What Are the 4 Types of Advanced Practice Nurse Specialties?

Advanced practice nurse specialties include four primary types of providers, including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse specialists. Within nurse practitioners, there are multiple population specialties to choose from. How to become an advanced practice nurse consists of a 6-step process that starts with earning a BSN.

Nurse working with female patient

Do you have your sights set on expanding your nursing career? One of the best parts of earning your BSN is that you can do so much with it. You can even decide to take your education further and work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), choosing from one of several advanced practice nurse specialties.

After earning your BSN at an accelerated nursing program like the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Northeastern University, you may decide you want to continue your education with a master’s or doctorate degree. If you’re interested in expanding your job opportunities, honing a nursing specialty, and widening the scope of your patient care authority, consider becoming an advanced practice nurse.

An APRN retains all the rights and privileges of an RN as well as some normally handled by physicians. They have the ability to provide primary and specialty care, and in many states, they can write prescriptions. There are a variety of advanced practice roles available to nurses in just about any clinical specialty you want.

We’ll cover details about each of the four common advanced practice nurse specialties along with steps for how to become an advanced practice nurse.

Northeastern Charlotte ABSN Student, Ellen

Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a certified nurse practitioner (CNP) is one of the best ways to propel your nursing career for those who love seeing patients and who want to play a more active role in diagnosis and treatment. Nurse practitioners perform physicals, administer vaccinations, diagnose and treat acute illnesses and chronic conditions, analyze x-rays and lab tests, and provide healthcare information.

They have the legal authority to prescribe medications in all 50 states (with varying levels of physician involvement) and practice independently without doctor supervision in more than half the states, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2020, nurse practitioners make a median salary of $111,680 per year. Nurse practitioners have diverse options for what areas they can go into, as they can choose between numerous population specialties, including:

  • Family NP
  • Neonatal NP
  • Pediatric NP
  • Women’s Health NP
  • Psychiatric Mental Health NP
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP

These specialties are decided early when you’re applying for NP school. Nurse practitioner programs include general and specialized education, ensuring nurses spend sufficient time learning their particular NP specialty.

Northeastern University offers several master’s degree programs that prepare nurses for nurse practitioner certification. These include family, pediatric, adult-gerontology acute care, neonatal, and psychiatric mental health. Attending a top-quality university like Northeastern for your advanced degree will prepare you well for your career as a CNP.

Requirements for becoming a nurse practitioner:

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Nurse Anesthetist

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) administers anesthetics and provides pain management for patients undergoing surgical procedures. They also monitor anesthetized patients during surgery and treat any complications. Nurse anesthetists work in hospitals, surgery centers, outpatient medical clinics and physicians’ offices.

Being a CRNA is an incredibly lucrative field, so you can expect competitive compensation packages. According to the BLS using data from May 2020, the median annual wage for nurse anesthetists is $183,580.

If you enjoy working alongside other healthcare professions, and you like being in the surgical environment, becoming a CRNA may be a great career goal for you. Northeastern University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Nurse Anesthesia, which will prepare you for certification as a CRNA.

Requirements for becoming a nurse anesthetist:

  • BSN degree
  • Doctorate degree is the preferred degree for CRNAs
  • Experience in an acute care setting such as the ER or ICU
  • Pass the National Certification Exam for CRNAs

At Northeastern, you can start the path to becoming a CRNA by earning a BSN in our accelerated nursing program. For more information, reach out to an admissions counselor.


If you have a passion for women’s health or pregnancy care, becoming a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) can be one of the more rewarding advanced practice nurse specialties. Nurse-midwives make a median salary of $111,130 per year, according to BLS data from May 2020.

Nurse-midwives focus on women’s health, caring for women of all ages. They perform gynecological exams, prescribe medications including contraceptives, and order lab tests. They also provide prenatal and pregnancy care, deliver babies, and provide newborn care for women with low-risk pregnancies.

Nurse midwife visiting a patient at their home

Nurse-midwives work in hospitals, birthing centers, and private practices. Many nurse-midwives also serve as home birth attendants. Certified nurse-midwives are legally authorized to practice in every state, according to the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), and they are a vital member of the women’s healthcare team.

Requirements for becoming a nurse midwife:

  • BSN
  • Active RN license
  • Completion of a nurse-midwife program and a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing
  • Certification as a midwife, including passing the national certification exam

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) are educated to provide acute care, mental health services, and diagnose and treat conditions in a specific clinical field. They also develop quality assurance standards and serve on the faculty of nursing schools across the country.

Requirements for becoming a clinical nurse specialist:

  • BSN
  • MSN with a focus on a clinical nursing specialty
  • Pass the National Nurses Licensing Exam and the Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS) exam.

How to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse: 6 Steps

If you’re interested in pursuing an APRN career, it’s important to understand the process of how to get into the field successfully. It doesn’t need to be a complicated journey. Let’s walk through the six steps of how to become an advanced practice nurse:

1. Earn Your BSN

To get into an advanced nursing degree program, you’ll first need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, you can leverage that degree and enter an accelerated BSN program, like ours at Northeastern. At our ABSN program, you can earn a BSN in as few as 16 months through the hybrid curriculum at Northeastern.

Northeastern University ABSN student using computer

2. Get Experience as a Nurse

Once you graduate from nursing school, the next step is passing the NCLEX and getting licensed in your state. Now you’re ready to gain some real-world nursing experience. Before applying to APRN programs, you’ll want to have at least a few years of quality clinical experience, as this shows the programs you’re interested in that you are confident in your clinical skills.

3. Decide what Specialty to Pursue

While you’re working in the clinical environment, consider all your options for APRN practice, and decide which type of advanced practice nurse you want to become. You’ll need to decide whether to become a CNP, CRNA, CNM, or CNS. Then, if you decide to become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to decide on a population specialty, as you’ll apply to programs specific to the specialty you choose.

4. Apply for APRN Programs

Next, you’ll need to apply for master’s or doctorate programs for your specialty of choice. These programs can be competitive, so you should work to make yourself into a competitive candidate, and also remember to apply to multiple programs.

5. Graduate and Pass the Certification Exam

After getting accepted into your specialty-specific APRN program, you’ll shift to the school mindset again and focus on learning all you can about your area of practice. After graduation from an advanced nursing program, you’ll sit for a national certification exam specific to your specialty; passing this will enable you to become licensed in your state.

6. Start Working as an APRN

Finally, all the hard work has paid off, and you can start working as an advanced practice nurse in your specialty. Note that people often start applying for APRN jobs before graduation, and then they can get hired contingent upon their certification. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start the job search early, as this makes it possible to sometimes land a job before you even graduate.

Begin Your Journey Today

Are you ready to jump into one of the advanced practice nurse specialties? The first step is beginning your nursing journey by earning your BSN. At Northeastern University, we are here to support you every step of the way. Our ABSN program is renowned for providing a top-quality education in as few as 16 months.

Earn your BSN quickly - Northeastern ABSN student studying

Interested in how a hybrid accelerated nursing program works? Learn more about how an accelerated BSN program can help you earn your BSN sooner.

If you aspire to take your nursing career to the next level by pursuing an advanced practice nursing education, earning a BSN from Northeastern will set you up for success.

To learn more about how you can launch your nursing career at Northeastern, reach out to an admissions counselor today.

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