How to Decide What Type of Nurse to Be

There are dozens of types of nurse titles and even more diverse nurse career settings. If you want to help people as a health expert, there are lots of possibilities in nursing. 

Once you decide to become a nurse, the next question you might ask is, “What type of nurse should I be?” From nurse midwives to geriatric registered nurses or emergency room trauma nurses to travel nursing, there are many different nursing specialties. 

If you’ve wondered, “What type of nurse should I become?”, this guide offers tips and explains your options for choosing a nursing specialty.

How to Decide What Type of Nurse to Be There are dozens of types of nurse titles and even more diverse nurse career settings. If you want to help people as a health expert, there are lots of possibilities in nursing. Once you decide to become a nurse, the next question you might ask is, “What type of nurse should I be?” From nurse midwives to geriatric registered nurses or emergency room trauma nurses to travel nursing, there are many different nursing specialties. If you’ve wondered, “What type of nurse should I become?”, this guide offers tips and explains your options for choosing a nursing specialty.

Jumpstart Your Career in Nursing, Explore Online MSN Programs

Georgetown University’s Online Master’s in Nursing

Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

info SPONSORED

USC’s CCNE-Accredited Online MSN Program

Nursing@USC delivers the online Master of Science in Nursing program from the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Department of Nursing. RN and BSN req’d.

  • Designed for registered nurses (RNs) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing 
  • Offers a part-time option for active RNs to earn a Master of Science in Nursing online 
  • Can be completed in as few as 21 months

info SPONSORED

The Online MSN — FNP Program From Simmons University

Designed for currently licensed RNs, Nursing@Simmons enables aspiring Family Nurse Practitioners to earn an MSN online from Simmons University.

  • Scholarships are available
  • Part-time, full-time and extended plans of study 
  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

info SPONSORED

How Large is the Nursing Field?

There were 4 million jobs in five nurse occupations in 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. The job outlook for nurses is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2028. Of the approximately 4 million nurses working in the United States, there are many different types of nurses, including:

  • Nurse midwiveswho help deliver babies and provide prenatal and postpartum care. Learn how to become a nurse midwife.
  • Nurse practitionerswho work as primary and specialty care providers, making diagnoses and prescribing medication. Learn how to become a nurse practitioner.
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, who give patients basic care and are supervised by registered nurses.
  • Nurse anesthetists, who give patients anesthesia and medical procedure care.
  • Registered nurses, who provide and coordinate patient care and talk to patients about medical conditions.

Within each of these main types of nurse titles, there are a variety of nursing specialties. These include: 

  • Dialysis nurse
  • Geriatric nurse
  • Flight nurse
  • Neonatal nurse
  • Nurse administrator
  • Nurse educator
  • Nurse midwife
  • Oncology nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Psychiatric nurse
  • Travel nurse

What kind of nurse you become will depend on how much education you want to pursue, your preferred working style and what types of patients you want to work with.

Explore Nursing Education Requirements

As the BLS reports, the more nursing education you have, the more nurse career possibilities expand. There are entry pathways to nursing with minimal high school or GED education, all the way up to doctorate in nursing practice executive careers.

Each state will have its own certification and licensing requirements, which will include educational prerequisites. Here are some nursing titles and their education requirements:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant: Certified nursing assistants (CNA) and orderlies assist registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. They help patients with everyday activities, like eating and bathing. Nursing assistants typically have to pass a state certification exam after getting a non-degree diploma or certificate. This can usually be obtained in a hospital-sponsored nursing school or through an associate degree program.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse: Nurses with these titles usually have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which requires at least a nursing diploma or associate degree in nursing.
  • Registered NurseRegistered nurses also must pass the NCLEX and typically need a bachelor’s degree in nursing, though the BLS reports sometimes a nursing diploma or associate degree in nursing will qualify someone to become a registered nurse.
  • Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife and Nurse Anesthetists: Since these nurses perform advanced nursing services, they typically need at least a master’s degree in nursing and a registered nurse license.

Some nurses aspire to a career in administration or management. The BLS reports a nursing bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for medical and health services manager, though master’s degrees in nursing are common.

Learn More About Nursing Career Settings

Wherever healthcare is provided, there are likely nurses working. Some nurse settings include:

  • Hospitals, which provide acute care and healthcare for events like surgeries and childbirth.
  • Mobile clinics, which go to various locations to provide healthcare and education.
  • Nursing homes, where residents needing round-the-clock healthcare live.
  • Outpatient care facilities, which provide treatment for health issues in a non-hospital setting.
  • Patient homes, where nurses provide at-home healthcare.
  • Physician offices, where nurses assist doctors or nurse practitioners providing primary care.
  • Schools, where nurses help students experiencing illness and injury.

There are also travel nurses, who go around the country to work in healthcare settings that need nursing help. Some nurses are deployed to work at places that have experienced trauma, like mass shootings or environmental disasters.

From 24/7 nursing care to working a 9-to-5 nursing job in a doctor’s office, there are lots of healthcare settings and schedules that may fit the career you’re looking for.

Discover Nursing Specialties

You can become specialized as a nurse by undergoing specific training, choosing a specialty while you’re in nursing school or getting certified in specialized areas. Here are some nursing specialties you might consider.

Clinical Nursing Specialty

Clinical nurses work in a variety of settings, diagnosing, treating and managing patient healthcare.

Community Health Nursing Specialty 

Nurses specializing in community health may work in areas such as environmental health, infection prevention, immunizations and opioid crisis response.

