6 Nurse Practitioner Specialists to Consider

 A nurse practitioner meets with a patient.
A nurse practitioner meets with a patient.

Nurse practitioner specialties serve as opportunities to tap into specific areas of interest as a nurse practitioner (NP). Each specialty offers a multitude of clinical settings and patient populations to work with, in addition to a highly rewarding practice.

There are many different NP specialties and subspecialties. In this article, we discuss the most commonly available specialties and how to choose which to focus on while earning your online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Close up of a nurse in a lab coat holding a stethoscope.

What Is the Role of a Nurse Practitioner?

An NP is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who has graduate-level education (e.g., master’s or doctoral degree) and has received advanced clinical training. NPs undergo six or more years of academic and clinical preparation.

Becoming an NP

Requirements for NP practice include the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • Registered nurse (RN) license
  • Graduate nursing education
  • National board certification
  • State NP licensure/registration

For RNs who aren’t yet Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) holders, an RN-MSN bridge program is an effective way to start working toward an MSN degree, earning a bachelor’s along the way.

Where Do NPs Work?

NPs have a depth of knowledge and clinical competency and can practice in the following areas:

  • Primary care
  • Acute care
  • Psychiatric mental healthcare
  • Long-term healthcare settings

The NP scope of practice combines nursing and medical services for populations including individuals, families and groups. NPs practice autonomously and in collaboration with physicians and other healthcare providers.

NP Job Description

Responsibilities for NPs vary based on their specialty and state-granted practice authority, although they typically include the following:

  • Evaluating and diagnosing patients
  • Developing treatment plans that may include medications or repeated visits
  • Furthering testing such as imaging, lab work or various types of therapies
  • Prescribing medications
  • Making referrals to other providers if needed

Currently, 26 states recognize full practice authority for NPs. This grants them the ability to work independently and treat patients without physician supervision. Many NPs can also run their own practice.

Other states require collaboration between an NP and a supervising physician as an ongoing part of their day-to-day functions.

Advanced practice nursing is a relatively new field. Nonetheless, with over 355,000 licensed NPs working nationwide, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the role is growing exponentially.

Read everything you need to know about full practice authority for nurse practitioners in this blog.

 

Nurse practitioner taking a patient’s blood pressure.

Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Exploring Interests

Choosing among specialties is a personal decision that allows the opportunity to fine-tune their interests. NPs have the option to choose one or multiple certifications, depending on their career goals.

AANP lists a number of NP specialties, though due to the retirement of some certification exams, NP certifications have changed over time. Current specialties include the following:

  • Family practice
  • Adult-gerontology, primary or acute care
  • Pediatrics, primary care
  • Women’s health
  • Psychiatric/mental healthcare
  • Neonatal care

NPs can explore certifying bodies for information about exams, such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Read everything you need to know about the differences between the AANP and the ANCC exams in this blog.

Nurse practitioner taking a patient’s vitals.

Family Nurse Practitioner 

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide care for all ages — from infants to the elderly. They have flexible work settings and can be found in hospitals, primary care and specialty clinics and long-term care facilities.

It’s also becoming increasingly common for school systems to employ FNPs to care for their students. FNPs may also work in occupational health.

FNPs manage chronic conditions in primary care settings, as well as evaluate and treat acute, non-life-threatening ailments. They conduct physicals, oversee routine health needs and perform the general duties of an NP.

69.7% of NPs are certified as FNPs, making it the most common of the NP specialties, largely due to the flexibility that the role entails. 

Since FNPs treat across the life span, they often develop long-term relationships with their patients. FNPs are seeing high demand, as they’re uniquely suited to help fill the gap in primary care due to the physician shortage.

Read everything you need to know about becoming an FNP in Michigan in this blog

 

 Nurse practitioner smiling with a patient.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner 

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) focus on the care of patients ages 13 and up. AGPCNPs make up 7.0% of NPs.

NPs specializing in primary care help their patients manage chronic conditions, especially those that come with advanced age. They perform annual physicals, order screening labs and tests and make adjustments to their patients’ treatment plans.

AGPCNPs also educate patients on normal age-related changes and on what to expect as they grow older. They most often work in primary care offices, long-term care facilities and nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. They may also work in occupational health.

NPs focused on acute care gerontology are more often stationed in hospital settings. These NPs provide a range of care including disease prevention and acute care management, which may involve specialist treatment and discharge aftercare.

They’re prepared to work on any hospital floor, including the emergency department, intensive care unit and urgent care clinics.

Read everything you need to know about becoming an AGPC in this blog.

Nurse practitioner examining a patient.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Primary Care

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) see patients from birth up until young adulthood. Approximately 3.2% of NPs are PNPs in the U.S. This specialty differs from the FNP in that PNPs don’t treat patients who are older than 21 years of age.

PNPs have plenty of options when it comes to practice settings. They may opt to work in pediatric primary care offices, hospitals and urgent care centers that specifically treat children and young adults, as well as schools.

Some of the PNP’s duties include performing wellness visits, performing routine physicals, managing childhood vaccinations, providing parents with education on milestones and development and identifying any problem areas in patients’ development.

Nurses with a passion for young children may choose to become PNPs, as it’s the only certification among NP specialties focusing solely on pediatrics.

 

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner 

Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) are unique among nurse practitioner specialties in that they provide healthcare exclusively to women.

