If you are interested in potentially becoming a nurse practitioner, then you already likely have a sense of the basic role and responsibilities that NPs perform in the healthcare industry.

But something that many aspiring nurses don’t always know is that nurse practitioners must typically choose a specialty when they enroll in their graduate program, whether a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These specialties can be focused on either a particular patient population, or on a specific type of medical practice.

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With this in mind, it’s important to think critically about what area you might like to specialize in, before you enroll in a NP program. This will allow you to choose a program that aligns with your career goals and passions.

Below, we answer some common questions about nurse practitioner specialties and highlight some of the most common specialties that you might want to consider.

What are Nurse Practitioner Specialties?

The term nurse practitioner specialty simply refers to a particular area of medicine that a nurse practitioner is specialized in. This specialty can be related to working with a specific type of patient (a pediatric nurse practitioner, for example, specializes in working with children) or a specific kind of care (an orthopedic nurse practitioner specializes in providing orthopedic care).

Can a Nurse Practitioner Change Specialties?

Yes, it is possible and common for a nurse practitioner to change specialties throughout their career.

Sometimes this happens because an NP graduates with a particular specialty but then realizes that it is not for them; sometimes it happens because an NP comes to love a particular area of medicine that is outside of their specialty; sometimes it happens because an NP cannot find a job in their given specialty; sometimes it happens because the NP is simply looking to try something new.

Whatever the case, while you should think critically about the area that you wish to specialize in before you enroll in an NP program, you shouldn’t stress too much about your decision.

Nurse Practitioner Specialities

1. Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Family nurse practitioners (FNP) are nurse practitioners who specialize in family-focused care. These nurses treat individuals, but in the context of the family as a unit. This includes health assessments as well as various forms of primary care and the treatment of long-term illness and disease. Becoming a FNP can be a rewarding career for those who enjoy long-term relationships with their patients as well generous pay and benefits.

Because FNPs treat a variety of patients, from infants to the elderly, FNP programs will often provide students with a broad overview of medical issues. At Regis College, for example, the nurse practitioner family track is a Master of Science in Nursing with a focus in adult, geriatric, pediatric, and women's health primary care ensure a well-rounded experience.

2. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNP), are nurse practitioners who specifically work with children. While some PNPs specialize in working with children of a particular age (for example, newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents, or young adults), many pediatric nurse practitioners will work with children from birth through the age of 21.

Due to the rapid changes and growth that children see during their earliest years, both physical and developmental, working as a PNP requires significant understanding of various milestones. This will allow the PNP to know whether their patients are on track and, if not, evaluate potential causes to ensure the health of their patients. At Regis College, the nurse practitioner pediatric track teaches students to provide advanced care to children and their families.

3. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners specialize in providing care and treatment to patients and clients who have been diagnosed with psychiatric and mental health conditions. Examples of psychiatric mental health conditions include dementia, depression, anxiety, bi-polar and schizophrenia. Most psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners work in hospitals, nursing homes, and psychiatric hospitals, though they can work in a variety of other settings as well.

If becoming a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner is an interest to you, you may want to consider completing your master of science in nursing with a focus in psychiatric-mental health. At Regis College, the nurse practitioner psychiatric-mental health track prepares students in the areas of pharmacology, pathophysiology, and health assessment with nursing theory, process, and research.

4. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

A women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) offers primary care services to women of all ages. Their work involves taking care of health issues unique to women. This typically includes wellness examinations, breast cancer screenings, gynecological services, pregnancy, childbirth, and post-natal care, among other areas.

If you’re interested in becoming a WHNP, you should consider enrolling in an MSN program that focuses on women’s health. At Regis College, the nurse practitioner women’s health track prepares students specifically to work as a WHNP.

5. Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Adult gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNP) specialize in treating patients ranging from adolescence to the elderly, in comparison to their pediatric nurse counterparts who specialize with younger children. Their patients will typically skew to the older end of the spectrum. This specialty is as “general” in the nursing profession as you are likely to get. Adult gerontology nurse practitioners tend to work in hospitals, clinics, and private practice. They can also be known as adult geriatric nurse practitioners.

If you would like to become an adult gerontology nurse practitioner, then look for an MSN program that specializes in that area. At Regis College, the nurse practitioner adult gerontology track focuses on educating students to provide primary care to an adult population.

Just One Part of Becoming a Nurse

Understanding the various specialities within the nursing field can help you find a career that’s appealing to your interests. However, you should not feel pressured to choose one interest right away. It is very common for nurses to work in a specialty for years and then change to a different focus. Ultimately, your specialty is just one part of becoming a nurse practitioner.

Regardless of what specialty you pursue, you will need to complete a graduate degree in nursing to become a nurse practitioner. This means that you’ll first need to complete your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), followed by either your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

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