12 Types of Nursing Specialties: Descriptions, Salaries, & More

If you work as a nurse, chances are you love using your skills, and your compassion, to care for others. Perhaps you have thought about expanding your skills and adding to your credentials to make an even more meaningful difference in the health, and the lives, of your patients.

Fortunately, as you are probably aware, your skills and experience are in great demand. Across the entire health care spectrum, the need for qualified nurses continues to grow. (Overall, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that employment of registered nurses will grow 6 percent between 2022 and 2032.)

In addition, many nursing specialties suffer from shortages as our overall population continues to age and expand. One thing is certain: people will always need compassionate, high-quality medical care from talented, dedicated nurses like you.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 12 different nursing specialties to offer ideas about possible career paths and to explore how educational opportunities, such as earning a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), can help you achieve your goals.

Which Nursing Specialties Do You Find Most Interesting?

#1 Clinical Nurse Specialist

According to NursingJournal.org, Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) is an umbrella term for advanced practice nurses with many different specialties. It is often used to describe nurses who are less focused on direct patient care, but who oversee clinical floors in a broad range of settings — from hospitals and primary care clinics to rehabilitation centers and long-term care facilities — to ensure that everyone is adhering to best practices. Salaries range from $65,000 to $117,000.

Since an advanced degree in nursing is a proven way to expand your range of opportunities (and your earning potential), specific educational options here include pursuing your MSN Family Nurse Practitioner.

#2 Health Policy Nurse

This role offers another way to use your advanced skills and health care leadership potential to make a difference for a greater number of people. Health policy nurses typically don’t work directly with patients but develop strategies to improve public health through new initiatives, policies and even legislation.

Employers seeking health policy nurses include public health agencies, universities, state legislatures and governments, or other broadly focused policy agencies. Such roles typically require an RN license as well as a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in nursing. Beginning salaries are estimated at $95,000.

#3 Emergency Room Nurse

Do your nursing skills include steady nerves and the ability to stay calm under pressure? If you are not intimidated by having to respond quickly to a wide range of medical situations — for example, when an ambulance arrives with a patient suffering from any number of injuries or conditions — you could be a valuable asset in this role.

Emergency nurses are in high demand for specialized skills that enable them to deliver quality care, often on the so-called front lines in hospital emergency rooms and departments. According to Nurse.com, salaries can range from $77,000 to $107,000 and above.

#4 Geriatric Nurse

Thanks to ongoing advancements in modern medicine, people are living longer than ever before. Geriatric nurses are at the forefront of helping to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that longer life goes hand in hand with quality of life.

Geriatric nurses are needed in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to care for patients in their so-called “golden years,” many of whom will have unique needs and be in states of fragile or failing health. In addition to empathy for our elders, it is helpful to have a generally upbeat and cheerful demeanor. Salaries can range from $60,000 to $73,000 and above. One professional development path that offers higher earning potential, and the opportunity to work with adult patients of all ages, is to pursue your MSN Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. According to Glassdoor.com, the salary range for an Adult-Gerontological Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) is $111,000 to $168,000 per year.

Learn more about the differences between an AGNP and an FNP by reading our blog.

#5 Informatics Nurse

For nurses who are also interested or experienced in information technology, nursing informatics is a fast-growing field that holds vast opportunities. Fueled by the medical industry’s transition to electronic health records and other advanced technologies, this field demands nurses who are skilled in using data analytics to improve clinical workflows and patient care.

As technology continues to transform the practice of medicine, there is currently a high demand and inadequate supply of qualified informatics nurses — with average salaries starting at $80,000 and above, and ranging much higher with experience and an advanced degree such as a Master in Health Informatics.

#6 Neonatal Nurse

Newborn infants and their mothers are your primary focus if you choose to become a neonatal nurse. This may mean providing general caring for healthy infants, focused care for premature or newborn babies with health issues or working exclusively with seriously ill newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit (or NICU); and helping mothers as they give birth and directly afterward (the neonatal period is the first 28 days of an infant’s life).

Your work in this field would typically take place in labor and delivery or postpartum units. In addition to your RN license, you will also likely need one or more specialized certifications. Salaries in this field can range from $60,000 to $100,000 and above for those who hold an advanced degree as a nurse practitioner.

#7 Nurse-Midwife

The joy of childbirth lies at the heart of your work as a nurse midwife — a career that may be ideal if you enjoy assisting expectant mothers and women who are hoping to become pregnant. Additional duties may include offering care and guidance throughout the pregnancy and postpartum process, helping to deliver babies and manage high-risk pregnancies, providing care during labor complications and emergencies, and more.

