Registered Nurse Jobs: 15 Specialties to Consider

RNs benefit from many specialization options. Learn more about 15 in-demand RN specialties that can launch your career or increase your earning potential.

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by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 26, 2022

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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Registered Nurse Jobs: 15 Specialties to Consider
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Registered nurses play a critical role in the healthcare system. As patient-care specialists, RNs keep hospitals and doctor's offices running smoothly while prioritizing patient outcomes.

Within the nursing profession, RNs benefit from many specialization options. Registered nurses can work in critical care, pediatrics, emergency care, and surgical care. But what specialty best matches your interests and strengths? Our guide explores 15 registered nurse specialties to help you find the right fit.

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Ready to start your journey?

How to Become a Registered Nurse

How do nurses prepare for the workforce? The steps to become a registered nurse include:

Nurses can increase their job responsibilities and earning potential with a graduate degree. For example, RNs can earn their master's in nursing with a focus on nursing leadership, nurse education, or advanced practice nursing. Many nursing programs also offer a doctorate in nursing practice for advanced practice roles.

15 Types of Registered Nurse Specialities

ICU Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $72,790
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

ICU nurses staff intensive care units. They care for patients with critical or acute medical conditions. These nurses respond to emergencies, operate medical equipment, and communicate with patients and their families about ICU treatments. They also monitor patients closely, including taking vital signs. And ICU nurses administer medication and treatments.

Working in the ICU requires stamina, focus, and a detail-oriented approach. These nurses face difficult situations that require emotional fortitude. ICU nurses typically gain experience in a critical care setting before specializing in intensive care treatment.

Cardiology Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $67,890
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Cardiology nurses, also known as cardiac or cardiovascular nurses, specialize in caring for patients with heart issues. These nurses assess a patient's health and symptoms. They also administer treatments, perform diagnostic tests, and communicate with patients and their families about heart conditions.

These nurses work in various settings, including cardiologist offices and hospitals. At the hospital, cardiology nurses may work in the ICU, the surgical department, the cath lab, or the cardiology unit. They educate patients on recovering from heart surgery and treating cardiovascular problems. Cardiology nurses often hold a BSN degree.

Primary Care Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $68,770
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Primary care nurses assist patients of all ages, typically for routine care and wellness checks. They often work in doctor's offices and other primary care settings, where they take vital signs, assess patient conditions, and record patient information. Primary care nurses also administer vaccines, administer treatments, and educate patients on medical issues.

In primary care settings, these nurses work closely with medical assistants, physicians, and other nurses. Primary care nurses often hold a BSN degree, and the position requires a valid RN license. Strong communication skills help primary care nurses interact with patients and healthcare professionals.

Home Health Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $66,780
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Home health nurses care for patients in their homes or long-term care facilities. They check on patients and record any issues. Home health nurses also provide routing care such as changing bandages, administering medication, and checking medical equipment. When the patient's status changes, the nurse communicates with a healthcare team.

Some home health nurses specialize in working with elderly patients or those recently discharged from the hospital. Home health nurses draw on their communication and patient care skills. Some home health nurses also supervise nursing assistants and aids, which requires leadership skills.

Medical Surgical Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $60,830
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Medical surgical nurses care for hospitalized patients admitted for surgery or medical reasons. They monitor patients and conduct regular health assessments. Surgical nurses may also prepare patients for surgery. Common tasks for med surg nurses include administering IV medications, making regular rounds to check on patients, and communicating with patients and their families.

These nurses must possess strong health assessment skills and good communication abilities. Because they interact with many patients on a typical shift, they also need a strong attention to detail and ability to connect with patients. Some medical surgical nurses bring a background in critical care.

Oncology Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $76,630
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Oncology nurses work with cancer patients. They provide direct patient care, including administering chemotherapy and assessing patients. Oncology nurses also assist physicians in inpatient and outpatient settings. As part of their job duties, oncology nurses educate patients about their conditions and how to manage symptoms, including potential side effects from therapies.

These nurses work in a stressful environment that requires compassion. Oncology nurses must also prioritize patient safety, including maintaining hygiene standards. As part of the oncology treatment team, they often work with other nurses, nurse assistants, and oncologists.

Psychiatric Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $68,490
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Psychiatric nurses, also known as psychiatric/mental health nurses, care for patients with mental health disorders. These nurses conduct health assessments, carry out treatment plans, and maintain patient records. They also help patients manage mental illnesses.

These nurses work in outpatient mental health facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and home care. In addition to clinical work with patients, they also communicate with families and coordinate care between facilities or during hospital discharges. Psychiatric nurses need strong communication skills, crisis management skills, the ability to work under pressure, and patience.

Pediatric Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $60,820
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Pediatric nurses care for children from infancy through adulthood. They conduct health assessments, care for young patients, and communicate with children and their families. Pediatric nurses also educate families about health and wellness.

Common pediatric registered nurse specialties include:

  • Pediatric surgical nurse
  • Palliative pediatric nurse
  • Pediatric intensive care unit nurse
  • Primary care pediatric nurse

These nurses work in diverse settings, including pediatrician offices, hospitals, and clinics. Pediatric nurses gain clinical experience in pediatric care at registered nurse schools and in healthcare settings. These roles require exceptional patience and communication skills.

School Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $47,960
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

School nurses care for children in educational environments. Their responsibilities include addressing minor illnesses or injuries and administering medication to students. School nurses also educate students and families about wellness and health risks. They may develop programs to improve health and wellness at the school and in the community.

Most school nurses hold a bachelor's degree in nursing, and they must possess a registered nursing license. In some states, they also pursue certification from the department of education to work in public schools. School nursing jobs require strong communication skills, patience, and compassion.

ER Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $73,510
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Emergency room nurses quickly assess patients with acute injuries or illnesses. As the first to clinically assess patients in emergency rooms, these nurses require exceptional triage skills and the ability to work in a fast-paced environment. ER nurses conduct tests, evaluate patients, and assist physicians. They also interview patients and record medical information.

In addition to working in emergency rooms at hospitals, ER nurses may also work in ambulances and medical evacuation helicopters. ER nurses hold a nursing degree and a registered nurse license. Many bring prior clinical experience in non-emergency settings.

Geriatric Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $70,410
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Geriatric nurses work with elderly and aging patients. They administer medications and treatments, including via injection. Geriatric nurses also monitor patients and report their condition to physicians or supervising nurses. The role also requires strong assessment skills to respond to emergencies.

Common geriatric registered nurse specialties include:

  • Home health nurse
  • Hospice nurse

Depending on their work setting, geriatric nurses might care for patients in their homes, work in surgical settings, or treat chronically or acutely ill patients. Geriatric nurses may also coordinate patient care before, during, and after a hospitalization.

Operating Room Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $76,560
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Operating room nurses, also called perioperative nurses, specialize in patients undergoing surgery. In the operating room, these nurses maintain a sterile environment and follow strict procedures. They also monitor patients during surgery and assist surgeons.

Specializations for operating room nurses include:

  • Circulating nurse
  • Scrub nurse
  • First assistant

Some operating room nurses perform procedures like suturing during surgeries. They typically work in hospitals and surgical centers. Operating room nurses need strong clinical skills and the ability to adapt in a fast-paced setting. Some roles require several years of RN experience.

Public Health Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $64,110
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Public health nurses educate people about wellness, infectious diseases, and health risks. In addition to creating educational programs on preventative care, public health nurses also research at-risk groups and advocate for health resources. Because of their key educational role, these nurses benefit from strong communication skills and a background in training.

These registered nurses work for government agencies, public health organizations, or healthcare providers. They may conduct community outreach, visit local clinics, or meet with community groups. Public health nurses need an RN license and experience in disease prevention and community health.

Occupational Health Nurse

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $75,500
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Instead of working in a hospital or medical setting, occupational health nurses work in business organizations. They maintain the health and wellness of employees. Occupational health nurses treat employees who experience an illness or accident at work. They also implement preventative health and safety programs.

Occupational health nurses typically hold a BSN degree and a registered nurse license. Some hold a master's degree that includes occupational health courses. Since occupational health nurses primarily work with non-medical professionals, they need strong communication skills and the ability to educate people.

Nurse Informatics Specialist

  • Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $84,780
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Nurse informatics specialists bring together clinical nursing skills and an understanding of data analysis. These registered nurses analyze patient outcomes and information to improve nursing care. Registered nurses who specialize in informatics coordinate with physicians and nurses to process medical data. Their informatics results help decision-makers implement new policies and procedures.

Nurses in informatics specializations typically hold an RN license and training in nursing informatics or information technology. They typically work in an office setting. The role requires strong analytical and communication skills, including training in research methods and data analysis.

Registered Nurse Salary

How much can you make as a registered nurse? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $77,600 as of May 2021. The lowest-paid nurses reported salaries of around $59,500, while the highest-paid nurses earned over $120,000.

RN salaries vary by specialty, location, and experience. Nurses with graduate degrees also typically report higher salaries.

How to Find a Registered Nurse Job

Registered nurses work in various settings, from hospitals to outpatient clinics and doctor's offices. But how can nurses find job opportunities?

The process of finding registered nurse jobs starts during nursing school. Nursing students can expand their professional network during their clinical practicum. Career fairs, recruiter events, and networking events can also help nursing students prepare for the job market.

Nurses also benefit from a variety of job search sites. For example, the American Nurses Association hosts a career center where over 8,500 employers post job openings. Nurses can upload a resume or search job postings to find opportunities.

Joining specialized professional organizations also helps nurses build the skills and connections to move into their desired roles.

Registered Nurse Professional Organizations

American Nurses Association

The largest professional association for nurses, ANA represents over 3.5 million nurses. The association offers certification opportunities, a job board, and educational resources for members.

American Association of Critical Care Nurses

A specialized professional organization, AACN represents critical care nurses. The association provides certification opportunities, hosts conferences and events with networking opportunities, and provides clinical resources.

Emergency Nurses Association

ENA represents emergency nurses. The association provides resources on emergency nursing quality and safety, along with scholarship opportunities for nursing students.

Frequently Asked Questions About Registered Nurse Jobs

What is the highest paid registered nurse specialty? true

Some of the highest-paid RN roles include ICU nurse, travel nurse, and operating room nurse. Nurse informaticists, oncology nurses, and ER nurses also report above-average salaries. According to the BLS, registered nurses earned a median annual wage of $77,600 in May 2021.

In-demand specialties can mean higher salaries. However, many other factors also influence pay, including experience, degree, and location. For example, nurses with a BSN may earn more than those with an associate degree. And nurses with a graduate degree often increase their earning potential. Finally, advanced practice registered nurse jobs like nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist pay the highest salaries in nursing.

What registered nurse specialty is the most popular? true

More than three million registered nurses work across the U.S. But what's the most popular RN specialty? According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, the most popular RN specializations include acute care and critical care. These categories include ICU nurses, ER nurses, and operating room nurses.

Other popular specializations include medical surgical nursing, perioperative nursing, and geriatric nursing. Obstetrics, neonatal nursing, and pediatric care also make up many nurses. Demand for different nursing specialties varies by location. RNs should research the demand in their area when considering their specialty.

Can I become a registered nurse with an online degree? true

Yes, you can become a registered nurse with an online degree. Many registered nurse schools offer online options. Students can earn their BSN online, which typically takes four years. Current RNs can also advance their education with an online RN-to-BSN program, which can take as little as one year.

In these online nursing programs, learners take classes in a virtual format. They also gain clinical experience through in-person practicums in the student's local area. Nursing programs work with learners to arrange practicums at approved sites. An online nursing degree from an accredited nursing school meets the requirements for an RN license.

How much money can I make as a registered nurse? true

The earning potential as a registered nurse depends on your specialty, location, degree, industry, and experience. Registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $77,600 in May 2021, according to BLS data. Nurses working in hospitals and government facilities reported above-average salaries, while those in residential care facilities earned slightly less.

Nurses with BSNs earned an average salary of $89,000 in July 2022, according to Payscale. In comparison, those with associate degrees in nursing reported an average annual salary of $73,000. Nurses can increase their earning potential by choosing an in-demand specialization or pursuing a higher degree.

What is the fastest way to become a registered nurse? true

Prospective nurses with no healthcare experience can become registered nurses in as little as two years. Nurses qualify for their RN license after completing an associate degree in nursing or a nursing diploma. These programs take two years. However, nurses with a bachelor's degree benefit from more job opportunities and higher earning potential.

Around 82% of employers report a strong preference for hiring nurses with a BSN, according to a 2020 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. BSN programs typically take full-time students four years to complete.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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