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7 Best Specializations for BSN Students

NurseJournal Staff
Updated January 10, 2023
Looking to specialize after earning your BSN but not sure where to start? Check out our top list below.
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Students pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) often have the option to pursue a specialization. Specializations let nurses focus on an area of healthcare or patient population. Nurses with a specialty often have more employment opportunities and higher earning potential.

However, many nurses struggle to choose a specialty from the many nursing choices available. Detailed below are our top seven specializations for BSN-holders. We selected these options based on earning potential, demand, and practice environment.

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1. Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing

Psychiatric mental health (PMH) nurses work with primary care and specialty providers to care for patients with mental health issues. Psychiatric nurses evaluate symptoms, assess patients’ medical histories, and develop treatment plans. PMH nurses may also perform physical and psychosocial assessments, provide emergency psychiatric care, and analyze treatment effectiveness.

PMH nurses can work with individuals, families, groups, or communities. They can find employment in hospitals, schools, and community health centers. Public health facilities, nursing homes, and substance use treatment programs also employ psychiatric nurses.

Why Choose This Specialty: Many nurses find this specialty rewarding because they can build relationships with individuals across the lifespan. Because they are in high demand, PMH nurses enjoy some flexibility in where they can work.

PMH nurses can also earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) and become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs). According to the 2019 Nurse Practitioner Compensation Report, PMHNPs specialize in one of the field’s best-paying areas.

Average Salary: $67,290 (Payscale/February 2022)

2. Pain Management Nursing

Pain management nurses assess the cause and severity of patients’ pain. Their main goal is to help patients ease and manage short- or long-term pain. They perform physical assessments, examine medical histories, and perform diagnostic screening and tests.

Because some narcotics used for pain management can be habit forming, these nurses must teach patients to use their medications safely and effectively. Some provide alternative pain management techniques that do not require the use of narcotics, such as biofeedback, acupuncture, massage, and other therapeutic exercises.

While pain management nurses primarily work in hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices, some find opportunities at rehabilitation clinics and therapy centers.

Why Choose This Specialty: The pain management field is growing fast, and demand for these nurses continues to increase. Pain management nursing is one of the highest-paying specialties available.

Average Salary: $101,390 (Indeed/February 2022)

3. Informatics Nursing

Combining patient care skills with analytics, nurse informaticists develop strategies to maintain data and foster technologies that support the nursing field. They use technology to monitor health systems, programs, and patient care initiatives. Nurse informaticists determine what does and does not work in a healthcare setting.

They also train nursing staff to use technology and draw data from trainees to see if the technology can improve patient outcomes.

Why Choose This Specialty: Nurses interested in alternatives to traditional bedside care may find this specialization rewarding. According to the 2020 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, less than 30% of nurse informaticists spend time providing direct clinical care. Instead, many work from home and enjoy a typical work week with weekends and holidays off.

More than 70% of nurse informaticists report that they are highly satisfied with their career choice.

Average Salary: $79,200 (Payscale/February 2022)

4. Perioperative Nursing

Also known as surgical or operating room nurses, perioperative nurses care for patients before, during, and after surgery. In the operating room, perioperative nurses can fill one of two roles:

  • Scrub nurse: Passes the surgical equipment to the surgeon
  • Circulating nurse: Makes sure the operating room remains safe and comfortable

Before surgery, perioperative nurses help patients complete paperwork and answer questions about the procedure. They also monitor the patient’s condition after surgery, educating them on recovery practices like pain management and wound care.

Why Choose This Specialty: Perioperative nursing offers a demanding but exciting career opportunity for nurses who enjoy learning about human anatomy. Perioperative nurses collaborate with other healthcare professionals in fast-paced settings. They also serve as patient advocates and guide individuals through the surgical process.

Average Salary: $75,460 (Payscale/February 2022)

5. Critical Care Nursing

Critical care nurses are sometimes known as intensive care unit (ICU) nurses. They work with doctors and specialists to diagnose, treat, and monitor critically ill patients. An ICU nurse typically provides patients with an initial assessment and starts any necessary treatments before the patient sees a doctor.

Nurses who work in the ICU are primarily responsible for three areas: evaluation, treatment, and communication. They conduct an initial evaluation and make decisions regarding the patient’s condition. Critical care nurses perform additional evaluations throughout the patient’s time in the ICU. These nurses monitor treatments, make sure medications are effective, and ensure that all equipment is operating appropriately.

Lastly, the ICU nurse communicates with the patient and their family, explaining medical procedures and conditions.

Why Choose This Specialty: A career as a critical care nurse can be stressful, as they typically treat patients in life-threatening situations. However, they often enjoy access to cutting-edge medical techniques and equipment. They also gain experience that can lead to higher salaries or leadership roles.

Average Salary: $73,730 (Payscale/February 2022)

6. Dialysis Nursing

Dialysis nurses help renal (kidney) disease patients clear their bodies of toxins through the dialysis process. They ensure that equipment works correctly, monitor and discuss any changes in the patient’s health, and educate the patient and their family on aspects of dialysis.

Why Choose This Specialty: This specialty lets nurses build close relationships with patients and families. When a person’s kidneys are not functioning properly, they often feel sick and run down. Dialysis nurses find that being directly involved in the positive impact of dialysis makes spending time with patients even more rewarding.

With kidney disease impacting over 37 million Americans, dialysis nurses are in high demand.

Average Salary: $76,120 (Payscale/February 2022)

7. Neonatal Nursing

Neonatal nurses treat premature babies and newborns with birth defects, infections, or cardiac issues. Also known as neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses, they provide care after birth. Neonatal nurses evaluate and monitor newborns in the NICU, perform tests and evaluate results, administer medications, and educate new parents.

Why Choose This Specialty: While caring for infants can be emotionally difficult, NICU nurses often find fulfillment in helping families and nurturing newborns. Technological advancements have improved infant survival rates, and neonatal nurses can ensure that more newborns are strong enough to go home with their families.

Average Salary: $70,780 (Payscale/February 2022)

Finding Your Specialty

Choosing a specialty takes time, reflection, and most important, experience. You may not know which specialization is right for you until you have experienced it firsthand. If you have not had this opportunity yet, you can start by examining your own professional goals and strengths.

Do you want to directly interact with patients or perform a role that’s behind the scenes? Would you rather work with children, the elderly, or patients of all ages?

By using available resources, you can determine the best fit for you. Once you narrow down your options, seek advice from nurses or educators who have experience in roles that interest you. Find out if there are relevant nursing internships or training opportunities available.

Selecting the right specialty can be the best decision you make.

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