How to Choose a Nursing Specialty: Discover What’s Right for You

Each blog post is dated and contains accurate information as of that date. Certain information may have changed since the blog post publication date. If you would like to confirm the current accuracy of blog information, please visit our ABSN overview page or contact admissions at (866) 892-3819.

Wondering how to choose a nursing specialty? It can seem overwhelming because there are so many choices. Start by looking at the most popular nursing specialties, including in-demand specialties, and consider if any of them resonate with you. Additionally, consider your preferred work environment and individual strengths.

nurse with patient in hospital bed

A career in healthcare may be a good option for you if you’re dissatisfied with your current career pathway and looking for a change. Nursing can be a highly fulfilling and meaningful field, with many different nursing careers available to pursue. In fact, you can make the most of your nursing career by choosing a nursing specialty that best fits your interests and strengths.

You don’t have to choose a nursing specialty right away, of course. As you work through the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Northeastern University, you’ll gain exposure to some of the most popular nursing specialties, which can help inform your decision. Plus, you can get some smart tips on how to choose a nursing specialty below.

How to Know If Nursing Is Right for You

Before taking a look at some of the most in-demand nursing specialties and others to consider, it’s important to verify that nursing is truly the right career path for you. Consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you want a career that offers personal fulfillment?
  • Are you interested in making it your life’s work to help other people?
  • Are you fascinated by medical science and eager to learn more?
  • Do you work well with others in a collaborative environment?
  • Are you a lifelong learner?
  • Are you interested in a career that offers the potential for advancement?

If so, then nursing could be a great career for you.

Northeastern nursing student with sim manikin

What’s a Nursing Specialty?

Before diving into how to choose a nursing specialty, it’s helpful to know exactly what this term means. There are many areas of medicine, such as emergency medicine and pediatric medicine.

A nursing specialty refers to a specialization in a certain area of medicine, medical condition or patient population. There is a vast range of different nursing careers across these specializations, with too many specialties to list them all here. However, the following is a small sampling:

  • Labor and delivery nurse
  • Cardiac care nurse/cardiac cath lab nurse
  • Critical care nurse
  • Correctional nurse
  • Diabetes nurse
  • Dermatology nurse
  • Forensic nurse
  • Hospice nurse
  • Public health nurse

If you decide to pursue graduate-level nursing education and board certification, you’ll have additional nursing specialties available to pursue. At this level, an RN is referred to as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). An APRN may specialize in one of the following:

  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse practitioner (NP)
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

How to Choose a Nursing Specialty: 4 Actionable Tips

It’s nice to have choices available, but sometimes, too many choices can make decision-making challenging. It can be tough to know exactly which nursing specialty is the right one for you when there are so many options out there.

One thing that might help you decide is to know that it’s possible to switch nursing specialties later down the road.

Let’s say you started out in ER nursing but feel a bit burned out by the rapid pace after a few years. You don’t have to stay stuck in your first choice for the duration of your working life. Taking some relevant continuing education (CE) credits and perhaps earning a certification in another specialty area can allow you to transition.

nurse checking heart

1. Explore the Most Popular Nursing Specialties

Your first step in knowing how to choose a nursing specialty is to look at what’s available. You may want to explore some of the most popular nursing specialties in-depth to gain a general idea of what to expect in these different nursing careers.

Here are a few examples:

  • Critical care nursing: A critical care nurse provides nursing care to patients with life-threatening injuries and other critical health conditions. They set up infusions, administer medications and dress wounds.
  • Cardiac care nurse: A cardiac care nurse may work in an ICU, cardiology clinic or long-term care facility. They assist patients recovering from cardiac conditions and surgeries, use sophisticated medical devices and provide patient and family caregiver education.
  • Rehabilitation nurse: A rehab nurse specializes in working with patients who have a disability or chronic diseases. They develop care plans and discharge plans, coordinate care services and provide patient and family caregiver education.
  • Nurse educator: A nurse educator is a graduate-educated nurse with years of clinical experience who decides to step back into the classroom as an educator. Nurse educators educate and inspire the next generation of RNs.
Northeastern nursing students posing and smiling

Read more to learn more about the different types of nurses.

2. Consider the Best Nursing Specialties for New Grads

As you explore the possibilities out there, consider which of them might be best suited to a new graduate. There are no universal defining characteristics of the best nursing specialties for new grads, as different graduates will have different priorities. So, consider what’s most important to you.

For example, you might choose:

  • ICU, ER or critical care nursing if you want early exposure to a broad range of different patient populations, conditions and injuries.
  • Home health nursing if you want the opportunity to develop a strong rapport with your patients and the ability to work with the same patients over long periods of time.
  • Medical-surgical nursing if you want to gain experience in the operating room with an eye toward becoming a CRNA later in your career.

Although it’s not strictly a nursing specialty per se, travel nursing can also be a great choice for new graduates, as it allows you to experience a wide range of different healthcare environments, coworkers and geographical locations.

What is travel nursing? Read more to find out if it could be right for you.

3. Identify the Most In-Demand Nursing Specialties

While it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider, you might think about which nursing specialty is in high demand. This can indicate a strong job growth rate in the future.

A strong job growth rate, while not a guarantee of job security, may indicate that it’ll be easier to find a job in that area of nursing. Do note that the demand for different nursing specialties can vary according to geographical region, so do your research if this is a factor that’s important to you.

Some of the most in-demand nursing specialties are:

  • Home health nurse
  • Hospice nurse
  • Cardiac care nurse
  • Certified nurse midwife
  • Emergency nurse
  • Neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse
  • Oncology nurse
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner
Nurse giving child patient a band-aid

What else can you do with a BSN degree? Explore these 16 nursing specialties in demand.

4. Consider Your Personality and Passions

Ultimately, you want to choose a nursing specialty that you’re passionate about and will sustain your professional interest for years to come. Your chosen nursing specialty should also fit your strengths, preferred work environment and preferred model of care delivery.

Spend some time reflecting upon what makes you tick and which attributes of nursing you like to figure out which specialties could be a good fit. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Are you good at thinking on your feet? Try medical-surgical nursing.
  • Do you enjoy a rapid pace of work and a busy environment? Try ER nursing.
  • Do you have an outstanding bedside manner, great interpersonal skills and lots of empathy? Try labor and delivery nursing.
  • Do you enjoy forming rapport with patients over a long period of time? Try either behavioral health or home health nursing.
  • Are you great at providing emotional support to patients and family members? Do you have strong emotional resilience? Try hospice nursing.
  • Do you excel at research and have a desire to influence health on a community-wide scale? Try public health nursing.
northeastern student studying on laptop

Explore Different Nursing Careers at Northeastern

Now that you have a general idea of how to choose a nursing specialty, you might feel ready to get started working toward your new career.

Northeastern University makes a new career in nursing possible in less time than you’d think. If you have prior non-nursing college education, you may qualify for our ABSN program, which can allow you to graduate with a BSN in as few as 16 months.

Contact our admissions counselors today to get started. You'll be assigned to a dedicated counselor who will walk you through the admission process step by step, providing personalized guidance along the way. We look forward to welcoming you to the Northeastern learning community!

Get Your Free ABSN Program Guide

Our ABSN program guide includes everything you need to know about the accelerated path to nursing.

Northeastern University ABSN program guide