Diabetes Nursing Specialty 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 10% of Americans had diabetes in 2020 and approximately one in three American adults had prediabetes. A diabetes nurse works with diabetes patients, monitoring health and providing education.

Family Nursing Specialty

Family nurse practitioners work with children and adults in family practice or clinical settings. They compile and track health history for one or more family members.

Emergency Nursing Specialty

Emergency nurses work in emergency rooms, treating patients who need immediate medical care.

Nursing Management Specialty

Nurse managers lead nursing teams who provide patient care and manage operations for patient care units.

Perinatal Nursing Specialty

Perinatal nurses and midwives provide care for women who are trying to get pregnant, for those who are pregnant and for those who have given birth.

Surgical Nursing Specialty

Surgical nurses provide care before, during and after surgical procedures, including elective and emergency surgeries. They work in clinics, hospitals and surgery centers.

Which Nursing Skills Fit Your Target Nursing Career?

The skills you possess may make you a better fit for certain types of nursing careers compared to others. Skills like leadership, communication, organization and adaptability may all be valued for nursing positions. You’ll see skills like these listed in job descriptions, which you can research before deciding on nursing education so you know what to pursue.

Critical Thinking Skills

Many nursing positions are in fast-paced, high-pressure environments like emergency rooms, hospitals and surgical centers. Nurses who can handle stress, multitask and think critically during demanding times may be a fit for nursing careers like emergency nurse, surgical nurse or critical care nurse.

Interpersonal Nursing Skills

Working with people is a part of many nursing positions. The types of people you get along with and relate to may help you in a nursing career. 

For parents who have experience dealing with babies and children at home, for example, a career as a pediatric nurse or family nurse may be a fit. Nurses who have strong empathy and compassion and who enjoy working with older populations may want to pursue a career in geriatric nursing.

Multilingual Nursing Skills

The Center for Immigration Studies reported that in 2017, 48.2% of residents in America’s largest five cities spoke a language other than English at home, a number that has been steadily rising since 1990. An increasing number of patients don’t speak English as their first language. Multilingual nurses may have an advantage when communicating with patients.

Managerial Skills

Being a manager is a tough job in any industry. In healthcare, nurse managers should motivate and inspire those they manage, implement policies that increase organizational efficiency, and ensure patient care is exceptional both in quality and in interpersonal treatment. For those who possess strong leadership skills, a career in nurse management may be appealing.

Research Skills

For nurses who enjoy research, there are career possibilities in areas like clinical trials and research assistance. For example, oncology clinical trial nurses conduct cancer research in study coordinator roles.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Nursing School

When you attend nursing school, you may be able to choose a nursing specialty to maximize your time spent in school and pursue the type of nursing job you want after graduation. As you compare programs and curricula, ask yourself these questions to find the right fit.

  • What type of people do you want to work with?
  • What kind of work schedule do you want?
  • Do you thrive in high-pressure, fast-paced situations?
  • Do you prefer to work in a large workplace or in a more intimate setting?
  • How big of a team do you want to be a part of?
  • Do you prefer flexibility or consistency in your work?
  • What area of health are you most passionate about?
  • Do you prefer to lead others or execute tasks that are given to you?
  • Can you handle regularly witnessing life-threatening situations?
  • How much direct communication would you like to have with patients?
  • How much hands-on nursing care are you interested in providing?
  • What kind of impact do you want to make as a nurse?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you as you explore nursing schools. Nursing school admissions advisers can help point you to the right program depending on what type of nurse you want to be and what qualities you’ll find meaningful in a nursing career.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Nursing Continuing Education

If you’re already an experienced registered nurse and/or have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you may be interested in taking on more responsibility and advancing your nursing career. 

Master of Nursing (MSN) or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) may lead to advanced nursing careers and nurse management, administration or executive nursing positions.

Many advanced nursing programs enable students to choose a specialty. As you invest in your education, ask yourself:

  • Is the school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education?
  • What kind of alumni network and career support does the school provide?
  • Does the school have the nursing specialty I’m interested in?
  • What have been the student outcomes for the nursing specialty I’m interested in?
  • What are class sizes and courses like at the school?
  • Does the school offer online classes if I want or need flexibility?
  • What credentials do the nursing instructors have?

Many nursing schools offer virtual tours, graduate testimonials and other information about what to expect from the program. Find a program that has the specialty you want to pursue with the flexibility you want.

What Kind of Nurse Should You Become?

With so many possibilities for nursing careers, you have plenty of options for what you choose to pursue in nursing school and beyond. Many nurses evolve their careers as they become more experienced, gaining new specialties or moving into higher positions as their careers grow. Choose a nursing specialty that allows you to explore your passion and thrive at your job.

Jumpstart Your Career in Nursing, Explore Online MSN Programs

Georgetown University’s Online Master’s in Nursing

Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

info SPONSORED

USC’s CCNE-Accredited Online MSN Program

Nursing@USC delivers the online Master of Science in Nursing program from the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Department of Nursing. RN and BSN req’d.

  • Designed for registered nurses (RNs) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing 
  • Offers a part-time option for active RNs to earn a Master of Science in Nursing online 
  • Can be completed in as few as 21 months

info SPONSORED

The Online MSN — FNP Program From Simmons University

Designed for currently licensed RNs, Nursing@Simmons enables aspiring Family Nurse Practitioners to earn an MSN online from Simmons University.

  • Scholarships are available
  • Part-time, full-time and extended plans of study 
  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

info SPONSORED

Last Updated September 2020