Coming Soon! A brand-new Idiot’s Guides website, where you are the expert! Stay tuned for more details!

Browse Quick Guides by Subject

Choosing a Specialization in Nursing

Choosing a Specialization in Nursing

Share this with your friends

So, you know you want to be a nurse. The question now is what kind of nurse do you want to be?

While you’re studying to earn your certification to become a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you should also be thinking about what area of nursing you want to specialize in, if at all. RNs can specialize in a variety of areas, and should you choose to specialize, you would have to meet the requirements of additional certification in that field in addition to your RN license from your state board on nursing.

What Are Your Options?

There are many possibilities for nursing specialization. One way to go is to pursue a degree as an advanced nurse practitioner (APN). APNs are:

To become an APN, you need to complete a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) and then a Master of Science in nursing (MSN). You will also have to complete 1,000 hours of supervised practice in your field of specialty and successful completion of a certification exam.

If you’re not interested in pursuing a master’s degree, you can obtain additional training and education to become certified in a specific area of medical practice. Specialties are generally segmented to four broad categories:

Within each of these categories, however, you have many more specific areas of concentration. For example, a “type-of-setting” specialization can include emergency, intensive care, managed care, triage, maternity, surgical, hospice, or critical care nursing certification options.

There are currently some 80 certifications you can seek as an RN. Some you can pursue while you’re in nursing school, but most require that you be a licensed RN before you can begin your certification (most make the decision to specialize after becoming a licensed RN). has an extensive list of nursing certification boards throughout the United States.

Getting Certified

So how do you go about getting certified? Take it step by step.

Step 1: Gauge Your Interest

While in nursing school, you should complete at least one rotation in a specialized area of medicine during your clinical experience. This can give you an idea as to whether or not the specialty is right for you and presents you with a great opportunity to learn about what the day-to-day responsibilities, hours, and culture are when working in a given specialty. You may be able to choose departments in which to complete your rotation(s) or they may be assigned to you. Either way, use the opportunity to gauge whether or not you think specializing is a career path you want to travel.

Keep in mind that pursing certification in a specialty means committing yourself to extra time, education, on-the-job training, and even taking another exam. Some things to consider when deciding if you want to specialize and what areas you want to consider include:

The answers to these questions will help guide you as you learn more about the specialties you’re interested in. If the hours or responsibilities as an emergency nurse don’t mesh with your lifestyle, you’ll know that you should consider another specialty.

Step 2: Get the Facts

Once you’re interested in learning more about a specialty, go to the website of the certification board for that specialty and find out what you would need to do to get certified. Differences from board to board can be significant.

Some additional sources for learning about nursing specialties include:

Step 3: Go For It!

After you’ve done your research, weigh the pros and cons of pursuing certification in one specialty over another. If you settle on one, then contact the certification board and get the ball rolling. Also, you might want to talk to teachers and administrators from your nursing program or your workplace to find out if there is any kind of support available to help you reach your goal.

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Nursing Entrance Exams by Maryanne Baudo, NP-C, MSN, RN, and Robin Kavanagh