Why is Specialization Important in Nursing?

Two nurses looking at a chart
Two nurses looking at a chart

Teamwork is essential in the realm of health care. Interdisciplinary collaboration is a foundational element of excellent care provision for all who are working to make an impact on the health of our nation. Nursing specialization is vital because specialists have unique roles that address the complexity of the human condition. 

This blog is for those who want to develop a nursing career and working nurses who may want to determine a specialty area and progress their education further to achieve this goal. Knowing your strengths and passions will help you determine the most fitting position you can choose if you are looking to become a nurse and select your specialty.


Top Advanced Practice Nursing Specialties 

The nurse practitioner (NP) is one role among advanced practice nurses who continue to deliver effective health care to patients and families. The most recent sample survey revealed the top nursing specializations and practice sites of NPs in the United States: 

  • Family NPs in primary care (69.7%)
  • Adult (10.8%) and Adult-Gerontology NPs (7%)
  • Hospital outpatient clinics (14.3%)
  • Private group practices (10.4%)
  • Hospital inpatient units (10%)
  • Private NP practices (3.8%)

The importance of specialization in health care cannot be overlooked. In order to ensure the highest quality and patient-specific care, there must be a deep and often specialized understanding of health, disease prevention, and treatment options.


Benefits of Specialization

The ability of a nurse to be flexible and comfortable in new and changing environments is an essential skill. However, as a nurse chooses to specialize in a particular area of practice, the skill set required to effectively perform the job becomes more specific and tailored to the needs of the patient population that is most frequently encountered within the specialty area. 

A specialty focus can motivate and encourage nurses who want to pursue professional growth from a novice provider toward professional expertise in their chosen field. Proficient and confident health care providers willing to learn and demonstrate humility in their professional roles are the bedrock of effective teams.

Other benefits of nursing specialization include:

  • Opportunities for nurses to immersively focus within single practice areas
  • Development of clinical expertise in nurses who know the unique needs and professional landscape of the specific populations they serve
  • Nursing leaders with specialized experience help inform education and curriculum guidelines for the next generation

There are different programs of study for different nursing specialties. Each program of study will allow you to care for patients, but the types of patients you will be trained to care for may vary. Innovative programs of study must continue to be developed to train a strong team of clinicians to fortify the resources of our nation’s nursing personnel. 

Nurses are leaders in the health care system when they remember that patients are at the heart of their mission. They authentically listen to the needs of the population they serve and let this inform the care decisions that are made. 

Next, let’s explore several nursing specialties available to aspiring nurses.


Nursing Specialties For RNs

Nursing specialties can be distinguished by the type of care delivered, illnesses managed, acuity of the patient, as well as by the age range of the patients served. Some nurses choose to work in a specialty like forensic nursing on legal cases and may be employed in a setting outside those traditionally associated with the profession, while others may choose a hospital unit or specialty division within a hospital such as neurology or psychiatric-mental health nursing as their specialty. 

Surgical nursing is another specialty for those who might enjoy following patients through pre-operative care and education, operations, post-operative recovery, and transition home for recuperation. Other nursing specialties for RNs include:

  • Surgical nursing
  • Cardiology
  • Pediatrics
  • Palliative care/hospice
  • Community health
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Infectious disease
  • School nursing

Many of these nursing specialties are available to both the BSN-RN and nurses with graduate education. Nurses who obtain post-graduate education may have even more opportunities for greater practice autonomy and advanced practice.

Nursing Specialties For Graduate-Level Nurses

The graduate-level role of the nurse practitioner has many opportunities for specialization. Nurse practitioners work in various practice settings and are educated to care for distinct populations depending on the specialty certification they earn. With a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, you might pursue one of these potential advanced practice nursing specialties:

  • NP roles serving patients of specific ages (e.g. neonatal, pediatric, or geriatric)
  • Primary or acute care NP
  • Emergency NP
  • Psychiatric-mental health NP

If advanced practice is not your interest, there are also a number of other non-clinical roles that have the potential for nursing specialization, such as:

  • Nursing leadership within health systems
  • Nursing education
  • Nursing administration
  • Nursing informatics

Post-graduate degree education is also an option for extending the degree to which a nurse might choose to specialize. Those who are just entering a graduate nursing program or those with prior nursing specialization may want to pursue the clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as a path to nursing specialization with expanded options. This degree can be obtained with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as the starting point for a BSN-DNP program, or the DNP degree can be earned after a nurse holds an MSN. 

Next, let’s explore a few of these nursing specialties in more detail.


Family Nurse Practitioner

If your passion is to serve patients and families across the lifespan while developing longer-term, professional relationships with your patients, you might want to become a family nurse practitioner. Family nurse practitioners are interested in treating their patients while understanding the complexities of family dynamics and advocating for the health of the entire family unit. The FNP is uniquely trained to be the main point of contact for primary care while communicating and organizing referrals to other specialties as needed.

Family nurse practitioners, like other NP specialties, are trained to complete the following types of responsibilities within their specific professional role:

  • Interviewing patients for comprehensive health histories and physical examinations
  • General health education, health promotion and disease prevention
  • Ordering of diagnostic testing and interpretation of lab results
  • Diagnosis and treatment including the prescribing of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic modalities
  • Ongoing evaluation and modification to the plan of care to achieve patient-centered health and wellness goals

If you like the idea of earning a nursing degree that focuses on patients across the lifespan and includes an additional level of specialized focus on particular types of patients, you might instead want to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. 


Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The mental health field is a true calling for compassionate and empathetic individuals with a strong ability to set healthy emotional boundaries and maintain professionalism when caring for patients. This nursing specialization focuses on patients of all ages like the family nurse practitioner specialization. While PMHNPs may work in primary care settings, the focus shifts from all types of common and complex health problems toward specialty care of patients and their families needing treatment and care for psychiatric and mental health disorders.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the top-paying practice locations for nurse practitioners is within psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals where the average wage for nurse practitioners is approximately $63.38 per hour or $131,830 per year.

Nurse practitioners with doctoral preparation generally are positioned to earn more money than those with an MSN only, but pay varies substantially based on other factors such as employment history, certifications, location, and specific job duties. In addition to salary, there are other benefits available to nurses who choose the DNP pathway to advance their careers.


Benefits of Attaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

A DNP degree is beneficial for those who are passionate about ensuring available medical and nursing research evidence is translated into clinical practice. The DNP curriculum may help nurses specialize in roles such as leadership, education, or existing advanced practice specialties by exploring topics such as:

  • Leadership within health systems
  • Evidence appraisal for understanding best practices
  • Patient advocacy and health care policy
  • Information technologies for the transformation of health care
  • Translational research for implementing and evaluating quality improvement initiatives

Nurses with a DNP degree are prepared for scholarly roles within universities and executive leadership roles where a clinical focus is essential for carrying out strategic planning and large-scale team efforts. The DNP is also appropriate for nurse practitioners looking to achieve the highest level of clinical nursing education with a terminal degree. 


Starting Your Nursing Career at Marymount University

The entry-level option for students with non-nursing undergraduate degrees is the Online ABSN. In just 16 months, Online ABSN students complete the following requirements in preparation for RN careers:

  • An on-campus residency
  • Clinical placements in Virginia
  • 100% online courses on topics like Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Marymount’s ABSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Nursing courses at Marymount are taught by practicing APRNs who can speak with authority about the profession. The university’s stellar reputation is confirmed by top U.S. News & World Report rankings in its National Universities and Nursing categories. 

If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss which pathway is right for you.