Types of Nursing Careers & Specialties 

Nurses are the heartbeat of health care. They tend to patients at the bedside, work collaboratively with other health care providers, and communicate important information to patients and their families to help ensure the best possible outcomes. 

The role of a nurse also varies widely—there are a number of career paths nurses can choose depending on their goals and passions. Some positions require more education and training. Others provide opportunities to work with unique patient populations. 

The following guide highlights the many types of nursing jobs and specialties available in the field. 

Notable Nursing Careers 

There are a variety of nursing career paths in the health care field. The requirements for education and training vary for each role, as well as the responsibilities and skills needed in that position. Here are some nursing career options for you to consider. 

 Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified nurse assistants (CNAs) are responsible for caring for patients in medical settings by assisting them with everyday tasks, such as eating and bathing. To become a CNA, individuals are expected to complete an approved training program and pass their state’s competency exam. CNA training programs are typically offered through community colleges, vocational schools, high schools, and health organizations like the Red Cross. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies CNAs as nursing assistants and their median salary as $29,660 as of May 2019. CNA roles are expected to grow 8%

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed practical nurses (LPN), sometimes also referred to as licensed vocational nurses (LVN), provide medical care to patients under the supervision of senior nursing staff. As an LPN gains experience, there may be opportunities to take on supervision responsibilities and manage other LPNs or CNAs. 

Common steps to become an LPN include: 

  • Earn a high school diploma or complete an equivalent education.
  • Go through a training program in preparation for the National Council Licensure Examination for LPNs. 
  • Pass a state-administered licensing test (only required in certain states) 

LPNs and LVNs earned an average of $47,480 as of May 2019 and roles are expected to grow by 9%, according to the BLS. 

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses (RN) are health care providers who have completed a nursing program and hold a nursing license. The role of an RN may vary depending on their work environment, level of experience, and the area of specialty in which they work. Generally, most RNs have clinical and administrative responsibilities.

Common steps to become an RN include: 

  • Complete an accredited nursing education program—RNs may either earn an associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in nursing from an accredited nursing school. 
  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN).
  • Become licensed in the state in which they wish to practice. 

RNs earn a median salary of $73,300 a year, according to the BLS, and roles are expected to grow by 7%.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who are responsible for administering general and local anesthesia, sedation, epidural, spinal and peripheral nerve blocks. CRNAs provide care in a variety of settings including medical centers, pain clinics and physicians’ offices. 

Common steps to become a CRNA include: 

Nurse anesthetists earn about $174,790 a year and are expected to grow by 17%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is another advanced practice role for nurses. In this role, nurses are responsible for applying their expertise to a specific patient population (e.g. adult acute care). CNSs often function as consultants to staff in a medical facility to ensure evidence-based practice and the best possible patient outcomes. 

Common steps to become a CNS include: 

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • Obtain a registered nursing (RN) license. 
  • Earn a master’s of nursing (MSN) degree. 
  • Apply to take the exam relevant to your specialty to earn your CNS certification. 
  • Apply for state CNS certification in the state in which you wish to practice.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse (RN) who has earned a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, as well as a license from an approved national licensing body. NPs are responsible for direct patient care, such as diagnosing and treating illnesses. They can also specialize in caring for specific patient populations, such as acute care, pediatric care and gerontology. 

Common steps to become a NP include: 

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Obtain a registered nursing (RN) license. 
  • Earn a master’s of nursing (MSN) degree or a doctoral degree. 
  • Pass the certification exam for your area of specialty. 

Nurse practitioners earn about $109,820 a year and are expected to grow by 52%, according to the BLS on nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners.

80+ Types of Nursing Careers and Specialties

Aesthetic/Cosmetic Nurse

Aesthetic and cosmetic nurses may administer noninvasive cosmetic treatments, such as anti-aging injections and filler, microdermabrasion or acne treatments, to adult populations.

  • Settings: Private Offices, Clinics, or Spas
  • Skills Needed: Experience working with board certified surgeons or primary care providers and an understanding of cosmetic medicine and skincare

Ambulatory Care Nurse

Ambulatory care nurses address acute and chronic illnesses, disabilities and end-of-life needs outside of a hospital setting, in collaboration with other health care professionals.

  • Settings: Outpatient Settings
  • Skills Needed: Ability to efficiently assess patients and skills in effective communication and collaboration

Burn Care Nurse

Nurses specializing in burn care provide treatment for patients who have experienced burn injuries, from caring for wounds to trauma assessment.

  • Settings: Trauma Centers, Intensive Care Units (ICU), Emergency Rooms (ER), or Burn Care Units
  • Skills Needed: Triage and trauma recovery and critical care support

Cardiac Nurse

Cardiac nurses are advanced practice registered nurses who work in collaboration with cardiologists and other providers to care for patients with acute and chronic heart conditions.

  • Settings: Hospitals, Long-Term Care or Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Skills Needed: Ability to diagnose, treat and manage cardiovascular conditions

Burn Care Nurse

Nurses specializing in burn care provide treatment for patients who have experienced burn injuries, from caring for wounds to trauma assessment.

