A registered nurse (or RN) has a diverse array of duties and responsibilities. Not only do they care for patients, but they sometimes serve as care coordinators for patients, acting as an intermediary between doctors, patients, and patients’ loved ones. RNs work to inform their individual patients or the public at-large about different health conditions and healthy behaviors. You can find RNs in a variety of settings, from hospitals to private practices, to nursing homes or schools.
In order to become a registered nurse, a person must either earn a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing from an accredited program, as well as obtain the proper licenses. These licenses vary from state to state, however, nearly half of all U.S. states are part of a nurse licensure compact that allows nurses to port their license if they move or take a job opportunity in a new state.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for registered nurses is expected to increase 15% to 3.4 million RNs by 2026. This accounts for both new nurses to meet the needs of a growing population, as well as nurses to replace those expected to retire.
Whether you’re currently an RN or pursuing an RN degree, you may be interested in focusing on specialized nursing fields. Learn more about five types of nurses and what they do.
RN Specialties: Specialized Nursing Fields
As society grows and evolves, so does the nursing profession. A career as an RN can be rewarding, as well as afford a nurse a number of opportunities to specialize within their field. There are a variety of different fields of nursing and types of RNs. Here are just a few.
A geriatric nurse works with older people. Geriatric nurses are familiar with many of the specific health issues faced by the elderly. Currently, there is a shortage of nurses, particularly in the southern and western parts of the U.S., as well as a need for RNs in areas where a higher percentage of the population is of retirement age.
Geriatric nurses make sure their patients are taking any required medications on a regular schedule, keep records of their patients’ vital signs, help with daily activities of living, and more. Geriatric RNs are also in close contact with their patients’ family or doctors, providing them with updates on their elderly patients’ condition, as well as sometimes explaining medication regimens and schedules. Geriatric nurses can work in a hospital setting, in a retirement home, or even visit to care for them at home.
In addition to being well-organized and knowledgeable about the physical health concerns of the elderly, geriatric nurses must also be prepared to deal with the mental impact of aging on their patients. Some patients may be mentally sharp, while others may lapse into periods of forgetfulness. Additionally, some older adults may experience bouts of depression. A geriatric nurse should be flexible and compassionate enough to work with different personalities among an aging population. They should also be emotionally equipped to continue along their path, even if they work with a patient who is terminally ill.
Geriatric nurses typically earn their RN degree, as well obtain the appropriate licenses. Some schools, including National University, offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs with a focus on geriatric nursing. Entry-level salaries for geriatric nurses may start at around $52,000 and rise to approximately $70,000 over time.
Another area of specialization that RNs may choose to pursue is pediatric nursing. A pediatric nurse specializes in caring for children from birth up until their teen years. They often work in hospitals, private practices, or clinics. Pediatric nurses can also work in a school setting, serving as a school nurse to an elementary, middle, or high school student population.
Some of the various duties of pediatric nurses in a doctor’s office or school setting include regular “check-up” or “well-child” examinations or school physicals, regular developmental screenings, administering immunizations, and diagnosing and/or treating common childhood illnesses. On any given day, a pediatric nurse can treat a patient with the flu, a rash, or even an injury.
Some pediatric nurses may want to work in a hospital setting and care for children suffering from a variety of conditions, ranging from chronic to critical.
Much like a geriatric nurse, a pediatric nurse should be prepared to deal with patients in a specific age grouping that come from a diverse range of backgrounds, each with their own strong likes, dislikes, and even fears. A pediatric nurse should be prepared to adjust their approach to work best with their young patients. (How many kids actually like getting booster shots?)
In order to become a pediatric nurse, a person must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), then take the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam. The average salary for pediatric nurses is $65,000 per year. However, it’s possible to eventually earn $95,000 annually, given more training and expertise.
Family Nurse Practitioner
Another type of registered nurse is a family nurse practitioner (FNP). While geriatric or pediatric nurses specialize in caring for the elderly or children, respectively, a family nurse practitioner is able to care for patients of all ages. They can serve as a primary health care provider who is able to conduct annual physicals, prescribe medication, diagnose and treat conditions, and more.
Family nurse practitioners can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, a private doctor’s office, clinics, or even start a practice of their own.
Because FNPs deal with patients of all ages, they need to be aware of a variety of conditions that affect patients as they age. They educate their patients on developing healthy behaviors and work with them to prevent disease, evaluating a patient’s history while keeping an eye out for any developing conditions. A family nurse practitioner can also conduct health screenings and diagnostic tests to confirm if a patient has a specific condition.
Some FNPs choose to further specialize in specific areas of expertise, including orthopedic nursing or psychiatric nursing, to name a few.
In addition to specific hard skills, FNPs should also have a variety of soft skills. Knowing how to communicate with patients across multiple generations is critical to developing a good rapport within their practice.
In order to become a family nurse practitioner, an RN should already have earned their bachelor’s in nursing, as well as either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) before taking the FNP national certification exam offered by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
The annual salary for a FNP can vary depending on a number of factors, including what stage they are in their career, geographic location, and even area of specialization. The average yearly salary for a family nurse practitioner (averaged across all specialties) is approximately $97,990.
Public Health Nurse
For RNs who may want to help entire communities learn more about healthy behaviors instead of working with individual patients throughout the course of their day, a career as a public health nurse may be an ideal path.
Public health nurses are the backbone of the public health sector and make up the largest professional group within the industry. Typically, public health nurses work with local, state, and federal authorities to advocate for changes in public policy and also work to help communities gain greater access to quality health care.
Public health nurses keep a pulse on current health trends, identifying which groups among a community may be at a higher risk for developing specific health concerns than others. As opposed to working in a hospital or doctor’s office, public health nurses often work in an office setting, with government agencies, and at community health centers.
In order to become a public health nurse, a person must earn either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and obtain their registered nursing license. Public health nurses can earn between $50,273 to $63,432 annually, with entry-level public health nurses able to expect closer to the low end of those figures to start.
Registered nurses who have had five years or more of practical experience in their field may want to consider a career change as a nurse administrator. These experienced RNs supervise other nurses, including those at a particular hospital, practice, or clinic.
Not only do they mentor and help other nurses progress in their experience, but they can help to coordinate teams of nurses. Beyond the nursing aspect of the job and people management, nurse administrators also focus on more administrative areas, such as hiring new staff members, financial and record keeping duties, and compiling compliance reports for the organization they serve.
Nurse administrators need to be aware of ever-changing issues of compliance in their field and be sure all other nurses and staff they work with are aware of those changes so their institution does not violate codes.
A nurse administrator must be well organized, have excellent communication and leadership skills — interacting with people at various levels within the organization they work with, as well as patients — and be well-versed in management and business practices on top of practical experience in the nursing field.
In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and RN licensing, a nurse administrator will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing or health care administration. Depending on where they are located in the U.S.,, nurse administrators can make between $71,000 and $175,000.
Choosing a Career Path as a Registered Nurse
Becoming a nurse is truly a calling and not just a job. RNs must have a passion for caring for others and balance it with the ability to apply their medical knowledge in sometimes-intense situations. Earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and becoming an RN can open up a broad swath of career paths and specializations, giving nurses the opportunity to focus their career on serving people at different stages of their life, or even entire communities.
National University’s College of Law and Public Service offers a number of nursing degree programs. Our program is founded on the belief that nursing is a path of lifelong learning, building knowledge and skill throughout your career, working to improve outcomes for patients along the way.