patients, as they are going to be providing the nursing staff with information about how to treat the patients that are in their care. In addition to being a skilled, empathetic and compassionate nurse, nurse managers also must be organized, efficient and business-oriented. Nurse managers are typically responsible for creating the schedule, delegating tasks and monitoring patient progress during their shift. While not required, many nurse managers have both a BSN and an MSN.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, or CRNA, is one of the most advanced nursing specialties that you can pursue. A CRNA works alongside the anesthesiologist to administer anesthesia to patients prior to a surgical procedure, or to monitor their progress during or after an operation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a CRNA has a variety of responsibilities, including:
- Providing patients with information about anesthesia and what they can expect before, during and after their procedure.
- Assessing a patient's physical response to anesthesia.
- Identifying risks of putting a patient under anesthesia.
- Providing the proper dosage of anesthesia to the patient based on the procedure, their health conditions and their personal health characteristics.
A CRNA must complete a doctoral degree program as well as pass a certification exam in order to practice.
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Clinical nurse specialists are considered some of the top leaders in healthcare. According to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, a CNS is trained in advanced areas of medical practice, such as pharmacology and physiology. Due to their advanced education and extensive professional experience, clinical nurse specialists are able to diagnose patients and prescribe medication.
Emergency Room Registered Nurse
Nurses who are interested in working in a fast-paced environment and enjoy adaptable and flexible work, may be interested in becoming an emergency room registered nurse. According to NurseJournal, an ER nurse works directly with patients who have come into the emergency room for prompt care. Common responsibilities include performing triage, administering emergency medical care and documenting treatment plans. ER nurses often communicate directly with families, providing them with information about the patient and their progress. Nurses who have an ADN or BSN, and who have passed the certification exam to practice as an RN, can work as an ER nurse.
Perioperative Nurse (Surgical/OR Nurse)
A perioperative nurse is a registered nurse who primarily works in the operating room. Sometimes referred to as a surgical nurse, a perioperative nurse provides patient care prior to beginning a surgery, during the procedure and immediately following the operation. According to Mayo Clinic, operating room nurses offer patients reassurance and comfort during their surgical experience, and they play a critical role in monitoring the health and progress of the patient during the procedure. In some cases, a surgical nurse provides the surgeon with supplies and tools needed during the operation. Generally speaking, a nurse needs to complete a BSN to become an OR nurse.
Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Registered Nurse
Post-anesthesia care unit nurses, often referred to as PACU nurses, work directly with patients in the moments immediately following a procedure in which anesthesia was administered. According to Nurse.org, PACU nurses need to be empathetic and detail-oriented individuals, as they are responsible for overseeing patient care as the patient wakes up from anesthesia. Some patients are disoriented or uncomfortable, so PACU nurses can provide them with ample reassurance and ensure that they have the medication they need. PACU nurses typically have a BSN and have acquired enough work experience to specialize in this area of nursing.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Registered Nurse
An intensive care unit (ICU) nurse is a skilled nursing professional who works in one of the most complex medical environments. In the ICU, patients are often battling serious illnesses, and some may be fighting for their lives. ICU nurses must be detail-oriented, attentive professionals who are ready to provide care at a moment's notice. ICU nurses have advanced nursing skills and the ability to effectively intubate patients and provide them with life-saving medication. ICU nurses usually have an ADN or BSN degree as well as significant professional experience that allows them to specialize in this area.
Trauma Registered Nurse
Trauma nurses are often ER nurses who specialize in providing critical care to patients who come into the emergency department. Trauma nurses work directly with patients who have been injured and whose wounds might be life-threatening. This nursing specialization works as part of the critical care team, and their role is often to ensure that the patient is stabilized so that they can receive the best possible care.
A cardiac care nurse is a specialized nurse who works exclusively with patients in the cardiac unit. Employed in either a hospital or clinic setting, cardiac nurses often care for patients that are managing heart disease, recovering from a heart attack or suffering from a chronic heart condition. Cardiac nurses typically evaluate patients, perform stress tests, monitor echocardiograms and provide patients with information and resources about improving their heart health. Cardiac care nurses tend to be RNs who have earned an ADN or BSN degree and with at least two years of professional experience in cardiac patient care.