  • Settings: Trauma Centers, Intensive Care Units (ICU), Emergency Rooms (ER), or Burn Care Units
  • Skills Needed: Triage and trauma recovery and critical care support

Cardiac Nurse

Cardiac nurses are advanced practice registered nurses who work in collaboration with cardiologists and other providers to care for patients with acute and chronic heart conditions.

  • Settings: Hospitals, Long-Term Care or Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Skills Needed: Ability to diagnose, treat and manage cardiovascular conditions

Charge Nurse

In addition to completing the typical duties of a registered nurse, charge nurses hold a supervisory role. This may include coordinating between nursing staff and physicians, delegating tasks and providing schedules.

  • Settings: Hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Provide guidance and leadership, monitor and chart information, and supervise staff members

Correctional Nurse

Correctional nurses work in jails, prisons and other correctional facilities, caring for patients experiencing incarceration.

  • Settings: Hospitals, Long-Term Care or Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Skills Needed: Ability to adhere to strict policies and a level of comfort working with vulnerable populations

Dermatology Nurse

Dermatology nurses help treat and care for patients with diseases, wounds, injuries and other skin conditions, as well as cosmetic concerns.

  • Settings: Private Practice Offices, Hospitals, Infusion Centers, Clinics, Plastic Surgeons’ Offices and Burn Centers
  • Skills Needed: Ability to provide care for patients pre- and post-surgery, treat skin conditions, and perform cosmetic procedures

Developmental Disability Nurse

Developmental disability nurses provide care to patients who have developmental and mental disabilities. Responsibilities include helping patients eat and teaching movement and language skills, as well as evaluating and monitoring their health.

  • Settings: Hospitals, Primary Care, Home Care, and Community Agencies
  • Skills Needed: Communication and interpersonal skills, ability to work in a team environment, and organizational skills

Diabetes Nurse

Diabetes nurses monitor and educate patients about their condition. Depending on their level of experience, these nurses may also aid in adjusting medications, providing nutritional and exercise plans, and offering behavioral and psychosocial counseling.

  • Settings: Hospitals, Physician Offices, Pharmacies, Patients’ Homes
  • Skills Needed: Interpersonal skills , ability to educate patient and family members, evaluating patient status, and developing personalized plans for patients

Domestic Violence Nurse

An offshoot of forensic nursing, domestic violence nurses take care of patients who have experienced domestic violence. RNs in this specialty are responsible for helping patients heal from physical and mental wounds.

  • Settings: Hospitals and Community Clinics
  • Skills Needed: Compassion, attention to detail, meticulous record-keeping, and ability to speak on record (e.g., court proceedings)

Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

Emergency room (ER) nurses are equipped to deal with patients with severe injuries, trauma and other unstable medical conditions.

  • Settings: Hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Ability to work with wide variety of illnesses and conditions, assessment skills, and ability to work in fast-paced environment

Enterostomy Nurse

Enterostomy nurses are RNs who care for patients with enterotomies, a procedure that creates an ostomy or stoma, which diverts the bowels. Responsibilities include educating patients and their families on proper home care.

  • Settings: Hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Anticipate the needs of a patient, collaborate with an interdisciplinary team, and provide direct care to patients

Fertility Nurse

Nurses working in this specialty area care for individuals and couples seeking counseling and treatment related to reproductive health. Job tasks include educating patients about their options, providing emotional support and teaching them how to administer treatments.

  • Settings: Fertility Clinics, Obstetrics/Gynecology Offices, Egg Donor Centers
  • Skills Needed: Interpersonal skills, conduct scans and blood tests, and perform physical examinations and assist with other procedures

Flight Nurse

Flight nurses are registered nurses trained to provide medical care as they transport patients by helicopter or airplane. This role involves working with other medical professionals like paramedics and physicians to ensure patients receive proper care during transit.

  • Settings: Emergency Settings During Transit
  • Skills Needed: Ability to work autonomously and stay calm in chaotic situations

Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses care for victims of crimes such as sexual assault, perform forensic exams, and may be called to testify in court on the findings from their examinations.

  • Settings: Hospitals, Jails and Prisons, Community Agencies
  • Skills Needed: Sensitivity to patients who have experienced trauma, ability to collect evidence correctly and efficiently, and level of comfort speaking under oath in courtroom settings

Gastroenterology Nurse

Gastroenterology nurses provide care for patients with gastrointestinal diseases of the stomach, esophagus or bowel. Conditions treated may include ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and abdominal injuries.

  • Settings: Hospitals and Other Medical Facilities
  • Skills Needed: Ability to administer medication, monitor vital signs during a procedure, and observe side effects and other issues following a procedure

Genetics Nurse

Registered nurses can gain additional training in genetics to care for patients who are affected by or at risk for conditions with a genetic component, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

  • Settings: Hospitals, genetics clinics, cancer centers, reproductive specialty centers
  • Skills Needed: Knowledge of genetic conditions and predispositions, interpersonal skills, and the ability to record detailed medical histories and other patient information

Health-Policy Nurse

This advocacy role includes researching and drafting legislation on a variety of health care issues. Nurses may work with patients, care providers, government officials and others while helping shape priorities and vision for nurses’ role in society.

