Specializing Your Nursing Career: The Complete List of Options and How to Succeed

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Nursing is an excellent career choice for those who want to care for others, those who are passionate about medicine and science, and for those who want to keep their choices open.

Nurses at the top rung of the ladder can take their specialty and work almost everywhere, which is another top reason to push behind your RN status and work towards becoming an APRN. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses are critical to the success of advanced care, policy-making, and healthcare as a whole. Although there is a massive shortage of RNs, there are many states that are pushing for at least 80% of the RN staff to hold BSN degrees. This BSN will enable every single RN the chance to advance further and specialize in an area of medicine that interests them the most.

Working towards your MSN will allow you to earn an average of $30,000 more than you did as an RN, and that’s across the board. Some specializations will allow you to earn over $150,000. Though there are some very high-paying nursing roles, you shouldn’t automatically aim for the option that pays the most.

Where you work, the work/life balance, the responsibilities, and also your own interests will come into play. Be true to yourself, and go through this complete list of options before choosing your specialization and starting your MSN.


Working Environments for High Level Nurses

High level nurses typically have a huge choice when it comes to where they work, especially Nurse Practitioners like FNP specialists who can cater to a large patient pool and are trained to take over many of the same responsibilities that a Primary Care Physician would.

The working environment you choose matters. It will play the biggest part in regards to your wage and your work/life balance.

1.      Hospitals

Almost all nursing roles can be done in hospitals, both big and small. Hospitals often have a nursing shortage to contend with, which is why they hire nurses by the day to fill in when one of their staff is away on vacation or off sick. You will have your biggest volume of patients and the widest range of challenges. It is great for those who want to be challenged and paid well.

2.      Clinics

With the exception of emergency clinics, nurses who work in these environments typically enjoy very steady 9-to-5 days and simpler workloads. They may only specialize in one thing or manage their own clinic as an FNP. Clinics are more numerous than hospitals, so if you want to work in a rural area or enjoy a slower, more balanced work-day, clinics are the perfect compromise for an FNP.

3.      Schools

Being a school nurse is a great job that allows you to work within education in a stable environment that also has the benefit of fixed, long holidays. Though the pay won’t be as high, and competition can be fierce, it’s a great job for those looking for a great work/life balance.

4.      In Education

Being a school nurse isn’t the only way that you can work in education. If you go beyond your MSN and FNP and work toward your Doctor or Nursing Practice, you could even work as a nurse educator and help train the many prospective students who will be critical to bolstering healthcare in the coming years.

5.      Satellite Clinics

Satellite clinics go where they are needed, and if your goal is to help the least fortunate and make a real difference in struggling communities, then satellite clinics are the perfect choice. They are often run by hospitals so that they can reach more patients than would otherwise never go through their doors.

6.      Traveling

The nursing shortage means that you can move and work at a moment’s notice fairly easily. So long as you are a nurse within the Nurse Licensure Compact, you can even move from state to state, and in some cases, can even take your nursing career abroad.

7.      Research Facilities

Nurses are needed in research facilities both for their expertise and to take care of patients who are undergoing trials or double-blind studies. Your work will be instrumental in improving the very face of medicine and care.

8.      Policy Making

Nurses take center stage when it comes to policy-making. They are, after all, the ones who deal with patients most. Therefore, nurses and FNPs are in the best position to advocate for better policies that will improve the quality of care across the state or country.

9.      Privately

Being a highly trained nurse can allow you to work in almost every private industry as an on-site physician. Work on a movie set and keep the actors, extras and stunt people safe and healthy. Work as the stand-by nurse next to a professional sports match and be right there when one of the athletes go down. This way, you can combine two passions with one, and often get paid well. The only difficulty is getting in, as they are very popular positions.  

Popular Nursing Specializations

Though this isn’t comprehensive, these are the biggest umbrella specializations that you can work towards in nursing. There will be similar umbrella roles for you to focus on and narrow down your research no matter where you work in healthcare; you just need to explore your options online and ask in person.

·         Nurse Practitioner

One of the most popular types of APRNs is the Nurse Practitioner. There are, of course, dozens of individual types of nursing within this specialization alone. The most popular and in-demand Nurse Practitioner, for example, is the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). Though FNP is the most popular, there are many other NP roles out there:  

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • Cardiac Nurse Practitioner
  • Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
  • Oncology Nurse Practitioner
  • And more

The Nurse Practitioner that arguably works to replace a doctor the most, however, is the FNP, who works to care for all types of patients and has the ability to diagnose, call for tests, and even write up prescriptions.

