Deciding to become a nurse is a hugely rewarding career choice. Between the direct sense of job satisfaction, the various self-development and travel opportunities, and the sheer unpredictability of the role itself, few other professions that can offer the same level of meaning and excitement day in and day out.
The good news is that nursing also boasts a large amount of variety, too. Once qualified as a registered nurse (RN), it is possible to advance into any number of specialisms based on your own interests and the demands of health providers.
In fact, there are so many, that we’ve taken a look at them and broken them down into a convenient list.
So, if you want to know what your options are when you graduate, then read on: these are the different types of nursing you could get involved in.
1. Ward Nurse
Ward nursing probably represents the most traditional image of nurses, tending to patients across general wards under the strict gaze of the matron or senior sister, and while times may have moved on since then, the general concept is still the same.
Of course, modern nurses now carry a lot more autonomy and responsibility. As well monitoring the observations of the patients under your care, you would also be expected to manage their drug schedule and liaise with a doctor should any red flags present. In busier hospitals, you would be responsible for a large number of patients at any given time, so your organisation skills should be of a high standard, too.
2. Theatre Nurse
As the name suggests, theatre nurses spend their time in the operating department and assist patients throughout the entire surgery process, from pre-care to post-care. They work closely with surgeons, anaesthetists and operating department practitioners (ODPs), and are generally responsible for monitoring observations, administering blood (if required) and managing post-surgery recovery.
Many nurses are drawn to this field as the hours are relatively stable (Monday to Friday for non-critical emergencies) and the nature of the work can be fascinating. You’d need a strong stomach, though, and the ability to maintain your concentration for long periods of time during particularly complex procedures.
3. Intensive Care Unit (ICU/ITU) Nurse
Based in the intensive care department of a hospital, ITU nurses work with those who are critically ill or injured and who require constant one-to-one treatment and monitoring. Due to the complexity and severity of many of the conditions and injuries they deal with, ITU nurses are generally considered among the best in their profession.
You’ll need to demonstrate strong numerical skills to monitor various dosages and treatment calculations, as well as the ability to react quickly and effectively when something goes wrong. You’ll also need to be comfortable working with an array of complex equipment and apparatus.
Due to the relative lack of patient interaction, not everybody is cut out for this specialism, but it is one of the toughest and most respected in the clinical sphere.
4. Emergency Department (ED/A&E) Nurse
If ITU nurses enjoy the relative serenity of their peaceful surroundings, then their counterparts in the emergency room represent the polar opposite; few roles are as frenetic, fast-paced and pressurised as that of an ED nurse.
Dealing with a constant stream of agitated, stressed and – in many cases – seriously sick or injured people, you would be required to triage, treat and manage as necessary, often for 12-hour periods and in very pressing circumstances. You’ll also likely be subjected to disgruntled and abusive patients, as well as those under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
On the flipside, though, if you’re good with people, you can think quickly on your feet and you thrive under intense pressure, then ED nursing could just be the ticket.
5. Paediatric Nurse
Paediatrics – the medical care of babies, children and adolescents – is a popular specialism among nurses, especially as they can work in a variety of settings such as with newborns and their mothers on children’s wards or even in dedicated children’s hospitals such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
Due to the difficult nature of working with children, the role requires patience and, in many cases, creativity, as well as the ability to manage the emotions and concerns of parents.
You should also remember that, although paediatric nursing can be hugely rewarding when things go well, it can be emotionally devastating when they don’t. While you would receive strong support from your superiors and your colleagues to deal with this, it’s worth considering before you commit to such a choice.
Midwifery is a licensed and certified nursing specialism that requires extra training and accreditation.
Once qualified, you would then work closely with expectant mothers, assisting the obstetrician with the actual delivery of the baby and providing immediate care and assistance to both mother and child afterwards.
While highly skilled, midwives are not just there to provide an extra pair of hands during the birthing process, but to also offer vital emotional support to the mother. As a result, you would need to be capable of developing close interpersonal relationships, as well as being able to keep calm and professional should something go wrong.
7. Mental Health Nurse
Mental health nursing is a totally different discipline to adult or paediatric nursing, and it requires candidates to undergo a totally separate training process. That said, as stigmas around mental health begin to deteriorate, it is becoming an increasingly popular alternative.
