Medical-surgical nurses are the largest group of nurses. These nurses care for patients with complex conditions and multiple diagnoses. Nurses in this specialization are required to have a diverse knowledge of medical conditions and medications, and they must be able to multi-task. Medical-surgical nurses often care for many patients at once.
Critical Care Nursing
Critical care nursing is another popular specialty groups. This area of nursing is fast-paced and challenging due to the critical conditions of the patients being cared for. Critical care patients often need constant monitoring and testing, as their conditions can change at any moment. These patients are often chronically ill or suffering from multiple conditions or complications, and at times they are not awake during nursing procedures. Critical care nurses must be highly skilled patient advocates and able to work well under pressure.
Oncology nurses care for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer or who have a high risk of developing this disease. They have the opportunity to form a long-term relationship with patients during the course of their treatment. Due to the devastating nature of a cancer diagnosis, these nurses often provide comfort and counsel to patients and their families. This nursing specialization can be both rewarding and emotionally demanding.
Cardiac nurses care for patients who have heart conditions. In many cases, patients face life or death situations that often require surgery and constant monitoring. At times, cardiac nurses even assist during surgical procedures. These specialized professionals must be experts on conditions and treatments involving the heart and circulatory system. Cardiac nurses often work in a critical care or telemetry setting and must be able to work under pressure and respond quickly to emergencies.
Orthopedic nurses specialize in treating patients with musculoskeletal issues such as bone fractures, arthritis, joint replacement, and osteoporosis. They work in many different areas to treat and rehabilitate these patients and educate them on their condition and injury prevention. At times, these nurses assist with surgical procedures.
Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing
Psychiatric or mental health nurses care for patients who are mentally ill or distressed. Often, these nurses also work closely with the patients' families. They administer medication, educate patients and their families regarding their conditions, develop care plans, and assess patients' progress. These nurses are trained in behavioral therapy. Some of the conditions they treat include depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction. This specialization requires a large degree of patience and empathy.
Neonatal nurses care for infants in their first months of life, sometimes caring for chronically ill infants up to age two. These nurse help to treat a variety of conditions, including heart malfunctions and birth defects. The tasks performed by neonatal nurses vary greatly, depending on the area in which they are employed. Some of the tasks include monitoring vital signs, helping new mothers with breastfeeding and other procedures, and administering IV medications. This specialization can be challenging, because infants are unable to express their needs. This is a great area of nursing for those who love working with infants and children and for those who are interested in pursuing a career as a nurse midwife.
Geriatric nurses provide medical care to elderly patients. They are specialized in the issues of aging and the end of life process. They can serve as supporters and advocates for elderly people and their families. This is one specialty that is currently high in demand in the United States as the population continues to age. Working with geriatric patients can be rewarding, as each person has his or her own story to tell. Nurses in this specialization are likely to form meaningful relationships with patients and their families.
Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing
Hospice nurses focus mainly on end of life care for terminally ill patients. These nurses may work in hospice care centers or in patients' homes. They help both the patients and their families come to terms with death and illness, and they help the patient to be as comfortable as possible during the final stage of life. Working in this specialization can be emotionally challenging but can lead to rewarding relationships with patients and their families.
Home Health Care Nursing
Home health care nurses work in the patients' homes, rather in than in a healthcare setting. This environment can be much more relaxed than a hospital or other medical facility. These nurses have a large variety of responsibilities which are specific to the patient's needs, some of which include bathing, feeding, and assisting with mobility. Oftentimes, home health care patients have a chronic illness or a mental or physical disability that causes them to be partially or entirely unable to care for themselves. Nurses in this specialization often care for the same patients for an extended period of time, allowing them to form a relationship with their patients.
Choosing a Specialization
Choosing a specialization is largely a matter of personal preference. Speaking with nurses in various specialty areas may be helpful in choosing one. In most cases, nurses have to work in a given specialization for a certain amount of time prior to becoming certified in that area, so it may be possible to get a feel for a specific area of nursing prior to specializing. If an individual finds that he or she is not a good match for the unit he or she is working in, it may be possible to find another nursing job in another unit of the same organization or to request a transfer. For those looking to become certified in an advanced practice nursing specialization, it is necessary to choose prior to earning a master's or doctoral degree in order to ensure that one has the correct education to work in that area. Education for advanced practice registered nurses, such as nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, is specific to the specialization that a nurse wishes to work in.