Nursing Specialties

Nursing has a vast array of sub-specialties, and as a nurse, you have the opportunity to focus on particular types of nursing in your career. When you first begin as a nurse, you will start building hours and refining your practice. As you gain experience, you may want to dedicate your career to a specific type of nursing or patient population. This is where nursing certifications come in, and allows you to demonstrate your experience and knowledge of a particular area. Nursing certification is available for registered nurses, advanced practice nurses and clinical nurse specialists.

Why Specialize?

A nurse who pursues certification in a certain field or nursing specialty demonstrates to their employer that they are an expert in that capacity. Many facilities reward nurses who become certified in their type of nursing by promoting them, offering them higher compensation and giving them greater responsibilities.

A nurse who specializes and chooses to become certified must meet certain education, experience and exam criteria met to achieve the credential.

Nursing Specialties for Registered Nurses (RN)

You can specialize in many types of nursing as a registered nurse without pursuing an advanced practice degree. These types of certifications highlight a nurse as an expert in their field and might help a nurse receive a promotion in their unit.

A nurse can become certified as a medical-surgical nurse through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This certification examines a nurse’s ability to manage a patient on the medical-surgical unit and requires 2,000 hours of active nursing in the specialty during the last three years. The ANCC also offers many options for RNs to pursue in certifications, such as ambulatory care, gerontological nursing, informatics nursing, pediatric, and pain management – to name a few.

You can also get credentialing for patient populations, such as cardiac, geriatric, and diabetic patients. Critical-Care Registered Nurse certifications offered through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers opportunities for both RNs and advanced practice registered nurses, to pursue adult, pediatric, and neonatal care certifications.

Nursing Specialties for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)

Four types of advanced practice nurses are recognized according to the APRN Consensus Modelcertified registered nurse anesthetistcertified nurse-midwifeclinical nurse specialist, and certified nurse practitioner. APRNs, particularly nurse practitioners, can then specialize in a specific type of nursing. For instance, a nurse can choose to become a family practice nurse practitioner. A nurse can also choose to pursue adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner certification. Both of these paths are open to nurses who have achieved advanced standing.

APRNs can choose to specialize in mental health, gerontology, pediatrics, diabetes education, and school nursing. Unlike the registered nurse certification, the clinical hours in school to become a nurse practitioner count towards certification, so a nurse does not need to accumulate additional hours for certification. Also, APRNs choose a specialty before committing to education and pursue the necessary certification upon completion of school. Nurses can choose to pursue a master’s from a certified nurse midwifery programwomen’s health nurse practitioner program, or a master’s in a family nurse practitioner program, and more.

Nursing Specialties for Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists are a special type of advanced practice nurse. Although they do not directly assess, diagnose and treat patients like nurse practitioners, they are integral to the functioning of the nursing unit. They are responsible for the education of the nurses under them and are often involved in research projects in the facility.

A CNS will review data of patient outcomes and come up with solutions for how to improve those situations. Like nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists specialize in different types of nursing. For instance, a nurse could also focus on adult health, with an Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification. Clinical nurse specialists are also involved in gerontology, pediatrics, public health and mental health. These nurses are the experts in the nursing profession, and their certification marks them as an authority.

Accredited Nursing Specialist Certification Programs

The two organizations that accredit nursing certification programs are the American Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The ABSNC only accredits nursing certification programs and the NCCA accredits nursing certification programs and others like fitness and wellness, government, and manufacturing. These organizations are self-regulating, they comply with industry standards and professional benchmarks.

Not all nursing groups choose to be accredited. Accreditation is a lengthy process that indicates a certification program meets the standards established by the accreditation body. Some smaller, newer certification programs do not yet have the infrastructure in place to become accredited.

Retired Specializations

Sometimes nursing certification organizations retire certifications. There is no industry-wide criteria for retiring a certification program but the usual reason is that the demand for the specialty certification is small.

When an organization retires a certification, it usually provides, the nurses who are certified in that specialty, years of notice. Sometimes, certifications are only available for renewal. At other times, certifications simply do not offer renewal options. Some organizations subsume a certification program into another program and will grandfather the retiring credential into the new program.

Nursing Career Specializations

Sponsored Online Nursing Programs


Earn an MS in Nursing online from Georgetown University.

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing online from Simmons University.

  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Preparation to pursue certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Part-time, full-time, and extended plans of study

Earn your MSN online from USC’s Top-Ranked School of Social Work.

  • Prepares RNs to pursue board certification as family nurse practitioners
  • Earn a CCNE-accredited MSN in as few as 21 months
  • Choose from part-time and full-time study options