Nursing Specialties from A to almost Z


There is a lot of evidence to support the pursuit of nursing as a profession. In addition to the 2.7 million nursing jobs, and this list of reasons nurses love the profession, the ability to pursue advanced training and specialize in a practice area of interest is highly valued. Whether a nurse pursues additional credentialing for professional development reasons, to earn a better salary, or because of a passion to gain subject matter expertise, the options are many.

The following A-Z list provides an overview of the many specialty avenues available for exploration. Who knows, perhaps you will find just the inspiration you need to point your nursing career in a new direction.

Ambulatory care nursing: Known as the jack-of-all-trades amongst nursing professionals, Ambulatory nurses evaluate patients quickly and administer care for patients with a variety of health concerns including acute illness, chronic disease, disability and end-of-life management. Nurses that specialize in this field can work in almost any setting from a university/community clinic to an ambulatory surgery & diagnostic procedure center. This specialty requires a broad knowledge of nursing and health sciences and includes provision of care across the lifespan. To become certified in this field nurses earn the credential RN-BC (Registered Nurse- Board Certified).

Behavioral health nursing: A specialty that promotes patient health through identification/prevention of mental health issues and treatment of individuals diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Certification in this field is characterized by the RN-BC credential.

Critical care nursing: Focuses on the care of the critically ill or unstable patients, including those responding to life-threatening situations. The Critical Care nurse typically works in an emergency department or intensive care unit. After finishing the certification process, nurses are awarded the CCRN certification. Although many people assume that CCRN stands for "Critical Care Registered Nurse," this is not the case. CCRN is strictly a registered service mark and a brand name and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses does not guarantee that certificate holders are currently registered nurses.  

Dvelopmental disabilities nursing: Nurses in this field focus on helping patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Nursing care emphasis is on the maintenance of health, development of skills and participation in community life. To become certified in this field, nurses earn the Certified Developmental Disabilities Nurse (CDDN) credential.

Emergency nursing: This field focuses on providing care for patients in critical or emergency need. Nurses must be able to recognize life-threatening complications and rapidly organize vital care. Nurses who are interested in becoming accredited in this field earn the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential.

Forensic nursing: Nurses in this field often act as liaisons between medical professionals and criminal justice officials. These nurses work with forensic evidence this could include sexual assault victims in the emergency room or providing testimony as an expert medical witness. Credentials in this field are Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners – with a specialty in adults and adolescents (SANE-A) and in pediatrics (SANE-P).   

Gastroenterology nursing: This specialty, also referred to as Endoscopy nursing, is comprised of nurses who provide health care for patients who are experiencing problems associated with the digestive system. Commonly reported ailments include abdominal pain, reflux, bleeding and some cancers. After completing the accreditation process nurses will earn the Certified Gastroenterology Registered Nurse (CGRN) designation.

Hospice/Palliative nursing: These nurses protect quality of life and coordinate care for the terminally ill.  They assume responsibility for managing complex symptoms and illnesses along with grief and bereavement. Care is provided in the home of the patient as possible. Accreditation in this field can be characterized by the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) credential.  

Intravenous therapy nursing: Also referred to as IV nursing, this specialty focuses on patients receiving IV therapy. This could include investigational drugs, medication, blood transfusions or any other treatment administered through an IV. Nurses who have received certification in this field are characterized by the Certified Registered Nurse Intravenous (CRNI) designation.

Legal nursing: This field focuses on using existing healthcare expertise to provide consultation on medical-related cases. Nurses may review medical records and provide an assistance understanding the terminology and subtleties of the healthcare field to clients and attorneys. Certification in the Legal nursing field is characterized by the Legal Nurse Consultant, Certified (LNCC) credential.     

Maternal-Child nursing: This field specializes in providing care and education to women throughout their pregnancy and childbirth. Nurses will also often help to educate mothers on care for their newborn. Accreditation in this field falls under the RN-BC designation. 

Nephrology nursing: This specialty involves the disease prevention and assessment of patients suffering from acute or chronic kidney failure. This field is quite broad and can include working in areas such as hemodialysis, organ recovery and transplant coordination. The Certified Nephrology Nurse (CNN) designation demonstrates certification in this field

Orthopedic nursing: This specialty is focused on the care of patients with musculoskeletal diseases. Nurses in this field educate individuals and families on self-care and provide support groups. Patient ailments can range from a fracture to a loss of bone density and require that nurses have special skills such as neurovascular status monitoring. Nurses who specialize in this field tend to receive the Orthopedic Nursing Certified (ONC) credential.

Public health nursing: While some nurses work one-on-one with patients, public health nurses focus on the health of entire communities. Public health nursing encompasses several programs that focus on providing preventative care and education to the public. Examples of public health issues include anti-smoking campaigns, safe sex initiatives, and healthy foods in schools. There are two professional certifications available for this specialty: Community Health Nursing, which is characterized by the RN-BC designation and the Advanced Public Health Nurse – Board Certified (APHN-BC) designation.

Quality improvement nursing: Nurses in this field focus on improving the quality of care being received by the patient. This can include improving patient safety, computer systems and pain management. Specialization in this field is recognized through the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) credential.

Rehabilitation nursing: This field specializes in the treatment of patients suffering from chronic illness or disabilities. It typically involved educating patients about how to adapt to their disabilities, reach their highest potential and work toward independent lives. The Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN) designation demonstrates specialization in this field.

Substance abuse nursing: nurses in this specialty provide care to patients that are suffering from an addiction to drugs, alcohol or other substances. These nurses help regulate medications and pain management for patients. Since the 1980s and the increase of illegal drug use there has been a high demand for substance abuse nurses.

Telemetry nursing: This specialty is for nurses that work with patients in need of electrocardiogram equipment – or heart monitors. Telemetry patients tend to have heart problems and are in need of close observation. Nurses may also administer medications, observe medical equipment and talk with the patient about any changes in their condition. Certification in this field is characterized by the Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN) credential.

Utilization review nursing: This specialty encompasses nurses reviewing individual medical cases to ensure that the patient is getting the most quality and cost-effective care. Nurses in this field, work to balance the needs of the patient with the need to reinforce policies, keep costs low and ensure the appropriate treatment for each patient's situation. Specialization in this field can be characterized by the Health Care Quality and Management (HCQM) certification.

Wound care nursing: This field is characterized by healthcare that promotes healthy wound recovery. This type of nursing is also a form of palliative care -care that focuses on end-of-life comfort by alleviating symptoms with medication that is not necessarily curative. The wound may heal despite the patient's long-term health. Nurses in this field can demonstrate specialization through the Certified Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurse (CWOCN) credential.

While specialty certification is a personal choice, advanced education can provide many rewards and benefits for the professional and patient alike. Find out more about credentialing opportunities and discover more reasons to consider advanced training on the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) website.

Have you completed or considered pursuing a specialty nursing certification program? Tell us about it and share your thoughts about why you think this is a smart career decision.

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