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Nursing specialties from A to (almost) Z

One of the best professions to go into right now is nursing. Not only are job opportunities plentiful, with high growth potential, it pays well and is considered one of the most rewarding – and well-respected – careers around. What many don’t know is that it is also one of the most versatile careers around.

The following A-Z list provides an overview of the many specialty areas one can pursue within the nursing profession. Most fields require specific certifications, while others require on-the-job experience, ongoing education or other paths. Take a look below to learn more, and consider whether there might be a future in nursing for you.

Ambulatory care nursingKnown as the jack-of-all-trades among nursing professions, ambulatory nurses evaluate patients quickly and administer care for patients with a variety of health concerns, including acute illness, chronic disease, disability and end-of-life management. Nurses who specialize in this field can work in almost any setting – from a university or community clinic to an ambulatory surgery and diagnostic procedure center. Certification in ambulatory care nursing is available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Burn care nursing: Burn care nurses treat patients for burns from anything from hot water or oil to chemicals or electricity. These nurses work mostly in burn care units, intensive care units and trauma centers, and often tend to patients’ emotional and psychological scars in addition to their physical ones. These nurses also educate people on the treatment and prevention of burns. Once you get your nursing license, you can start working in a burn unit; however, specialized training and certifications are available.

Critical care nursingSometimes referred to as ICU nurses, critical care nurses provide care to critically ill or unstable patients, including those responding to life-threatening situations. They typically work in an emergency department or intensive care unit. To become a critical care nurse, you typically need a few years of experience as a traditional nurse and gain experience in a critical care setting before sitting for the Critical Care Registered Nurse certification examination, which is administered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACCN).

Developmental disabilities nursing: Nurses in this field focus on helping patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Nursing care emphasis is on the maintenance of health, development of skills and participation in community life. To become certified in this field, nurses earn the Certified Developmental Disabilities Nurse (CDDN) credential.

Emergency nursingThis field focuses on providing care for patients in critical or emergency need. Nurses must be able to recognize life-threatening complications and rapidly organize vital care. Nurses who are interested in becoming accredited in this field earn the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential.

Forensic nursing: Nurses in this field often act as liaisons between medical professionals and criminal justice officials. They are trained to look for signs of a crime in patients and will help gather evidence that may be proof of said crimes. Because this is a relatively new field, there is no one path to becoming a forensic nurse. Many forensic nurses have special training in the field of forensics or enroll in schools that offer a forensic nursing program.

Gastroenterology nursing: This specialty, also referred to as endoscopy nursing, is comprised of nurses who provide health care for patients experiencing problems associated with the digestive system. Commonly reported ailments include abdominal pain, reflux, bleeding and some cancers. After completing the accreditation process, nurses will earn the Certified Gastroenterology Registered Nurse (CGRN) designation.

Hospice/palliative nursingThese nurses protect quality of life and coordinate care for the terminally ill. They assume responsibility for managing complex symptoms and illnesses along with grief and bereavement. Care is typically provided in the home of the patient when possible. Accreditation in this field can be characterized by the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) credential.

Infusion nursing: This nursing specialty focuses on the administration of medications and fluids through an intravenous (IV) line. In addition to a steady hand and a keen eye, these professionals must also possess pharmacology and lab testing skills. While not always required, certification for this specialty is usually given by the Certified Registered Nurse Infusion (CRNI) program.

Legal nursingThis nursing field focuses on using existing health care expertise to provide consultation on medical-related cases. Nurses in this area may review medical records and provide assistance in understanding the terminology and subtleties of the health care field to clients and attorneys. In most cases, nurses in this profession must be certified as Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC).

Maternalchild nursing: Nurses in this field specialize in providing care and education to women throughout their pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal-child nurses also often help educate mothers on how to care for their newborn. To work as a maternal-child nurse, you must first have a nursing degree. While there are no specialized programs, continuing education courses that focus on obstetrics, pediatrics, neonatal nursing and related subjects can lead to this specific career path.

Nephrology nursingThis nursing specialty involves the disease prevention and assessment of patients suffering from acute or chronic kidney failure. This field is quite broad and can include working in areas such as hemodialysis, organ recovery and transplant coordination. The Certified Nephrology Nurse (CNN) designation demonstrates certification in this field.

Orthopaedic nursing: This specialty is focused on the care of patients with musculoskeletal diseases. Nurses in this field educate individuals and families on self-care and provide support groups. Patient ailments can range from a fracture to a loss of bone density and require that nurses have special skills such as neurovascular status monitoring. Nurses who specialize in this field tend to receive the Orthopaedic Nursing Certified (ONC) credential.

Public health nursing: While some nurses work one-on-one with patients, public health nursesfocus on the health of entire communities. Public health nursing encompasses several programs that focus on providing preventative care and education to the public. Examples of public health issues include anti-smoking campaigns, safe sex initiatives, and healthy foods in schools. Nurses interested in this field should look for opportunities to work in community settings and assist with public health activities and seek additional training in public health, public policy, health administration and related subjects.

Quality assurance nursingNurses in this field evaluate health care processes to determine if improvements are needed and to ensure standards are being followed. This can include improving patient safety, computer systems and pain management. While not required to be a quality assurance nurse, certification is available through the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ), as well as master’s degree programs that focus on health care quality.

Rehabilitation nursing: This nursing field specializes in the treatment of patients suffering from chronic illness or disabilities. It typically involves educating patients about how to adapt to their disabilities, reach their highest potential and work toward independent lives. These nurses typically work in outpatient rehabilitation centers, but may also be found in hospitals, clinics, assisted living facilities and even fitness centers. To get into this field, you should focus on courses in rehabilitation and disabilities when earning your nursing degree. The Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board also offers certification.

Substance abuse nursing: Nurses in this specialty provide care to patients who are suffering from an addiction to drugs, alcohol or other substances. These nurses help regulate medications and pain management for patients. They are often trained in both general medicine and mental health due to the mental as well as physical aspects of addiction. Licensed nurses can apply for certification through the International Nurses Society on Addictions (IntNSA).

Telemetry nursing: This specialty is for nurses who work with patients with heart disease, complications of heart disease, heart failure or other related issues. They also care for patients recovering from cardiac intervention, such as a cardiac stent or heart surgery. Skills for this job are typically gained on the job; however, licensed nurses who want to pursue this field can also get certified through the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN).

Utilization review nursing: Utilization review nurses review individual medical cases to ensure the patient is getting high quality and cost-effective health care. They also help patients make informed decisions about their health care by education them on the benefits and limitations of their coverage. Registered nurses may pursue voluntary certification in this specialty through the American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians (ABQAURP).

Wound care nursing: Wound care nurses specialize in assessing and treating skin breakdown and wounds. This type of nursing is also a form of palliative care. These nurses generally work in hospitals in areas where patients are bedridden, and may also work for home health care agencies, nursing homes and hospices. Most wound care nurses have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and some may seek certification through the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB).

The above nursing specialties are just a few of the opportunities available when you have a nursing degree. While specialty certification is a personal choice, advanced education can provide many rewards and benefits for the professional and patient alike. Find out more about credentialing opportunities and discover more reasons to consider advanced training on the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) website.

Discover your road to a career in nursing.

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