  • Settings: Advocacy groups, hospitals, government agencies, research firms
  • Skills Needed: Analytical thinking, public speaking, time management, clear writing, and ease dealing with a variety of stakeholders

Hematology Nurse

Hematology nurses specialize in caring for patients with blood disorders or diseases. These include blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and conditions like hemophilia, sickle cell disease and anemia.

  • Settings: Hospitals, doctors’ offices and outpatient clinics
  • Skills Needed: Managing patient care, charting patient conditions, helping with treatment plans

HIV Nurse

HIV nurses care for people who are HIV-positive. They may work exclusively with these patients or care for them as part of their overall nursing duties.

  • Settings: Hospitals, outpatient clinics, public health centers, physicians’ offices
  • Skills Needed: Training and sensitivity to deal with people who may be marginalized and who are dealing with a condition that can carry a stigma in some cases

Holistic Nurse

Holistic means “healing the whole person.” Holistic nurses in this role incorporate complementary treatments, such as biofeedback, massages, reiki, reflexology, relaxation and lifestyle counseling.

  • Settings: Hospitals, private practices, academia, research institutes, long-term care facilities
  • Skills Needed: Training to shift from treating disease to promoting wellness and knowledge of alternative and complementary therapies

Home Health Nurse

Home health nurses provide care in the patient’s own home, usually for extended periods. Responsibilities include providing nursing care, physical therapy, dialysis services and more.

  • Settings: Private homes
  • Skills Needed: Patience, compassion, and independence

Hospice Nurse

A hospice nurse cares for people who are dying or have a limited life span. Roles can vary and may include admitting patients to hospice or caring for them until the end.

  • Settings: Hospice centers, nursing homes, hospitals or private homes
  • Skills Needed: Ability to meet the medical, emotional and spiritual needs of your patients as well as their loved ones

ICU Nurse

Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, also called critical care nurses, care for critically ill people, often after they’ve been stabilized in the emergency room. ICUs operate 24/7. This has one of the fastest job-growth prospects among all nursing specialties.

  • Settings: Hospitals, including major trauma hospitals, medical air transport
  • Skills Needed: Ability to make life-or-death decisions quickly and to handle pressure

Independent Nurse Contractor

This nurse works as a contractor, not an employee.

  • Settings: Hospitals, community clinics, private homes, schools
  • Skills Needed: Flexibility and knowledge to handle a wide variety of settings and types of patients

Infection Control Nurse

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Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, also called critical care nurses, care for critically ill people, often after they’ve been stabilized in the emergency room. ICUs operate 24/7. This has one of the fastest job-growth prospects among all nursing specialties.

  • Settings: Detailed oriented, research and analysis, and problem-solving
  • Skills Needed: Detailed oriented, research and analysis, and problem-solving

Informatics Nurse

This field melds nursing with data and analysis to find best practices in nursing. Informatics nurses may concentrate on improving patient care, operational efficiencies and other areas.

  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics
  • Skills Needed: Technical and data analysis, interpersonal skills, and understanding of medical economics

Infusion Nurse

Infusion nurses administer medication through an IV.

  • Settings: Hospitals, outpatient clinics and private homes
  • Skills Needed: Ability to care for a complex range of patients

International Nurse

International nurses travel and work outside their home countries.

  • Settings: Various places and settings around the world, including foreign hospitals, clinics or even private clients
  • Skills Needed: Culturally adaptable, foreign language skills

Labor and Delivery Nurse

A nurse specializing in this area cares for pregnant women during childbirth and immediately after delivery.

  • Settings: Hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Coaching women through delivery and educating new mothers about baby care

Lactation Consultant

Lactation consultants help new mothers breastfeed their babies and solve feeding problems. The role may also include conducting training seminars for expectant mothers.

  • Settings: Hospitals, private homes, doctors’ offices or classes
  • Skills Needed: Passion for breastfeeding and patience with new mothers and babies

A legal nurse consultant works with lawyers on medical lawsuits and other legal issues, including workers’ compensation claims, insurance fraud, malpractice cases, client interviews and trials.

  • Settings: Hospitals, law firms, insurance companies and government agencies
  • Skills Needed: Deep medical knowledge and research and writing skills

Long-Term Care Nurse

Long-term care nurses care for patients who need extended care. Responsibilities may include managing pain, giving medications, wound dressing, bathing and personal hygiene, and physical therapy.

  • Settings: Nursing homes, private homes, assisted living facilities
  • Skills Needed: Compassion and patience to care for medically fragile people

Managed Care Nurse

Managed care nurses care for people who are enrolled in government health programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, or in private health maintenance organizations. The role may include helping clients stay healthy, managing chronic illnesses, administering medications and ensuring cost-effective care.

  • Settings: Hospitals, telemedicine centers, health insurance companies
  • Skills Needed: Patient advocacy as the liaison between patients and doctors, hospitals and insurers.

