nurse practitioner discussing patient records with a physician

How to Choose the Best Nurse Practitioner Specialty to Pursue

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with expertise in a distinct area of healthcare. Basic nursing skills are essential (assessment, care planning, critical thinking, and time management), though nurse practitioners have greater scope of practice and autonomy. The nurse practitioner job outlook is incredibly promising at 26% projected growth in the next 10 years. In 2018, the median pay for NPs was $113,930 whereas the median annual wage for all workers was $38,640. 


The Path to NP

Many who pursue a career as a nurse practitioner have worked as RNs and follow the trajectory of the experience they have. For example, a nurse who works in pediatrics may choose a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) career track.

Other nurses may find that their interests move them toward a nurse practitioner specialty outside of their experience. These individuals may have to work harder to understand the material, such as with the technical subjects related to assessment, pharmacology, and the intricacies of disease processes specific to that specialty. This is true of nurse practitioner students with no prior nursing experience as well.


pediatric nurse practitioner giving her patient a high five


Family Nurse Practitioners

Family medicine is the most common specialty, making up 66.9% of all NPs. It offers the option to treat the broadest range of patient populations, from pediatrics to geriatrics. Although many family nurse practitioner (FNP) degree programs are focused on primary care, FNPs can be found in hospitals and specialty clinics like cardiology, neurology, and endocrinology.

In all these settings, FNPs make decisions and treatment plans based on assessment and health history in collaboration with other providers. FNPs may manage a patient’s health over their lifespan – often in long-term patient-provider relationships – assessing, managing, and treating chronic, acute, and subacute illness. There are constantly new jobs in many locations that offer opportunities for those interested in family medicine. 


Take Your Career to the Next Level


Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) work with patients with mental health conditions, both acute and/or chronic. While only 2.1% of NPs choose this path, it is still rewarding and in high demand. PMHNPs work with individuals who have been diagnosed with mood disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. PMHNPs also work with special populations, such as children with behavioral disorders or individuals with autism. PMHNPs are trained to know the best practice for responding both emergently and over time to the mental health needs of patients. Options generally include working in a mental health facility or through a private psychiatric practice.

The PMHNP oversees care for populations in inpatient, rehabilitation, and community housing environments as well as one-on-one, offering both clinical therapy and pharmacology treatment where indicated. 


nurse practitioner meeting with an elderly patient


Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

The pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) works with patients from infancy through young adulthood. Highly specialized skills are required for proper assessment and treatment of children and adolescents. An infant, a school-age child, and an adolescent all have very different needs and norms. Every PNP understands phases of development in a young person’s life and requisite assessments, proper treatments, and appropriate collaboration with, and education for, parents.

PNPs work both within and outside the hospital. Those who work outpatient manage the early years of a patient’s life, promoting wellness and managing disease and injury. PNPs also work in acute care within hospitals, overseeing care of young patients in emergency, acute, intensive care, and oncology units.


Further Overview

This is a brief snapshot of three of distinct specialties for aspiring nurse practitioners to pursue, among many. There are also acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs), who focus on critical care and often gerontology. They manage patients in intensive care, surgery, emergency, and trauma settings. There are also women’s health NPs who have a broader role in the distinct needs of women’s wellbeing.

All nurse practitioner degree programs and licensing exams are specific to a nurse practitioner specialty. Specialty choice is made during the degree program application process for a nurse practitioner career. All nurse practitioners have the option to specialize in multiple areas as their careers proceed. Explore jobs on iHireAdvancedPractitioners to learn more about your options in this industry.

By iHire | October 16, 2019
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