To become an FNP or another type of NP, you will want to complete a specialized MSN degree. This degree will get you ready for the role and for the exam, meaning you can jump right into your new role with minimal down-time.

·         Midwife Nurse

Midwife nurses are becoming increasingly popular as more expecting parents turn to the personal nature of a midwife over the sterile approach of a hospital. As a midwife, you can work out of the hospital or clinic or work for yourself and have your own patients. You will often be expected to head out and take house calls, and to help expecting mothers through every step of the way, including before inception if necessary. Some patients may want to have a home birth, others at the hospital. Regardless of their choice, your help will be desired.

·         Anesthetist Nurse

The APRN nurses that enjoy the highest pay is the Anesthetist nurse. Similar to how the surgeon is the one who makes the highest wage of all doctors, anesthetist nurses also make the highest wage (often around $150,000). Though that wage is nowhere near as high as the surgeons (around $550,000), it is a great income to take home, and it also gives you a wide berth of working environments (hospitals, clinics, dentists, etc.).


·         Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nurses are those that are on the floor or in ambulances and are trained to take care of physical wounds on the fly. They will work alongside doctors and provide essential support and aftercare for those who come in injured and wounded. This is not a role for everyone. You need to have a strong constitution, steady hands, and a focused mind.

·         Psychology Nurse

Nurses are also entering the world of mental health and for the betterment of all. By becoming a psychiatric nurse, you can help care for those in recovery facilities, addiction facilities, and beyond.

·         Nurse Director/Chief Nursing Officer

For those with a keen eye for leadership and business, there is no better role to work towards than that of the Chief Nursing Officer. There are many stepping stones. Unlike the other options in this list so far, you cannot just finish a degree and become the CNO. There are leadership degrees (a DNP, to be exact), but this doesn’t guarantee the position. You will need to work up the nursing management ladder, but with the right education, you can prove your skill at every opportunity.

·         Nurse Educator

A DNP degree also makes you eligible to work as a nurse educator. Train the next generation of nurses, either in-person or online. It is a critical job that will improve the quality of care everywhere. This role doesn’t pay as highly as the others, but you get that great professor working life in return. Think summers off. Think Christmas and Easter off. Enjoy a stable working environment and feel great about what you are doing because you are making a huge difference in everyone’s future.

Choose from these umbrella specializations, and explore the full list of roles within them. Only then will you have a good idea of what you want to do and what you will need to reach that dream.

Choosing Your Specialization

One of the biggest obstacles in making the right decision for your choices is simply awareness. Being aware of all the types of roles there are in healthcare, both specific roles and where you can work within that role, matters. It will make a huge difference in your future if you can confidently say that there is nowhere that you would rather be.

Work/Life Balance

APRNs typically make a very healthy wage, even at the lower end of the scale. As such, it is far more important that you enjoy the work/life balance of your chosen career. If you are geared towards challenges and love the thrill of a chaotic environment, working in the ER unit is ideal. If you long for consistency in your days and want to slow down, finding a clinic or other work environment is perfect.

Be honest with what you want out of your days. Some live for the challenge; others want to enjoy work while enjoying their personal lives more. There is no right or wrong, just what works best for you.


While well paid, it is true that certain roles will pay more. Moreover, where you work will also change your rate. If you want that money more than anything else, then try to find a good compromise. Not everyone suits being an Anesthetist nurse or Chief of Nursing, but there are many very high paying alternatives that can help you enjoy your workday while getting paid handsomely for your efforts.

Working Environment

Most nurses will have options as to where they work. FNP specialists often have the biggest set of options, as their care is more generalized and suit everywhere from clinics to hospitals, all the way to research and policy-making. There will be give and take (there always is), and not every role is suited for every working environment. Be aware of what types of institutions are hiring so you have a good understanding of where you can go with that qualification.


If your goal was to become a doctor, but the high costs of medical school put a damper, then another thing that you will want to look at are the responsibilities awarded to the APRN roles. FNP and Nurse Anesthetists will do the most “doctor” work. FNPs, in particular, have the greatest number of responsibilities. Anesthetists, on the other hand, work with doctors during surgery.

Being confident in your choice will help you stay committed to the effort it takes to become an FNP or any other type of nurse. Know your options, know what they entail, and jet towards your goal. You can get there in a few years, but to be the top, you’ll have to tackle learning and self-improvement on a regular basis. Strive to be the best, and you will be the best.

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