Medical Surgical Nurse

Medical surgical nurses assist doctors in the operating room and coordinate post-surgery care with other care providers.

  • Settings: Hospitals, surgical clinics
  • Skills Needed: Ability to handle fast-paced medical situations

Military Nurse

In this role, a nurse works as a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense.

  • Settings: Veterans’ hospitals, military bases around the globe, military ships and battlefields
  • Skills Needed: Flexibility, adaptability, and a sense of adventure

Missionary Nurse

In affiliation with a Christian or other religious organization, missionary nurses care for underserved people around the world. Tasks may include caring for diseases, giving vaccines, providing safe drinking water and teaching infection control.

  • Settings: Cities and towns around the world, typically in developing countries and sites of manmade or natural disasters
  • Skills Needed: Commitment to your sponsoring group’s religious or spiritual mission, cultural sensitivity, and adaptability to work in less-than-ideal settings

Nephrology Nurse

Nephrology nurses care for patients with kidney diseases, including kidney failure.

  • Settings: Hospitals, dialysis centers, health clinics and private homes
  • Skills Needed: Advocacy for your patient’s health and passion for education

Neuroscience Nurse

Neuroscience nurses in this specialty are trained to care for patients with disorders of the brain and the central nervous system. This includes helping with wound care, neurological exams, rehabilitation and daily activities.

  • Settings: Hospitals, research institutes, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and outpatient clinics
  • Skills Needed: Passion for helping and educating people who are living with serious disabilities

NICU Nurse

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses care for infants who are born too early or with critical health issues, such as birth defects.

  • Settings: Hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Emotional resilience to help families care for ill infants

Nurse Administrator

This role may be called nurse director or clinical nursing manager. It refers to a nurse who is responsible for running the nursing department of a hospital, nursing home or other health care facility. A nurse administrator may draft budgets and schedules, evaluate employee performances and recruit new employees.

  • Settings: Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted living centers
  • Skills Needed: Management skills to provide effective direction for their departments

Nurse Advocate

Nurses in this advocacy role defend the rights and interests of clients who can’t advocate for themselves and help them make informed decisions. They serve as a conduit between patients and doctors and the rest of the health care system. They also may facilitate discussions with the client’s family.

  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices and private homes. They also can work independently as a private nurse advocate.
  • Skills Needed: Passion for helping patients make the best decisions about their medical care and honoring their wishes

Nurse Advocate

Nurses in this advocacy role defend the rights and interests of clients who can’t advocate for themselves and help them make informed decisions. They serve as a conduit between patients and doctors and the rest of the health care system. They also may facilitate discussions with the client’s family.

  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices and private homes. They also can work independently as a private nurse advocate.
  • Skills Needed: Passion for helping patients make the best decisions about their medical care and honoring their wishes

Nurse Attorney

A nurse attorney is licensed to practice both nursing and law. Responsibilities include handling legal issues related to health care, such as insurance claims and malpractice cases, or working on legal journals and regulatory matters.

  • Settings: Courts, hospitals, insurance companies
  • Skills Needed: Research, writing, speaking and interpersonal skills and attention to detail

Nurse Care Coordinator

The main job of a nurse care coordinator is to oversee the overall medical treatment for patients to ensure that they get the optimal, most efficient care. They are liaisons among various doctors, hospital administrators, insurers and family members.

  • Settings: Hospitals, long-term care facilities, home health care agencies and psychiatric centers
  • Skills Needed: Ability to multitask, passion for evidence-based medicine, and interpersonal skills

Nurse Case Manager

Nurse case managers are registered nurses who coordinate care and advocates for patients. This role requires both medical expertise and management skills and includes dealing with doctors, insurers and family members.

  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, community health centers, hospice
  • Skills Needed: Ability to juggle multiple demands and stakeholders, deep knowledge of best medical care practices, and interpersonal skills

Nurse Entrepreneur

Some nurses parlay their nursing training into working for themselves. They can work on their own or, in some states, open their own practices.

  • Settings: Home or business, hospitals and clinics
  • Skills Needed: Self-starter, business and marketing savvy, and managerial experience

Nurse Executive

This board-certified job is voluntary. A nurse executive is responsible for a group of nurses or other employees, as well as daily operations and long-term strategies.

  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities, clinics and hospice
  • Skills Needed: Personnel management expertise, detailed oriented, and ability to handle fast-paced changes and challenges

Nurse Health Coach

A nurse health coach works one-on-one or in groups with clients to promote their health and healthy habits. This can be done in person, online or by phone and does not require expertise on any subject matter; the important skill for this role is to motivate people to live to their full potential.

  • Settings: Clinics, hospitals, offices and homes
  • Skills Needed: Ability to influence and educate clients to achieve their health goals

Nurse Manager

This is a leadership position. A nurse manager is typically in charge of a nursing unit and works in tandem with doctors and administrators.

  • Settings: Hospitals, long-term care facilities
  • Skills Needed: Management and personnel skills, administrative tasks, and strategic thinking

Nurse Writer

In this role, nurses write about nursing for a variety of platforms, including books, newspapers, blogs and television. They can work for an industry group or hospitals or as freelance writers.

