Has a student ever asked you how to decide on a nursing specialty? Answering this question can be daunting unless you have a vast knowledge of all the available career options. But you don’t have to know everything about nursing specialties to introduce your students to them. Guide your students toward a nursing specialty they’ll love with these three strategies:
- Encourage your students to think about what they value most in their career.
- Show your students how to research career statistics for potential nursing specialties.
- Explore the latest developments in nursing and connect them to in-demand specialties.
Help Students Determine What They Value in Their Nursing Career
Before choosing a nursing specialty, students must understand their priorities to look for nursing specialties that match their preferences. One great way to begin a discussion with your class is by encouraging your students to think of their ideal nursing career—What is their main motivation? Do they want an exciting, fast-paced work environment? A higher salary? A flexible schedule? A job in a particular city or state? To help a specific population? After offering a few moments for thinking, have each student share their individual goals with the class. Work together to compile a list of things to consider when choosing a nursing specialty. Your discussion will generate ways that students can approach the nursing specialty options available to them.
Some examples: If an energetic workplace intrigues a student, they could investigate a nursing specialty in emergency care, intensive care, or flight nursing. A student searching for a higher-paying position could research nursing specialties with above-average salaries (one example is medical-surgical nursing). If a student is job-searching in a particular state or area, they would seek geographic information about in-demand nursing roles. If a student wants to work in maternity, they could read more about a specialty in labor and delivery, neonatal nursing, or midwifery. As your students begin to understand their own motivations for choosing nursing as a career, researching nursing specialties will help them make an informed decision.
Show Students How to Find the Career Outlook for Nursing Specialties
Your students should use trustworthy resources as they explore the career outlook for nursing specialties. Good starting points are:
- Accrediting bodies, such as The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- State boards of nursing and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and O*NET OnLine, which are both official websites of the United States Department of Labor
The U.S. BLS is a particularly well-known source of information about the healthcare industry and careers related to nursing specialties. By searching for an occupation and navigating to its page, you can read about its client population, job duties, job outlook, pay, schedule, work environment, and employment data by state and area. A curious student who looks up “registered nurses” can discover that:
- About 203,200 openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, from 2021 to 2031.1
- The 2021 median pay for registered nurses was $77,600/year.1
- In 2021, the highest-paid registered nurses worked in government roles ($85,970/year), hospitals ($78,070/year), residential care facilities ($72,420/year), and educational services ($61,780/year).1
- In 2022, the five states with the largest employment of registered nurses were California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania.2
The data from just a single career’s page can quickly become overwhelming for your students. Make the process more manageable by dividing the work—assign one occupation per student or a few occupations per group. Build a shared classroom resource by having your students enter their career information into a wiki, Google Sheet, Dropbox document, or another collaborative digital space. You might expand the scope of this activity by asking students to research innovations for nursing specialties of interest.
Explore the Latest Nursing Developments and Connect Them to Nursing Specialties
For students who are undecided about choosing a nursing specialty, it can help to get an idea of the career outlook and trends in the nursing field. Then, they can aim for in-demand nursing specialties. According to NurseJournal, identifying healthcare trends can help nurses prepare for innovation and change;3 Some of the latest innovations to consider include:
- An increase in NP-led practices
- A rise in virtual medicine
- Developments in wearable medical devices
- Growing technological changes
- More behavioral health and telehealth visits
- Reliance on travel nursing
Based on these trends, classroom discussion can connect field-wide trends to nursing specialties. For example, your class could discuss how a rise in virtual medicine/telehealth indicates career growth for health informatics nurses. Or how an emphasis on behavioral health might mean additional careers for psychiatric-mental health (PMH) nurses. You might discuss how the U.S. is experiencing a growing shortage of physicians, especially primary care physicians.3 This shortage has led to the expansion of advanced practice nurses’ scopes of practice, so students who would like to become family nurse practitioners should investigate the scope of practice for NPs in states they’re interested in. As your class discusses field-wide trends, some questions will inevitably arise. Remember, you don’t have to know it all. A breadth of online resources can help.
Resources to Use for Teaching Nursing Specialties
In addition to the resources named above, you can capture students’ attention with the following multimedia:
- UWorld Nursing on TikTok—Find comprehensive NCLEX review questions, tips, and relatable nursing school content.
- How to Choose a Nursing Specialty by Nurse Deo on YouTube—Nurse Deo, an internationally experienced RN nurse and creator, offers advice on choosing the right specialty.
- How to Choose the Best Nursing Specialties by HEYNURSEROCKY on YouTube—Nurse Rocky, RN, BSN, explains the factors leading to a decision: networking, research, goals, interests, willingness, and environment.
How to Address Students’ FAQs About Nurse Specialties
In order to guide students through the maze of options so they can make informed decisions about their professional paths, you need to be prepared with some basic information. This section is specifically crafted to help you answer some of the most frequently asked questions your students may have about different nursing specialties. With this information at your fingertips, you’ll be better equipped to illuminate the possibilities and inspire the next generation of nurses.
What are some possible nursing specialties?
A comprehensive list of nursing specialties is challenging to create, because the range of nursing specialties is as large as the variety of healthcare providers, client populations, and health conditions. Some possible nursing specialties include:
- Adult-gerontology nursing
- Case management
- Clinical research
- ER nursing
- Flight nursing
- Forensic nursing
- Infection control
- Intensive/critical care/ICU nursing
- Legal nurse consultant
- Medical-surgical (med-surg) nursing
- Mental health nursing
- Nurse anesthetist
- Nursing education
- OR nursing
- School nursing
- Trauma-intensive care nursing
What is the most common nurse specialty?
Common nurse specialties can vary according to geographic area and the field’s current needs. Forbes has generated a list of the top nursing specialties in 2023:4
- Clinical nurse specialist
- Flight nurse
- Informatics nurse
- Labor and delivery nurse
- Licensed practical/vocational nurse
- Neonatal nurse
- Nurse anesthetist
- Nurse midwife
- Nurse practitioner
- Oncology nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Public health nurse
- Registered nurse
What is the highest-paying nurse specialty?
Salaries for nurse specialties can also vary by geographic area, healthcare provider, certifications held, and more. To compare salaries for nurse specialties, you can consult free resources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale, and Salary.com.
Do you have advice for changing nurse specialties?
Although it might feel impossible to switch to a different nurse specialty, the process is more straightforward than many think. Some of the most important considerations are to know what specialty you’d like to switch to, learn as much as you can about what the specialty entails, network with nurses and professionals in your desired specialty, and acquire any additional certifications or experience that may be necessary.
These suggestions should help you to discuss nursing specialties with your nursing students. Ultimately, you’ll want to give your students the tools to make an informed decision about their specialty, which means considering their career values, accessing reliable research/statistics, and staying in tune with the field. Then, your students can confidently choose a nursing specialty that gives them the best chance for success.
- U.S. Department of Labor. (2022, September 8). Registered Nurses: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- U.S. Department of Labor. (2023, April 25). Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022. 29-1141 Registered Nurses. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- NurseJournal. (2023, March 23). Nurses Predict Nursing and Healthcare Trends for 2023.
- Forbes Advisor. (2023, May 2). 13 Nursing Specialties And Their Requirements.