One of the first big decisions you will have to make about your career in nursing after getting your basic qualifications is how you want to specialize. This will determine the direction of your ongoing training. It will affect where you find yourself working, how much you earn, how your work affects you emotionally, and how you can put your natural talents to use. People often ask what the best field of nursing is, but the truth is that there’s no one career choice that beats all the others. What’s important is understanding the options out there and finding the best one for you.
Where do you want to work?
Even if you pursue your nursing studies online, as with the Baylor University DNP, which prepares BSN and MSN-qualified nurses to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice, your practical training will normally occur in a hospital. This does not mean, however, that you need to stay in one. Some nurses love the energy of a busy hospital environment and enjoy being part of a large team, and there’s no shortage of specialist options within this setting.
If you prefer to be somewhere smaller and quieter, however, you might choose to specialize in community nursing so that you can be based in a local clinic or in-home nursing, traveling to help your patients wherever they are. You can also choose between tailoring your skills to the needs of patients with specific types of illness and injury or moving into a field centered on elective treatments, such as cosmetic surgery nursing, enabling you to work in an elite clinic.
How much do you want to earn?
In general, nursing salaries reflect the amount of education needed to develop a particular specialty and the pressure involved in working in a specific environment. They’re also affected by the popularity of particular options. Anesthetist nurses require a high level of education and skill, working closely with doctors in the operating room, and are always in demand. Due to this, they consistently attract the highest wages. The next highest earners are neonatal nurses, who need to be extremely diligent and dedicated. Cardiac, orthopedic, and oncology nurses also receive high salaries. As you acquire more experience, however, your base salary will increase regardless of the specialty you’ve chosen.
How do you respond to stress?
Some people find high-pressure jobs exciting and stimulating. Others really need a gentler pace and lower risk exposure to thrive. In nursing, the most stressful jobs are in intensive care and the emergency department, where quick decision-making and action are necessary to preserve life and limb, and you never know what you’re going to get.
Neonatal care also involves a lot of pressure because of the patient’s vulnerability and how easily things can go wrong, but it can be intensely rewarding. Working in the operating room, specializing in oncology, or engaging in psychiatric nursing, where patients themselves can be experiencing tremendous stress, also offers high intensity and reward.
If you prefer a calmer life, however, there are still plenty of options, and you can still do very useful work. You could focus on knowledge production and distribution by specializing as a researcher, nurse educator, public health nurse, work in occupational health, or adopt an administrative specialty such as case management.
How do you fit in socially?
Different nursing specialties suit different styles of social interaction. If you’re a bit of a loner, then home nursing and midwifery are great options as they give you a chance to do a lot of work one to one with patients. Operating room nursing and research mean you’ll work with a very small team. If you feel that you have a natural talent for leadership, specializing in administration or research can be a good route to the top. However, some people prefer to work their way up through general practice nursing to develop the breadth of knowledge which will enable them to oversee multiple departments.
If you enjoy being part of a team, critical care nursing, cardiology, or respiratory nursing are great options, as they make it easy to find work within a large clinic or hospital. Oncology offers the opportunity to work in a team and get to know your patients, and a lot of them will be undergoing lengthy courses of treatment. Depending on your preferences, you can also choose to be around specific patient groups, for instance, by specializing in pediatric nursing, geriatric nursing, or working as a family nurse.
It’s not all or nothing
While you may still feel daunted at the thought of making this choice if you find yourself pulled in more than one direction, it’s worth remembering that your decision now is important but need not define your whole future. It’s common these days for nurses to have two or three specialties, and the intersectional knowledge that stems from that approach can prove extremely valuable. If the initial specialty you choose doesn’t work out for you, or if you simply find that you want to do something new after a few years, that’s okay – there will be other opportunities. Making a choice now is not a trap but the start of something new and exciting.
Developing a specialty will help you to build up much more impressive skills in your chosen area and to be much more helpful to your patients. As you’ll be spending a lot of time on it, you shouldn’t make your choice purely on a practical basis. Instead, you should try to choose an area you feel passionate about. This will make the work more satisfying and help you to apply yourself to it more effectively. There is always more to learn, so you can keep on developing and improving far into the future.