  • Settings: Home, publication offices, hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Deep knowledge of nursing, literary skills, and research and interviewing

Obstetrics Nurse

Sometimes also called an OB/GYN nurse, obstetrics nurses care for women during their pregnancy, labor and delivery, as well as with reproductive issues. They also care for newborns for the first few days of their lives.

  • Settings: Hospitals, health clinics, urgent care centers, midwife practices
  • Skills Needed: Compassion, organization skills, emotional stability, and coaching skills

Occupational Nurse

Occupational nurses work with employees on workplace and environmental safety issues. Injury prevention is a key focus. They help handle accidents, workers’ compensation claims and ensuring a healthy workplace.

  • Settings: Big and large employers, including manufacturing plants, hospitals, government agencies and offices
  • Skills Needed: Crisis management, counseling, and familiarity with regulatory matters

Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses help treat patients who have cancer. They can be certified or specialized in certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer, pediatric cancer, and blood and bone marrow transplant.

  • Settings: Hospitals, cancer clinics, doctors’ offices, public health centers
  • Skills Needed: Empathy to help people who may have life-threatening cancer and advocacy skills to help patients navigate their treatment options

Operating Room Nurse

Also called a perioperative nurse, an operating room nurse works with surgeons to care for patients before, during and after their operations. This is one of the most in-demand nursing specialties.

  • Settings: Hospitals, outpatient surgery clinics
  • Skills Needed: Calm nerves under intense pressure and precision techniques

Ophthalmic Nurse

These registered nurses are eye-care specialists. They work with ophthalmologists to help diagnose and treat eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. They may assist with eye surgery.

  • Settings: Eye clinics, hospitals, public health centers, schools
  • Skills Needed: Advanced knowledge of ocular diseases and ability to handle complex cases

Otorhinolaryngology Nurse/ENT Nurse

This is also called an ear, nose, throat (ENT) nurse. In this role, nurses care for patients with diseases and conditions that affect those areas, including hearing loss, throat cancer and loss of sense of smell.

  • Settings: Hospitals, doctors’ offices, community health centers
  • Skills Needed: Versatility to handle different types of patients

Pain Management Nurse

Nurses in this specialty practice care for people with acute and chronic pain and advocate for best treatment practices. This includes medications for managing pain, preventing dependence or addiction to narcotics, and helping patients with their underlying conditions.

  • Settings: Hospitals, surgical centers, hospice, home health, intensive care units, maternity wards
  • Skills Needed: Sensitivity and patience to work with patients who live with constant pain

Palliative Care Nurse

In this role, nurses care for seriously ill people, focusing on easing their symptoms and discomfort rather than treating the underlying condition. Unlike hospice nursing, palliative nursing isn’t limited to end-of-life care.

  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, hospice, private homes
  • Skills Needed: Ability to tend to the patient’s physical, emotional and mental health

Parish Nurse

A parish nurse may also be called a faith community nurse. It refers to a registered nurse who combines medical care with spiritual care. Though the term “parish” is used in Christian denominations, faith-based nurses can represent Islam, Judaism and other religions.

  • Settings: Homes, mosques, synagogues, churches, hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Spiritual calling, compassion, and commitment to whole-person healing

Pediatric Nurse

A pediatric nurse cares for children from birth until usually age 21. Responsibilities include tracking patients’ developmental milestones, including puberty, giving vaccinations, and handling illnesses and diseases they may get. Further specializations, such as in cancer care for children, are possible.

  • Settings: Hospitals, doctors’ offices, public health clinics, schools
  • Skills Needed: Rapport with children, compassion, and listening skills

Perianesthesia Nurse

This job specializes in caring for patients who are about to be sedated or just waking up from sedation. A perianesthesia nurse may help manage pain related to surgery or an invasive procedure such as a colonoscopy.

  • Settings: Hospitals, emergency rooms, outpatient surgery centers
  • Skills Needed: Ability to handle complex patients, including victims of accidents or other traum, compassion, and coaching skills to help patients through recovery

Perinatal Nurse

Perinatal nurses care for women who are trying to get pregnant, are currently pregnant or recently gave birth. They track fetal health, educate about prenatal nutrition, help during delivery, and handle postpartum depression and issues related to pregnancy and childbirth.

  • Settings: Hospitals, private homes
  • Skills Needed: Communication skills to help educate would-be and new mothers

Plastic Surgery Nurse

Nurses in this specialty role work with surgeons who repair, reconstruct or replace physical features. Cases can range from skin grafts for burn victims to liposuction to facial filler injections and wound recovery.

  • Settings: Hospitals, cosmetic surgery centers
  • Skills Needed: Calm demeanor, sensitivity, nonjudgmental, and current on latest surgical advances

Postpartum Nurse

Postpartum means after the delivery of a baby. These nurses care for newborns and their mothers in the period following childbirth. They may encounter medical issues like postpartum bleeding, problems with breastfeeding and postpartum depression. These nurses can opt to earn specific certifications, such as for maternal newborn nursing.