WHNPs make up 2.9% of NPs. They often work in women’s health offices, community clinics and hospitals.

Nurses who enjoy working in labor and delivery, or mother-baby units in the hospital, may benefit from choosing this specialty. WHNPs, however, differ from certified nurse-midwives in that they promote women’s health throughout the life span.

WHNPs often provide primary care services with a focus on gynecology or pregnancy management for low-risk patients. They perform wellness exams and provide education for expect

 

Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) specialize in mental healthcare. PMHNPs make up 4.7% of NPs.PMHNPs work with patients with mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety. They provide patients with counseling, resources, medication management and monitoring. They may also prescribe therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

These NPs may also work in many different settings, including community clinics, hospitals, psychiatric specialty hospitals and outpatient mental health clinics.

This NP specialty is in high demand as 1 in 5 adults experience some form of mental illness in the U.S. in any given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nurse practitioner taking a patient’s vitals.

Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner

Hospice and palliative care nurse practitioners (HPCNPs) work with patients who have chronic, debilitating health conditions or terminal illnesses and who are close to death.

These NPs focus care on keeping their patients comfortable and managing their symptoms, which often include pain, discomfort or anxiety.

HPCNPs may also guide conversations relating to end-of-life planning, including advance directives and the patient’s wishes.

 

More Options for NPs: Subspecialties 

NP specialties offer the opportunity to hone clinical skills and allow NPs to work with specific patient populations. For NPs who’d like to meet the needs of their patients and enhance their careers, subspecialties are available.

Subspecialization allows NPs to focus on specific body systems and treat disease processes related to their subspecialty.

Common NP subspecialties include the following:

  • Oncology
  • Dermatology
  • Nephrology
  • Pulmonology
  • Cardiology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Orthopedics

Many NPs also join interactive communities based on their interests. AANP runs a list of current specialty practice groups, with the goal of “advancing knowledge and professional development in select practice and interest areas.”

Close-up of a nurse practitioner on a laptop with a stethoscope.

What to Do: Considering Nurse Practitioner Specialties

To help you decide which of the nurse practitioner specialties is best for you to choose, consider these top factors:

1. Your Interests

Areas that you find interesting should be at the top of your list. If you enjoy forging long-term relationships with patients and providing care at different stages of life, then a career as an FNP may suit you well.

If you’d prefer focusing on adults and their special set of health needs, becoming an AGNP may be best for you.

2. Employment Opportunities

Although NP outlook is bright, another factor to consider is which specialty offers the most opportunities near you. Some specialties may have more job openings in your area compared to others.

We recommend researching local job postings to gauge demand, especially if you plan on working in a specific location.

3. Career Flexibility

Many students know which area they’d like to specialize in, while others pursue different specialties throughout their careers. Although the NP role is flexible overall, some concentrations offer more opportunities

The FNP role, for example, cares for patients of all ages and is desired in countless healthcare settings.

4. Salary

While most NPs have rewarding salaries, some specialties tend to earn more than others. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners earn median salaries between $94,413 and $110,181 annually.

Alternatively, pediatric nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $90,159.

 

Nurse practitioner working on a laptop with a notebook.

 

A Bright Career Outlook

Demand is high in all nurse practitioner specialties, but especially those geared toward primary care.

88.9% of NPs work in primary care, according to the AANP, which means they can provide essential care services amid the physician shortage.

As the baby-boom population ages and requires more complex medical care, the need for healthcare services will rise. In fact, the BLS predicts that the NP field will grow by 45% through 2030.

Specialties make this line of work even more exciting. With the ability to choose an area of focus, NPs can align clinical competence with their passion to serve specific populations.

Read everything you need to know about the advantages of being an NP in this blog.

 

What to Do: Considering Nurse Practitioner Specialties

To help you decide which of these specialties is best for you to choose, consider these top factors:

1.Your Interests

Areas that you find interesting should be at the top of your list. If you enjoy forging long-term relationships with patients and providing care at different stages of life, then a career as an FNP may suit you well.

If you’d prefer to focus on adults and their special set of health needs, becoming an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP) may be best for you.

2. Employment Opportunities

Although the NP outlook is bright, another factor to consider is which specialty offers the most opportunities near you. Some specialties may have more job openings in your area compared to others.

We recommend researching local job postings to gauge demand, especially if you plan on working in a specific location.

3. Career Flexibility

Many students know which area they’d like to specialize in, while others pursue different specialties throughout their careers. Although the NP role is flexible overall, some concentrations offer more opportunities.

The FNP role, for example, cares for patients of all ages and is desired in countless healthcare settings.

4. Salary

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for NPs was $120,680 in 2021. However, salary can vary according to nursing specialty. For example, Payscale notes that FNPs made a median annual salary of approximately $98,000 as of May 2022, while NPs who focus on adult-gerontology made a median annual salary of approximately $90,400.

Make a Difference as a Nurse Practitioner

NP specialties allow nurses to become experts in specific populations or areas of healthcare to successfully meet a variety of patient needs. Earning an advanced education in nursing can prepare prospective NPs to build up expertise in these specialties and deliver quality care.

Spring Arbor University’s online MSN-NP program offers four in-demand NP concentrations:

Meet the need for primary care in your community through these highly desired NP roles.

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