Nurses, Should You Specialize?

What does nursing specialization mean?

It was a common theme among my nursing school classmates — when asked why we wanted to be nurses, someone would always say they were attracted to the profession’s seemingly endless possibilities for practice. Nursing specialization opens up your career to so many choices for employment, from working with the elderly to researching new treatments for diseases.

With so many possibilities, it can be hard to narrow down your interests to one specific area of practice. Specializing in one or more areas of nursing practice provides tangible benefits, like higher income, coupled with more professional recognition and greater confidence in your skills.

What Does Nursing Specialization Mean?

When you specialize, you choose a specific nursing practice in which to further develop your knowledge and skill set. Specialization adds to your knowledge base beyond your primary nursing education and experience. It’s a way to enhance your knowledge about certain nursing topics or subspecialties.

Nursing specialization is also a way to distinguish yourself from your colleagues. Because many specialty certifications require hours of extra study and training, it’s a sign of your dedication to improving your nursing practice and the profession as a whole.

What are Some Areas of Specialization?

Many resources break down specialties into six general categories: community, emergency, family, long-term, management, and surgical. These six categories are further broken down into specific subspecialties—for example, when I worked in the operating room, there were several older nurses holding their CNOR (certified perioperative nurse) certification.

There are many other areas of specialization, such as:

  • Ambulatory care nurse
  • Burn care nurse
  • Cardiac care nurse
  • Correctional nursing
  • Dermatology nurse
  • Forensic nurse
  • Health informatics nurse
  • Medical-surgical nurse
  • Nurse educator
  • School nurse

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you’re working as a nurse in a specific area of practice, you can almost bet there’s a specialization program for it.

Why Should You Specialize?

Nurses specialize for many reasons. In some cases, specializing leads to promotions and a higher income. Specialization in an area of nursing care may also open the door to more employment opportunities.

According to Johnson and Johnson, 86% of nurse managers prefer hiring nurses who hold specialty certifications. Also, 97% of nurses say specializing makes them more confident in their clinical abilities, and another 90% believe that specialization enhances their credibility. 

How Can You get Started?

It’s fairly easy to get started on your specialization journey, although you may need some work experience before you can obtain your certificate. In general, you must be a Registered Nurse (RN) and hold a degree like an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN).

Further, you’ll need to have an active, unencumbered license—if there are any strikes against your license, you’ll need to resolve those issues before you can become certified in a specialty.

In many cases, specialty certifications also require that you complete a certain number of active clinical hours before pursuing any specialty education. You can easily complete this requirement simply by working; if you’re an OR nurse like I was, every day you show up to work is time counted toward your active clinical hours.

Nursing specialization is a great way to set yourself apart from colleagues while developing your skill set and knowledge base. Most healthcare facilities have resources to help you start the journey—be sure to check with your colleagues to see how you can get started.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialties, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice. With over nine years of clinical practice experience, her unique insights into the healthcare industry help her craft compelling content that targets both healthcare consumers and clinicians.


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