Types of Specialization

RNs can specialize in one or more patient care specialties. The most common specialties can be divided into roughly four categories—by work setting or type of treatment; disease, ailment, or condition; organ or body system type; or population. RNs may combine specialties from more than one area—for example, pediatric oncology or cardiac emergency—depending on personal interest and employer needs.

Nursing Specialization by Work Setting

RNs may specialize by work setting or by type of care provided. For example, ambulatory care nurses treat patients with a variety of illnesses and injuries on an outpatient basis, either in physicians’ offices or in clinics. Some ambulatory care nurses are involved in tele-health, providing care and advice through electronic communications media such as videoconferencing or the Internet.

Critical care nurses work in critical or intensive care hospital units and provide care to patients with cardiovascular, respiratory, or pulmonary failure. Emergency, or trauma, nurses work in hospital emergency departments and treat patients with life-threatening conditions caused by accidents, heart attacks, and strokes. Some emergency nurses are flight nurses, who provide medical care to patients who must be flown by helicopter to the nearest medical facility. Holistic nurses provide care such as acupuncture, massage and aroma therapy, and biofeedback, which are meant to treat patients’ mental and spiritual health in addition to their physical health.

Home health care nurses provide at-home care for patients who are recovering from surgery, accidents, and childbirth. Hospice and palliative care nurses provide care for, and help ease the pain of, terminally ill patients outside of hospitals. Infusion nurses administer medications, fluids, and blood to patients through injections into patients’ veins. Long- term care nurses provide medical services on a recurring basis to patients with chronic physical or mental disorders. Medical-surgical nurses provide basic medical care to a variety of patients in all health settings.

Occupational health nurses provide treatment for job-related injuries and illnesses and help employers to detect workplace hazards and implement health and safety standards. Perianesthesia nurses provide preoperative and postoperative care to patients undergoing anesthesia during surgery. Perioperative nurses assist surgeons by selecting and handling instruments, controlling bleeding, and suturing incisions. Some of these nurses also can specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Psychiatric nurses treat patients with personality and mood disorders. Radiologic nurses provide care to patients undergoing diagnostic radiation procedures such as ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging. Rehabilitation nurses care for patients with temporary and permanent disabilities. Transplant nurses care for both transplant recipients and living donors and monitor signs of organ rejection.

Information nursing career specialties