How To Choose a Nursing Specialty

One thing’s for sure—being a nurse never gets boring. There are so many exciting areas of nursing to choose from. From pediatrics to geriatrics, hospitals to nursing homes, genetics and forensics, on the ground or in the air—the choices are endless. But how do you pick the nursing specialty that’s right for you?

Keep reading and I’ll share a few tips to help you decide.

1. Figure out what floats your boat

Which clinical rotation was your absolute favorite? Was it pediatrics? Community health? Geriatrics? Do you enjoy being in the hospital or is the outpatient setting more your speed? Which rotation did you not like?

Asking yourself these questions will help you pinpoint general nursing specialties that you will likely love to work in when you start out as a nurse. You can also take this fun quiz to reveal your love match. Nursing love match, that is.

2. Get paid (maybe) to be a student nurse extern

A student nurse externship is an intensive (usually 8 weeks during the summer) clinical rotation that gives nursing students the opportunity to work in a variety of healthcare settings under the guidance of an RN preceptor. I did one and it was, hands down, the best part of my nursing school experience.

Some nursing schools require them, some don’t. If yours doesn’t, I highly recommend you find one on your own.  The University of Pennsylvania has a great resource list to help you get started. You can even find externships on job boards like

And, hold on to your seat, some externships are PAID. That’s right. You will get an actual paycheck that you can put towards that gold-plated stethoscope you’ve been eyeing. Or those shiny new danskos. Or you could be really responsible and pay towards your student loans (but what fun is that?).

3. Shadow a nurse

Job shadowing is an excellent way to explore different areas of nursing. To find out if this is an option at your local hospitals or clinics, call the Nurse Recruitment department (most hospitals have one) or Human Resources. Lots of places are happy to host students and may even try to recruit you to work with them when you graduate.

You can also learn more about different types of nurses in this great series called “A Day in the Life.”

4. Follow your heart

You’ve probably heard that all new nurses should start out on a medical-surgical unit of a hospital. While there’s no doubt that you’d get a well-rounded experience, I don’t think you have to go this route if your heart is set on another nursing specialty.

When I was in nursing school, my favorite rotation was on the neurology unit. I thought, “This is definitely the area of nursing I want to work in when I graduate (and pass the NCLEX-RN)!” But then I did a rotation in the intensive care unit and decided THAT was the area of nursing I wanted to work in.

Turns out, I could do both (and much more). My first RN job was in a neurosurgical intensive care unit–a combination of two specialties that I really liked. From there I went on to become a Nurse Practitioner and have worked in general medicine, cardiology, oncology, corporate health, urgent care, patient advocacy, research, administration and even blogging!

Like I said, nursing never gets boring.                                                                                        


What kind of nurse do YOU want to be? I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Share your thoughts in the comments!