Nurse Practitioner Specialties: 5 Ways to Choose the Right Career Path

a nurse speaking to a patient and their family member

If you’re a current or aspiring nurse practitioner who wants to address the diverse healthcare needs of patients across the country and the world, you may want to consider choosing a nurse practitioner specialty.
From emergency care and surgery to pediatrics and gerontology, the choices available to nurse practitioners are abundant. That means there’s plenty of exciting opportunity for you to focus your career on what you’re passionate about — but it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to decide which specialty to pursue.
Here are five tips to help you prepare for your career as a nurse practitioner and choose a specialty.

1. Set salary expectations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for a nurse practitioner is $103,880, which is far more than the average salary of $70,000 earned by registered nurses. Salaries can reach higher levels for nurse practitioners who choose specialties such as anesthesiology, research, or midwifery.
Nursing professionals should be aware that competition for these specialties is high, and that starting salaries may be below the median for all nurse practitioners. Additionally, factors such as experience, education, type of medical facility, and geographic location can also play a role in salary expectations.

2. Build a robust professional network.

If you’re an aspiring nurse practitioner who is having difficulty selecting a specialty, it might be helpful to reach out to your professional network.
Consulting with nursing colleagues, mentors, instructors, and professional acquaintances in the healthcare field is a great way to learn more about nurse practitioner specialties and areas of expertise required to be successful in each of them.
You could also benefit from reaching out to individuals who might already be working in a specific field or specialty. This allows you to gain advice and insight about any expectations, challenges, and rewards that come from working in that field.

3. Choose a preferred job setting.

Nurses can work in a variety of professional environments, including hospitals, clinics, schools, research laboratories, military bases, and even home care environments.
As you begin to think about which nurse practitioner specialty is right for you, it’s helpful to consider which type of working environment you prefer and how that aligns with your career goals. Maybe you thrive in the hectic environment of an emergency room — or perhaps you’d prefer working with patients in a long-term capacity in a clinic.
Just like the benefits of networking mentioned above, it also might be worthwhile to visit different working environments and consult with nurses there to get a stronger sense of what their day-to-day is like.

4. Consider postgraduate work in a float pool.

Another experience that can help you choose a nurse practitioner specialty is working in a nursing float pool.
A float pool is a group of nurses who are skilled in a range of medical procedures and can assist and address the needs of patients in various departments of a healthcare facility. During a 12-hour shift at some hospitals and facilities, a float pool nurse can work in three different units, administering a different type of patient care in each.

While there are challenges that come with working as a float pool nurse, like dealing with temporary assignments or juggling various responsibilities between departments, the variety of tasks, patients, and environments you encounter could help you discover which of the nurse practitioner specialties might be a good fit.

5. Evaluate relocation options.

Even though nurses in general are in high demand, there might be better opportunities available for those who are willing to relocate to a different geographic area.

There are certain areas and states that have a higher demand for nurses than others. According to a study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, California’s average hourly wage for nurses was $48.30, and the state was reported to have the highest nursing shortage in the country, with a need for 44,500 professionals.

Considering that the average hourly wage for nurses in Texas, which had the second-highest need for nurses, was $33.02, the demand for qualified nurses in California seems to surpass that in other states. On the other end of the spectrum, Florida had a nursing surplus of 53,700 professionals, so the nursing landscape may be much more competitive.

That doesn’t mean, however, that nursing professionals who move to California will immediately find a job that pays that high average wage. Certain communities and areas of California might have a higher demand for a specific type of nurse, and professionals working in a particular city or location might earn more than those working in a different part of the state.

But the ability and willingness to relocate to meet those demands could prove beneficial to nurses and nurse practitioners.

Another option is to become a traveling nurse. Just like the float pool that allows nurses to practice in several departments of a medical facility, traveling nurses are able to work shorter assignments — often 13 weeks long — at different hospitals, clinics, and healthcare institutions.

Because they move from location to location, traveling nurses will potentially work for healthcare facilities that pay different amounts.

Select a nurse practitioner specialty and pursue an advanced degree.

As the healthcare sector evolves and the demand for nurses grows, you’ll likely need to increase your nursing knowledge and advance your professional skill sets to succeed as a nurse practitioner.
One way to do this is by obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), an advanced degree that can help you become a leader in your organization while seeking new career opportunities in different areas of nursing.
If you’re ready to take your next step as a nurse and find your specialty, Maryville University has you covered. Our online Doctor of Nursing Practice is designed to work in conjunction with your demanding schedule. Check it out, and see how your DNP can help you become a forward-thinking professional who’s ready to make an impact in your field.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners”

Maryville University, “Online Doctor of Nursing Practice”

Nursing2019, “Float pool nurses come to the rescue”, “What is a Travel Nurse?”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Supply and Demand Projections of the Nursing Workforce: 2014-2030”