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How to Become a Nursing Specialist

A nurse specialist is an advanced-level role in hospitals and other clinical locations. They strive to improve healthcare through evidence-based practice at both the patient level and system level. These advanced practice nurses (APRNs) have opted to take their career further by earning a master’s degree, or sometimes even a doctoral degree in the nursing field. Nursing specialists choose one or more specific practice areas to master through advanced education and hands-on experience.

Nurse stands in front of a building wearing her blue scrubs and crossing her arms while smiling

In the broadest terms, what a nursing specialist does is provide safe, quality care to patients while assessing, diagnosing, and treating illnesses. The specific demands of the position vary depending on the medical setting and specialization. Generally, a nursing specialist’s responsibility is to provide highly specialized, patient-oriented direct care at an advanced level.

Want to find out what’s involved in becoming a nursing specialist? Read on.

What Does a Nursing Specialist Do?

Nursing specialists offer vital care in medical settings that are aligned with their focus area. They specialize in clinical areas that suit their personal and professional interests. For example, some nursing specialists may choose to focus on a specific patient population such as young children or women. Others may choose to specialize in a particular disease, type of care, or medical situation. They may also train for nursing roles in a specific hospital setting, such as the emergency room or in critical care.

No matter the specialty, what nursing specialists do helps provide frontline care for patients. Nursing specialists frequently manage clinical issues across different hospital departments, such as oncology or prenatal care, with an eye on organization-wide improvement. As such, nursing specialists assume a leadership position at their medical facility.

Some responsibilities of a nursing specialist include the following.

  • Observe, diagnose, and treat patients. Nursing specialists make informed decisions daily about patient health and treatment. Using their advanced training and education, they discuss symptoms with their patients, order laboratory tests, and determine diagnoses. They develop comprehensive plans for the unique needs of each patient.
  • Treat diseases, injuries, and disabilities associated with their specialty. Nursing specialists work across many different areas of a hospital. As someone with specialized knowledge, they consult with medical staff and offer guidance on topics relating to their area of expertise. This collaboration enables the medical staff to make the best possible decisions regarding patient care.
  • Advise other staff on patient care. Nursing specialists are leaders in the hospital system and experts in their focus area. As such, they provide education and coaching to health caregivers, hospital administrators, and nurses.
  • Research and obtain further training in their specialty. Nursing specialists are enthusiastic about continued education. Medical treatments are always evolving, so nursing specialists must review new research and pursue additional training.

Steps for Becoming a Nursing Specialist

The path to becoming a nursing specialist may vary depending on a nurse’s interests, education level, and location. The employment requirements for licensed nursing specialists vary by state. However, there are common steps and skills that are required for the role.

Nursing specialist candidates must earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in a healthcare-related field, and gain clinical experience. Their practical experience in a hospital setting adds vital skills to their repertoire, including communication, critical thinking, active listening, organizational ability, and active learning.

Here are some of the basic steps involved in becoming a nursing specialist.

Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse

To become a nursing specialist, candidates must have several years of on-the-job training and education. The amount of required experience varies based on location, education, and licensure rules. A bachelor’s degree is not required to become a registered nurse (RN), but those wishing to become a nursing specialist will likely need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Obtaining this degree lays the foundation for future specialization and exposes students to the real-world demands of the field.

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree

Achieving a top-level nursing position such as nursing specialist requires advanced  education. Through master’s-level study, aspiring nursing specialists can focus on a medical specialty and train in advanced healthcare techniques and treatments.

Step 3: Gain Experience

To be eligible for licensing as a nursing specialist, candidates must complete at least 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours at a medical facility, followed by a licensure exam in their specialty.

Step 4: Keep Learning

Nursing specialists are at the forefront of advancements in medical science and patient care. They must stay current in disease and injury treatment options and other advancements in their specific field. There are a variety of ways nursing specialists stay current, including continuing education coursework, attending training seminars, and reading medical journals.

Nursing Specialist Salaries

Because nursing specialists have advanced knowledge, proven experience and provide specific care, they usually earn higher than average salaries for the nursing profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse specialists, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, earned a median annual salary of $115,800 as of May 2019.

Nursing specialists’ income may vary based on the level of experience, geographic region, and type of medical institution. For example, a large public hospital may provide a different rate of pay than a private practice or hospice care facility.

According to the compensation website PayScale, these are the median annual salaries of nurse specialists in various clinical areas as of May 2020.

  • Critical Care Nurse: Specializes in and provides care to patients in critical and intensive care units – median salary: $66,396
  • Neonatal Nurse: Specializes in providing patient care to mothers and newborn babies – median salary: $68,402
  • Oncology Nurse: Specializes in providing care to patients receiving cancer treatments –median salary: $70,989
  • Pediatric Nurse: Provides care to children in pediatric units, hospitals, and private practices – median salary: $61,124
  • Trauma Nurse Specialist: Provides patient care to individuals in hospital trauma units – median salary: $64,998

Employment Outlook for Nursing Specialists

As America’s population ages, the demand for healthcare services continues to expand. Healthcare also continues to evolve, becoming more personalized through the use of advanced data-gathering systems and high-tech medical devices. As a result, the BLS expects demand for nursing specialists to increase by 26% between 2018 and 2028.

Explore Your Career Options

Are you ready to start (or continue) your career path to becoming a nursing specialist? This dynamic field offers engagement in lifelong learning and direct connections to patients. If you’re ready to begin your journey toward this nursing specialty, consider Maryville University’s online RN to BSN program.

Recommended Reading:
The Future of Telehealth: An Inside Look at the Merger of Tech & Healthcare
Why Maryville Nursing Webinar
RN to BSN Informational Webinar

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Salary
PayScale, Average Critical Care Nurse Hourly Pay
PayScale, Average Neonatal Nurse (RN) Hourly Pay
PayScale, Average Nurse Oncology Hourly Pay
PayScale, Average Pediatric Nurse Hourly Pay
PayScale, Average Trauma Nurse Specialist Hourly Pay
Maryville University, Career Opportunities for Nurses: Opening Doors with a BSN
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses