RNs can specialize in
one or more areas of patient care. There generally are four ways to
specialize. RNs may work a particular setting or type of treatment, such
as perioperative nurses, who work in operating rooms and assist
surgeons. RNs may specialize in specific health conditions, as do
diabetes management nurses, who assist patients to manage diabetes.
Other RNs specialize in working with one or more organs or body system
types, such as dermatology nurses, who work with patients who have skin
disorders. RNs may also specialize with a well-defined population, such
as geriatric nurses, who work with the elderly. Some RNs may combine
specialties. For example, pediatric oncology nurses deal with children
and adolescents who have cancer. The opportunities for specialization in
registered nursing are extensive and are often determined on the job.
are many options for RNs who specialize in a work setting or type of
- Ambulatory care
nurses provide preventive care and treat patients with a variety of
illnesses and injuries in physicians' offices or in clinics. Some
ambulatory care nurses are involved in telehealth, providing care
and advice through electronic communications media such as
videoconferencing, the Internet, or by telephone.
- Critical care
nurses provide care to patients with serious, complex, and acute
illnesses or injuries that require very close monitoring and
extensive medication protocols and therapies. Critical care nurses
often work in critical or intensive care hospital units.
- Emergency, or
trauma, nurses work in hospital or stand-alone emergency
departments, providing initial assessments and care for patients
with life-threatening conditions. Some emergency nurses may become
qualified to serve as transport nurses, who provide medical care to
patients who are transported by helicopter or airplane to the
nearest medical facility.
- Holistic nurses
provide care such as acupuncture, massage and aroma therapy, and
biofeedback, which are meant to treat patients' mental and spiritual
health in addition to their physical health. Home healthcare nurses
provide at-home nursing care for patients, often as follow-up care
after discharge from a hospital or from a rehabilitation, long-term
care, or skilled nursing facility.
- Hospice and
palliative care nurses provide care, most often in home or hospice
settings, focused on maintaining quality of life for terminally ill
patients. Infusion nurses administer medications, fluids, and blood
to patients through injections into patients' veins.
- Long- term care
nurses provide healthcare services on a recurring basis to patients
with chronic physical or mental disorders, often in long-term care
or skilled nursing facilities.
nurses provide health promotion and basic medical care to patients
with various medical and surgical diagnoses. Occupational health
nurses seek to prevent job-related injuries and illnesses, provide
monitoring and emergency care services, and help employers implement
health and safety standards.
nurses provide preoperative and postoperative care to patients
undergoing anesthesia during surgery or other procedure.
nurses assist surgeons by selecting and handling instruments,
controlling bleeding, and suturing incisions. Some of these nurses
also can specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Psychiatric-mental health nurses treat patients with personality and
mood disorders. Radiology nurses provide care to patients undergoing
diagnostic radiation procedures such as ultrasounds, magnetic
resonance imaging, and radiation therapy for oncology diagnoses.
nurses care for patients with temporary and permanent disabilities.
Transplant nurses care for both transplant recipients and living
donors and monitor signs of organ rejection.
specializing in a particular disease, ailment, or healthcare condition
are employed in virtually all work settings, including physicians'
offices, outpatient treatment facilities, home healthcare agencies, and
- Addictions nurses
care for patients seeking help with alcohol, drug, tobacco, and
other addictions. Intellectual and developmental disabilities nurses
provide care for patients with physical, mental, or behavioral
disabilities; care may include help with feeding, controlling bodily
functions, sitting or standing independently, and speaking or other
management nurses help diabetics to manage their disease by teaching
them proper nutrition and showing them how to test blood sugar
levels and administer insulin injections.
- Genetics nurses
provide early detection screenings, counseling, and treatment of
patients with genetic disorders, including cystic fibrosis and
- HIV/AIDS nurses
care for patients diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
- Oncology nurses
care for patients with various types of cancer and may assist in the
administration of radiation and chemotherapies and follow-up
- Wound, ostomy,
and continence nurses treat patients with wounds caused by traumatic
injury, ulcers, or arterial disease; provide postoperative care for
patients with openings that allow for alternative methods of bodily
waste elimination; and treat patients with urinary and fecal
specializing in treatment of a particular organ or body system usually
are employed in hospital specialty or critical care units, specialty
clinics, and outpatient care facilities.
nurses treat patients with coronary heart disease and those who have
had heart surgery, providing services such as postoperative
nurses treat patients with disorders of the skin, such as skin
cancer and psoriasis.
nurses treat patients with digestive and intestinal disorders,
including ulcers, acid reflux disease, and abdominal bleeding. Some
nurses in this field also assist in specialized procedures such as
endoscopies, which look inside the gastrointestinal tract using a
tube equipped with a light and a camera that can capture images of
- Gynecology nurses
provide care to women with disorders of the reproductive system,
including endometriosis, cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases.
- Nephrology nurses
care for patients with kidney disease caused by diabetes,
hypertension, or substance abuse.
nurses care for patients with dysfunctions of the nervous system,
including brain and spinal cord injuries and seizures.
- Ophthalmic nurses
provide care to patients with disorders of the eyes, including
blindness and glaucoma, and to patients undergoing eye surgery.
- Orthopedic nurses
care for patients with muscular and skeletal problems, including
arthritis, bone fractures, and muscular dystrophy.
Otorhinolaryngology nurses care for patients with ear, nose, and
throat disorders, such as cleft palates, allergies, and sinus
nurses provide care to patients with respiratory disorders such as
asthma, tuberculosis, and cystic fibrosis.
- Urology nurses
care for patients with disorders of the kidneys, urinary tract, and
male reproductive organs, including infections, kidney and bladder
stones, and cancers.
who specialize by population provide preventive and acute care in all
healthcare settings to the segment of the population in which they
specialize, including newborns (neonatology), children and adolescents
(pediatrics), adults, and the elderly (gerontology or geriatrics).
RNs also may provide basic
healthcare to patients outside of healthcare settings in such venues as
including correctional facilities, schools, summer camps, and the
military. Some RNs travel around the United States and throughout the
world providing care to patients in areas with shortages of healthcare
Most RNs work as staff
nurses as members of a team providing critical healthcare. However, some
RNs choose to become advanced practice nurses, who work independently or
in collaboration with physicians, and may focus on the provision of
primary care services. Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient
care and expert consultations in one of many nursing specialties, such
as psychiatric-mental health. Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and
related care before and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic and
obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain management and emergency
services, such as airway management. Nurse-midwives provide primary care
to women, including gynecological exams, family planning advice,
prenatal care, assistance in labor and delivery, and neonatal care.
Nurse practitioners serve as primary and specialty care providers,
providing a blend of nursing and healthcare services to patients and
families. The most common specialty areas for nurse practitioners are
family practice, adult practice, women's health, pediatrics, acute care,
and geriatrics. However, there are a variety of other specialties that
nurse practitioners can choose, including neonatology and mental health.
Advanced practice nurses can prescribe medications in all States and in
the District of Columbia.
Some nurses have jobs that
require little or no direct patient care, but still require an active RN
- Forensics nurses
participate in the scientific investigation and treatment of abuse
victims, violence, criminal activity, and traumatic accident.
Infection control nurses identify, track, and control infectious
outbreaks in healthcare facilities and develop programs for outbreak
prevention and response to biological terrorism.
- Nurse educators
plan, develop, implement, and evaluate educational programs and
curricula for the professional development of student nurses and
informaticists manage and communicate nursing data and information
to improve decision making by consumers, patients, nurses, and other
- RNs also may work
as healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, pharmaceutical
and medical supply researchers and salespersons, and medical writers
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.