Mental Health Nurse
Psychiatric nurse practitioners often work in the mental health sector, providing patients with personalized care when they are dealing with mental health disorders or psychiatric episodes. Psychiatric NPs are responsible for:
- Advocating for the patient and communicating with their families.
- Managing and treating mental health conditions.
- Developing holistic treatment plans that cater to the patient's individual needs.
A mental health nurse is a form of advanced practice nursing, so individuals interested in pursuing this specialization would need to earn a BSN in addition to an MSN.
Oncology nurses work with patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and are currently receiving treatment for cancer, or they work with patients who are at a high risk of developing cancer. The field of oncology can be particularly challenging, especially for nurses who often develop connections with their patients who are battling a life-threatening illness. However, many nurses feel that oncology is an incredibly rewarding specialty as well.
Oncology nurses are in high demand, particularly as the number of cancer diagnoses increase with each passing year. RNs with an ADN or BSN are able to become an oncology nurse by gaining more than 1,000 hours of contact experience with patients. They also can pursue a certification in oncology nursing, which requires 2,000 hours of oncology patient care.
Orthopedic nurses work with patients who are suffering from orthopedic injuries or musculoskeletal disorders. Orthopedic nurses work in a wide range of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. They are often responsible for casting patients, dressing wounds, providing pain medication to injured patients and assisting physicians during surgical procedures. Orthopedic nurses must complete an ADN or BSN degree program, earn experience as an RN and also earn a certification in orthopedic nursing to specialize in this field.
Pediatric nurses are specialized nurses who work directly with patients under the age of 18. Pediatric nurses may work in a clinical setting, where they see children who are sick or injured, or in a hospital setting. Pediatric nurses generally work closely with pediatricians to provide their young patients with comprehensive care, and they also serve as the direct line of communication between the healthcare facility and the patient's parents or guardians. Nurses can become specialized in pediatrics after earning an ADN or BSN degree.
Labor and Delivery Nurse
A labor and delivery nurse tends to work in a hospital setting, assisting patients who are in childbirth. Labor and delivery nurses have the benefit of working with their patients while they are in labor, during the delivery and during the immediate post-partum period. Each labor and delivery is unique, which means that L&D nurses need to be attentive and aware at all times. Complications can arise at a moment's notice, and in many cases, the lives of both the mother as well as the baby may be at stake. L&D nurses are responsible for monitoring the patient's and baby's vital signs, keeping the patient comfortable and assisting during the delivery. Oftentimes, the L&D nurse offers emotional support and compassionate care to the mother throughout the experience.
Nurse midwives are medical professionals who specialize in reproductive healthcare for women. In particular, nurse midwives work with women who are pregnant. Nurse midwives tend to serve as an alternative to OB/GYNs, and they specialize in providing holistic care for their patients. Nurse midwives care for their patients during prenatal appointments, throughout labor and delivery and during the postpartum period. To earn a certification in nurse midwifery, you would likely need to complete an MSN or doctoral degree program.
Neonatal ICU Nurse
The neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, is the unit of the hospital that cares for premature infants, babies with birth defects and newborns with chronic health conditions. NICU nurses are specialized medical professionals who have experience working directly with some of the most vulnerable patients in the hospital. NICU nurses provide direct patient care to these fragile infants as well as comfort and support to family members. You can become a NICU nurse after earning a BSN, working as an RN and pursuing a NICU certification program.
Geriatric nurses work primarily with elderly patients, not only providing them with care for any illnesses or ailments that they may have but also ensuring they have the resources needed for a high quality of life. The responsibilities of a geriatric nurse include:
- Administering medication.
- Training patients to help them stay independent and ensure they are enjoying a high quality of life.
- Providing patients with care for chronic illnesses or conditions.
- Monitoring for common signs of elder abuse.
You can specialize as a geriatric nurse after completing an ADN or BSN program, passing your NCLEX-RN exam and gaining experience caring for patients at their bedside.
Create a Plan for Your Nursing Career at University of the Cumberlands
At University of the Cumberlands, our associate degree in nursing is a skills-based program that prepares students for a career as an LPN or an RN. With a foundation in nursing, you can work to further specialize your career through certification or professional experience, allowing you to customize your career path and become the type of nurse you’ve always wanted to be.
Request more information about our nursing degree programs today.