The range of patients you will encounter can vary greatly, too, and many are drawn to the field due to the relative infancy of mental health diagnostics and treatments. While it can be an enormously challenging role and, in certain instances, even dangerous, it is a highly rewarding and endlessly fascinating career path for those interested in how the mind works, and one that is only set to grow.
8. Nurse Manager
If you possess the right blend of experience, leadership skills and management qualifications, then it’s only natural that at some point you might want to move away from clinical care and into a supervisory position. In fact, many nurses choose to do just that, utilising their knowledge and experience of nursing to take their first steps on the managerial ladder.
There are plenty of opportunities to progress even higher, too. You could eventually move away from staff management and become involved in project management, policy direction or even advisory for non-healthcare bodies such as in the education, legislative and private sectors.
9. Military Nurse
For those who are really looking for a challenge, a career as a military nurse could tick all the boxes. Aside from the same clinical opportunities that civilian nurses receive, there is also the lure of the adventure, travel and camaraderie that draws people to the forces in the first place. And the best part? You can forget about tuition fees – the military will send you off to university for your degree and foot all the bills!
Of course, in return, you will be an active part of the military and, as such, would be expected to adhere to all aspects of forces life. That includes completing basic training and all the trimmings that come with it, as well as maintaining stringent physical standards and being prepared to deploy across the world at a moment’s notice. On the plus side, once you do decide to leave, you’ll be debt free and impressively qualified.
Nursing – and healthcare in general – is by its nature information-heavy and full of complex concepts; therefore, those who can teach it effectively are invaluable. Whether it’s lecturing students at a university or teaching specialist/refresher courses to existing health professionals, it’s entirely possible for nurses to make a career from educating others.
You’ll need to be academically inclined, and you’ll be expected to produce research and contribute heavily to nursing journals, but if you get a kick out of helping others learn and passing on your own experiences, then this is definitely the gig for you.
11. Nurse Practitioner
Although the scope of their practice can vary depending on where they are based, nurse practitioners are highly experienced and highly trained nurses who are licensed and qualified to diagnose and prescribe drugs – usually the remit of a doctor.
Due to the levels of accountability that come with this responsibility, you would need to provide an extensive portfolio of advanced and varied competencies, as well as demonstrate your all-around suitability for such a prestigious role. If successful, though, you will be able to have much greater control over your workload, as well as clinical autonomy over many of the patients that you see.
12. Community/District Nurse
Community nurses do most of their work outside of hospitals or clinical environments, travelling directly to the homes of their patients. Usually, these are people that are incapable of physically getting to hospital without assistance such as geriatrics or those that are immobile, although any vulnerable patient that requires follow-up care could be visited.
One of the most important aspects of community nursing is being able to build and develop relationships with a variety of patients, as it’s likely that any clinical procedures you carry out would be minor. For those who enjoy getting out and about and meeting people, though, and making a difference in their community, this is the ideal fit.
13. General Practice Nurse
General practice nurses work within small surgeries or healthcare clinics and, as the name implies, see a variety of patients of all ages. They also carry out minor clinical procedures and assist doctors in slightly more complex surgeries involving local anaesthetics.
For many nurses, the biggest benefit of this role is the hours; most work office hours in line with the opening times of the practice itself. There is also the scope to progress to senior practice nurse and, if the practice is large enough, into management; many nurse practitioners also choose to work within this environment.
14. Public Health Nurse
As public health covers a very broad area of topics, many nurses can be found working under its umbrella and in a wide variety of positions, too. For example, they could be in a non-clinical role, raising awareness of certain conditions and running health promotion campaigns or they could be offering certain services to the general public such as smoking cessation, sexual health testing or blood donation.
In this role, you would be required to speak publicly in schools, workplaces and health fairs, so you’ll need to be comfortable giving presentations. You’ll also need a creative streak to attract interest and grab people’s attention. If you’re proactive, passionate and good at getting a message across, then this could be the perfect role.
Of course, there are plenty more types of nurses – there are sub-specialisms within many of these fields, for instance, that could continue to distinguish and further your career. But on the whole, these are the general pathways down which your nursing career could blossom. And if you’ve got the skills required, then why not see where a career in nursing could take you?
Are you a nurse? Which specialism do you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below!