  • Settings: Hospital maternity wards, OB/GYN clinics
  • Skills Needed: Compassion and caring and passion for babies and mothers

Preoperative Nurse

Preoperative is the first of the three stages for surgery: before, during and after. Preoperative nurses help prepare patients for their procedures, including taking medical history, physical exam and screening tests, and getting them ready for the operating room.

  • Settings: Hospitals, day surgery clinics
  • Skills Needed: Ability to calm anxious patients, multitasking, and attention to detail

Psychiatric Nurse

Nurses specializing in this area help assess the mental health of individuals, families and groups. They may evaluate their condition and help draft a treatment plan. Some people who have advanced practice registered nurse degrees can diagnose mental conditions and treat patients.

  • Settings: Hospitals, emergency rooms, skilled nursing centers
  • Skills Needed: Ability to handle unpredictable situations, compassion, and listening skills

Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses focus on the well-being of entire communities, not just individuals. These nurses may work on issues like promoting vaccinations, safe sex practices or reducing rates of diabetes or other chronic conditions.

  • Settings: Public health agencies, government, nonprofit advocacy groups, research institutes
  • Skills Needed: Data analysis and research and communication skills

Quality Improvement Nurse

This is a data-driven specialty that looks for systemic ways to improve patient care quality. These nurses may, for example, help write protocols to lower infection rates or reduce complications for surgical patients.

  • Settings: Hospitals, health clinics, universities, skilled-care facilities, research institutes
  • Skills Needed: Data literacy, research skills, and writing ability

Radiology Nurse

Also called a medical imaging nurse, this nurse works with radiologists—doctors who use X-rays, ultrasounds and other imaging tests to take pictures of the inside of the body.

  • Settings: Hospitals, doctors’ offices, outpatient surgery clinics, public health centers, cancer treatment centers
  • Skills Needed: Independence and ability to handle a wide variety of patients and fast-paced work

Rehabilitation Nurse

A rehabilitation nurse helps patients with a disability or a long-term condition to manage their lives to their best ability. This nurse may teach stroke patients how to speak or eat, oversee exercises, and tend to their mental and emotional needs.

  • Settings: Hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, private homes
  • Skills Needed: This role requires being a teacher, coach, advocate and collaborator

Research Nurse

Nurses specializing in this area help with clinical trials, which study unproven drugs and other treatments on humans.

  • Settings: Research hospitals and universities, government agencies
  • Skills Needed: Research, data analytics, report-writing, and medical record-keeping

Rheumatology Nurse

This nurse specializes in caring for people with rheumatic diseases, such as arthritis and other conditions that inflame and affect the tendons, ligaments and joints. Part of the job involves administering biologic drugs through an IV or with an injection.

  • Settings: Hospitals, physician practices, specialty care clinics
  • Skills Needed: Infusion skills and patient education and advocacy

Rural Nurse

Serving people who live in remote or isolated communities with limited access to health services, a rural nurse’s practice will cover the full spectrum of medical care, from emergencies to pregnancies to managing chronic conditions.

  • Settings: Hospitals and clinics in towns far from major medical centers
  • Skills Needed: Independent, wide range of medical knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to handle changes and demands

Rheumatology Nurse

This nurse specializes in caring for people with rheumatic diseases, such as arthritis and other conditions that inflame and affect the tendons, ligaments and joints. Part of the job involves administering biologic drugs through an IV or with an injection.

  • Settings: Hospitals, physician practices, specialty care clinics
  • Skills Needed: Infusion skills and patient education and advocacy

School Nurse

School nurses tend to the medical needs of students of all ages. They care for medical needs as well as address behavioral and emotional conditions that can hurt students’ ability to learn. Responsibilities may also include counseling students about pregnancy prevention, checking for vision or hearing problems, or tracking vaccinations.

  • Settings: Inside schools and on college campuses
  • Skills Needed: Ability to establish trust with young people, patience, and open-mindedness

Subacute Nurse

Subacute care is less intensive than acute care, and it usually takes more time. This specialty nurse may work with people who need help with feeding or breathing, or occupational and physical therapy.

  • Settings: Hospital units, free-standing clinics, skilled care homes and private residences
  • Skills Needed: Patience and empathy

Substance Abuse Nurse

This is a challenging role that helps people who have dependence or addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Responsibilities may include providing treatment, counseling and support to patients trying to recover from substance abuse. Pain management is an important part of this specialty.

  • Settings: Drug treatment clinics, hospitals, public health clinics, private homes
  • Skills Needed: Dedication, persistence, sensitivity, and empathy

Telemetry Nurse

A telemetry nurse is trained to operate an electrocardiogram and other equipment to monitor a patient’s vital signs. This role includes analyzing oxygen levels, heart rhythms and other data gathered by technicians to assess a patient’s health.

  • Settings: Hospital intensive care units and medical clinics
  • Skills Needed: Ability to switch from hectic to slow pace of work and attention to detail

Telephone Triage Nurse

This job involves answering calls from patients to evaluate their symptoms and advise them on next steps via phone or video chat. A telephone triage nurse may offer patients home treatment options or direct them to a doctor or the hospital.