Recognized as primary care providers, nurse midwives also provide a wide range of health services including gynecological care, contraceptive prescriptions and management, birth attendance, and care of the newborn during their first month of life. Today the field is growing, as more women have come to appreciate the advantages of using a midwife in addition to obstetrical care. According to BLS.gov, nurse-midwives earn an average salary of $122,450; qualifications include a master’s degree (MSN Nurse-Midwifery) and certification from the American Midwifery Certification Board.

#8 Nurse Practitioner

With an ongoing shortage of primary care providers, nurse practitioners (NPs) have become the health partner of choice for millions of Americans. Blending comprehensive clinical skills and a personal touch, NPs focus on diagnosing and treating health conditions, and advocating disease prevention and health management for their patients.

For nurses who earn their master’s degree to become NPs, common areas of specialty include Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Family Care and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earn an average salary of $124,860. Additionally, Nurse Practitioner was named as the #1 job on the 2023 U.S. News & World Report‘s list of Best Health Care Jobs.

#9 OB/GYN Nurse

Obstetrics and gynecology nursing is an exciting and rewarding field in which you might perform a range of duties that include everything from coaching an expectant mother as she enters delivery to cleansing, weighing and providing immediate care to babies the moment they are born.

OB/GYN nurses typically support physicians in an obstetrics and gynecology practice or work in hospital maternity wards to assist in labor and delivery and provide postpartum care, including assisting doctors during medical emergencies. According to RegisteredNursing.org, OB/GYN nurses can expect to earn between $62,327 and $77,548 annually.

#10 Pediatric Nurse

As a pediatric nurse, you’ll be focused on taking care of children from birth through the late teen years or until age 21, in a variety of settings that include just about anywhere that children receive medical care — from pediatric hospitals and hospital pediatric wings to medical clinics and private practices.

Pediatric nurses engage with young patients and their parents to provide explanations of medical conditions, treatment options, emotional support, and also administer medications and other treatments under the direction of a physician. The median salary for pediatric nurses is approximately $65,000 to $72,000, with the top 10 percent earning more than $95,000; and with strong job growth projected for at least the next decade.

#11 Oncology Nurse

Cancer strikes indiscriminately, young and old, and across all walks of life — and though oncology nursing can be quite taxing emotionally, it can also be tremendously rewarding in the deep bonds that many oncology nurses form with their patients. Working as an oncology nurse requires solid expertise in administering chemotherapies and related treatments, as well as a strongly empathetic “bedside manner.”

In this field, you’ll work with patients who receive cancer treatments, assisting with inpatient and/or outpatient care and medical administration. The demand is high, with employment opportunities in hospitals and private oncology practices. Salaries for oncology nursing average around $82,500 according to ZipRecruiter.com.

#12 School Nurse

For many students, the school nurse can be more than just a trained medical professional but a comforting presence during a challenging or distressing time. As a school nurse, your core job description involves taking care of students from pre-K public or private school to college, who get sick or injured in an academic setting. But school nurses also help children by developing an awareness of potential issues of child neglect, abuse or other family dysfunctions.

Certification by the National Board of Certification for School Nurses requires an RN license and a bachelor’s degree, plus clinical experience. Salaries vary greatly, from $45,000 to $75,000 or more, and tend to be higher in private school or collegiate settings and for those with a master’s degree.

Online Options for Advancing Your Career in Nursing

While most nursing positions require a bachelor’s degree in addition to your RN license, your opportunities expand greatly with a master’s degree. Fortunately for busy working medical professionals, there are now excellent opportunities to balance your work life and family obligations by earning your degree online.

For example, University of Cincinnati Online offers a robust, top-quality academic program designed to help you earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree in a wide range of nursing and health care specialties in as little as 20 months.

(Sources: nursingjournal.org, nurse.com, everynurse.org, registerednursing.org, nursing.org, glassdoor.com, explorehealthcareers.org, payscale.com, ziprecruiter.com, bls.gov, nursing.jnj.com)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the highest-paid RN specialty?

The highest-paid RN specialty is typically Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), with salaries often exceeding $180,000 per year due to the advanced skills and critical responsibilities involved in administering anesthesia and managing patient care during surgical procedures.

How many specialties are there in nursing?

While there are several nursing specialties, 12 of the most popular include: clinical, health policy, emergency room, geriatric, informatics, neonatal, nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, OB/GYN, pediatric, oncology, and school.

What specialty of nursing is in most demand?

Currently, Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) are in high demand due to the ongoing shortage of primary care providers, allowing them to fill critical gaps in healthcare delivery across diverse patient populations and settings.

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