  • Settings: Hospitals, clinics, call centers operated by insurers
  • Skills Needed: Excellent communication skills, ease with technology, and broad medical knowledge

Telemetry Nurse

A telemetry nurse is trained to operate an electrocardiogram and other equipment to monitor a patient’s vital signs. This role includes analyzing oxygen levels, heart rhythms and other data gathered by technicians to assess a patient’s health.

  • Settings: Hospital intensive care units and medical clinics
  • Skills Needed: Ability to switch from hectic to slow pace of work and attention to detail

Toxicology Nurse

A toxicology nurse diagnoses, advises and treats people who have overdosed or been exposed to poison, alcohol, drugs, snake venom and other dangerous substances.

  • Settings: Hospitals, call centers, community health centers, government hotlines
  • Skills Needed: Deep knowledge of toxicology, decisiveness, and ability to handle stress

Transcultural Nurse

A transcultural nurse serves as an advocate to ensure the best health care for people from different cultural backgrounds. This population may include people who speak different languages, follow different medical customs or have backgrounds that may make them vulnerable to discrimination or substandard care.

  • Settings: Hospitals, community health clinics and doctors’ offices
  • Skills Needed: Proficiency in a foreign language, respect for different customs and beliefs

Transplant Nurse

Transplant nurses are equipped to care for donors and recipients of solid organs or other types of transplant surgery. Patients may receive heart, kidneys, liver, cornea and other organs and tissue. These nurses may prepare donors and assist surgeons during the transplant.

  • Settings: Major transplant hospitals
  • Skills Needed: Ability to handle high pressure and comfort working with critically ill patients

Trauma Nurse

The main job of a trauma nurse is to help stabilize and treat victims of trauma, such as from gunshots, auto accidents, falls or domestic assault. Duties include helping assess the patient, giving them blood through an IV or breathing help, and preparing them for surgery if necessary.

  • Settings: Hospital emergency rooms, medical evacuation transport
  • Skills Needed: Sensitivity, dedication, passion, and ability to bounce back from each patient

Travel Nurse

This is a temporary nurse who works around the country. Assignments may last weeks or months, sometimes to fill a shortage in a specialty area such as pediatric oncology. Nurses in this field may also travel to cities with widespread disease outbreak, such as the coronavirus pandemic, or a natural disaster.

  • Settings: Travel nurse staffing agencies. Clients are usually hospitals.
  • Skills Needed: Appetite for travel, adaptability in different settings, and quick study

Urology Nurse

These nurses work with urologists to treat diseases involving the urinary system, including prostate cancer, kidney stones and urinary tract infections. They conduct routine exams, give medications and counsel patients on how to manage their condition.

  • Settings: Hospitals, urology practices, public health centers
  • Skills Needed: Adaptability to work with many different types of patients and ability to talk to people about sensitive topics

Wound Care Nurse

The primary role of this nurse is to care for patients with both acute and long-term wounds. A wound care nurse may treat the wounds to promote healing, educate people about how to prevent ulcers and infections, and assess how to speed up recovery.

  • Settings: Nursing homes or long-term care centers, hospice, hospitals, private homes
  • Skills Needed: Compassion, patience, and ability to care for patients with intimate tasks

Nursing Career Guide – A Quick Overview

Nursing can be challenging but rewarding work. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether it is the right career for you. The following information can help as a guide to gauging your interest in becoming a nurse. 

Should I become a nurse?

The need for more nurses in the health care field is an urgent issue. According to a fact sheet from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the aging baby boomer population, who increasingly require more health care services, paired with a large segment of the nursing workforce that is nearing retirement, are two major factors in the demand for new nurses. 

However, a positive job market outlook is not the only reason you might consider a certain career. It’s important to additionally analyze the benefits and challenges of being a nurse to make sure it will be a good fit for you.

Benefits

There are many benefits to choosing a career in nursing: 

  • Ability to specialize – through education and training, there is potential for nurses to specialize in areas of care that they are passionate about. For example, adventurous individuals who want to help wherever they are needed may consider becoming a travel nurse
  • Room for growth – Through education and training, it is possible to advance your nursing career. For example, a registered nurse may decide to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to become a nurse practitioner, a position that may grant more autonomy and added responsibility. 
  • Make a difference – Working in health care allows individuals to impact the lives of many. While it can be a challenging career, nursing is a job that allows individuals to help others on a daily basis.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing Career

Before pursuing a nursing career, it is important to do your due diligence in planning your path. There are many things to consider, including your personal goals, the demand for your specialty of choice, location and salary projections. Researching these factors can help determine which type of health care position will work best for you and your life. 

Goals

Ask yourself what type of nursing career you want. Is there a particular setting in which you want to work, such as a hospital or a doctor’s office? Is there a specific population you’d like to treat? Understanding your goals can help you decide which nursing degree can help you achieve them. 

Demand

It’s also critical to understand the job market outlook for the type of nursing that interests you. Doing so can help in the process of finding a position, maintaining that role, and advancing in the future. For example, based on recommendations set by the National Academy of Medicine, there is an increased focus on registered nurses earning a bachelor’s degree. Registered nurse roles are expected to grow 7% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Individuals considering a career as an RN should take that into consideration when choosing their education path in order to meet the requirements of potential employers. 

Location

Where you plan to practice as a nurse is also an important factor to consider. In addition to varying demand for nurses in each community, licensure requirements for nursing can also differ by state. Prospective nurses should have in mind their desired location for work and be prepared to take additional steps if they plan to move during the span of their career. 

Salary

Before a nurse chooses a career, they should also be aware of the salary expectation that a role demands and understand the growth potential of that career going forward. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) National Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median salary in 2019 for the following nursing jobs was as follows: 

  • Nursing Assistant – $30,720
  • Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse – $48,500
  • Registered Nurse – $77,460
  • Nurse Practitioners – $111,840
  • Nurse Anesthetists – $181,040
  • Nurse Midwives – $108,810

It’s important to note that nurse salaries may also vary based on an individual’s additional certifications, where they work, and other factors. 

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Alternate Nursing Careers 

One of the benefits of a career in nursing is that it offers a variety of job opportunities, allowing nursing professionals to pivot in their career as needed. This includes alternative nursing careers that do not take place at the bedside. Whether you’re beginning your career straight out of nursing school, or you’re a seasoned professional looking for a change, there are some alternative nursing roles to consider.

Examples of alternative nursing careers include: 

  • School nurse – The role of a school nurse is to provide health care services for students, such as administering medication to individuals with chronic conditions, as well as advocating for the health of the community they serve. School nurses can help to lead health initiatives and provide guidance to the school to impact student health. 
  • Public health nurse – Public health nursing is a specialty that combines a nurse’s clinical health education with public health knowledge to address population health issues with a focus on prevention. Responsibilities may include advocacy, policy development and community planning. 
  • Clinical nurse educator – Clinical nurse educators are responsible for teaching new nurses in the clinical setting. This role involves developing educational programs and working with nursing staff to resolve clinical issues. Leadership and organizational skills are helpful traits for nurses working in this role. 

What additional health care careers are available?

Whether you are considering entering the nursing field, or have an existing background in the profession, it can be beneficial to explore alternative health care careers to find opportunities that match your interests and passions. Health care is an ever-changing field, and there are many jobs that may be fitting for someone with nursing knowledge. Because changing your career path may involve additional training and education, it can be helpful to keep an open mind and explore health care broadly. 

Examples of alternative health care careers include: 

  • Healthcare administration – Professionals working in healthcare administration are responsible for planning, directing and coordinating health services. Depending on the role, they may be responsible for an entire facility, a department or a medical practice of health care providers. These positions require individuals to keep up with health care policy and regulations, as well as best practices for medical care. Healthcare administration professionals may hold a master’s degree in healthcare administration
  • Health care informatics – There are multiple roles in the medical field that involve health care informatics. These professionals bridge the gap between information technology (IT) and health care to ensure technology used in the medical setting works and is beneficial to patients. If you are interested in technology and its impact on patient care, this area may be of interest. Health care informatics professionals may benefit from earning a master’s degree in health care informatics

FAQs

What is a nurse?

A nurse is a licensed health care professional at the forefront of the patient experience, providing bedside care throughout an individual’s treatment at a health care facility. Depending on their area of specialty, they take on a variety of clinical roles. 

How many hours do nurses typically work?

The work hours of a nurse will depend on their work environment and specific role. Nurses who work in hospitals may work longer shifts during days, nights and weekends, as patients require care at all hours of the day. Nurses who work in a physician’s office are more likely to work normal business hours. 

How do I get into nursing school?

There are several requirements a student must meet in order to get into nursing school. Individuals who are recent high school graduates should check with a school to see what their standards are for test scores and GPA.

What is a nursing certification?

The American Board of Nursing Specialties’ definition of nursing certification is “the formal recognition of the specialized knowledge, skills, and experience demonstrated by the achievement of standards identified by a nursing specialty to promote optimal health outcomes.” By earning certification and continuing to renew that certification, a nurse ensures that they are up to date on the information they need to know to provide the best possible care for patients. 

What traits should a nurse have?

According to the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook on RNs Occupational Outlook Handbook, possessing the following core qualities may help an individual thrive in a nursing career: 

  • Communication 
  • Critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Compassion
  • Organizational skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Emotional stability 

What do nurses do?

The role of a nurse will depend on what level of responsibility they have (e.g. RN vs. NP) and where they work. Generally speaking, nurses are responsible for tasks such as: 

  • Recording patients’ medical histories
  • Observing and assessing patients
  • Administering medication
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients and their family members 

Where do nurses work? Where can they work?

Nurses may work in a variety of institutions and health care facilities, depending on their role. Work environments for nurses can include: 

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ Offices
  • Nursing and Residential Care Facilities 
  • Community Centers
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Schools
  • In-home Care
  • Walk-in Clinics
  • Military Bases

Information on this page was last retrieved in September 2020.