Nurse Practitioner Specialties Explained

Nurse Practitioner Specialties Explained was originally published on Hospital Recruiting.

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The modern healthcare world has expanded vastly in recent history to offer quality and comprehensive care to patients of all ages and all demographics like never before. We know more and can do more to promote the best quality and longevity of life possible. However, with the large size of the population and the increasing amount of health related services available, we are faced with a shortage of professionals to deliver this care. Part of the solution to this issue is found in professionals like nurse practitioners and physician assistants who work alongside physicians to provide care to patients across the lifespan. There is a great need for more providers with a variety of educational backgrounds, and often this career path appeals to those who want a unique and challenging approach to patient care.

Perhaps one of the most multifaceted roles in healthcare is that of the nurse practitioner (NP). NPs are first trained as registered nurses (RNs), receiving a bachelor’s degree in science. They then go on to a graduate program, either a master’s degree or a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP), which has become the more popular choice in recent years. From there, the options are endless, with the ability to work in a variety of patient care settings, specialties, and capacities. NPs work in clinics, hospitals, schools, mental health facilities, long term care facilities, and just about anywhere else you find people needing care of their bodies and minds. Rapidly changing laws are allowing more and more NPs to practice to the fullest extent of their education without the supervision of a physician, although some are still required to be in collaboration with a medical doctor. NPs are widely known and respected, and emerging evidence is showing great patient outcomes as well as superb patient satisfaction scores.

One of the things that makes NPs so beneficial to the patient population and so marketable to hospitals, clinics, and beyond is their ability to specialize. A specialty is chosen when applying to a nurse practitioner program and then the entire degree and clinical experience is centered around that specialty, creating a confident and competent professional upon completion. NPs can obtain multiple degrees across multiple specialties, or they may choose to just focus on one area. Depending on your geographic region, knowledge about specialty NPs may be fairly uncommon, or a specialty certification may be the only way to get a job in a particular area. There are several different types of specialty certifications, and for those wanting to work with a specific population, these types of programs are definitely worth considering in order to be the most capable and effective practitioner possible.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Perhaps the most common and well known of NP certifications is the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). These providers are qualified to care for patients across the lifespan and can be cross-trained in any area that will hire them. FNPs are typically found in outpatient clinics and ERs where they treat a variety of common illnesses and injuries and also manage chronic issues. As with all NPs, they can prescribe medications, order and interpret labs and imaging, and provide quality patient education. They are often hired and trained in more specific detail for specialty areas such as cardiology, pulmonology, endocrinology, oncology, and neurology. They sometimes work in pediatrics and women’s health, though they cannot deliver babies. This is probably the most flexible option for someone wanting to become a nurse practitioner, as the area of practice can be changed without obtaining additional degrees. Though for a specialty such as pediatrics or mental health, they may not be the most marketable.

Adult-Geriatric Nurse Practitioner

Adult-Geriatric NPs are similar to the physician equivalent of internal medicine, treating older adults and the health issues commonly associated with this age group. They may work in clinics or hospitals and are well suited for hospice care and long term care facilities. Their education and training is very specific to what happens to the body as it ages and how to best help these patients maintain good quality of life as well as counseling on end of life issues. They can also be cross trained for areas like cardiology, pulmonology, oncology, neurology, and others. Their main restriction is that they cannot see patients under the age of 18, as their education does not include the care of children.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric NPs (PNPs) are trained in the care of infants, children, teens, and young adults, with their scope ending around age 23 at college age. PNPs typically work in outpatient and school based clinics. They have extensive knowledge of growth and development and focus largely on preventative healthcare, counseling on nutrition, learning, vaccination, risk reduction, and overall foundation of healthy lifestyles. They manage common acute childhood injuries and illnesses as well as chronic problems like asthma and mental health issues like ADHD. They often work with families as a whole and develop long term relationships with their patients as they grow from infancy. They can also cross train to pediatric specialty areas such as cardiology, neurology, endocrinology, pulmonology, etc. Some PNPs may work in hospital settings like inpatient pediatric units and emergency departments; however, there is an acute care pediatrics certification that is often required to do this.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwives

Women’s Health NPs and Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) are very similar but do have some differences in their training. Both are trained to care for women across the lifespan, from pre-puberty concerns, puberty/menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. They focus mostly on reproductive health, but also consider healthcare risks common for women such as heart disease, breast cancer, and thyroid problems. WHNPs can manage menstrual symptoms and irregularities, birth control, infertility issues, and symptoms of menopause. They also screen and monitor for risk factors related to breast and reproductive organ cancer. They can also monitor routine pregnancies and care for women postpartum. CNMs can do all of the above with additional training to allow them to attend laboring women and deliver babies. This certification requires extensive clinical experience and a minimum number of births attended before graduation. Midwifery care during pregnancy is often shown to result in fewer complications and C-sections during delivery and is holistic, woman/baby centered care.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners are extensively trained in disorders of the mind, from more common issues like anxiety, depression, and ADHD, to more complex problems like bipolar and schizophrenia. They have extensive knowledge of the complicated nature of psychiatric medications and all the monitoring that goes along with them. They are trained in the most effective communication methods and are often able to deliver cognitive behavior therapy programs alongside therapists. They may be found in outpatient clinics, group programs, or inpatient psychiatric units.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

 Neonatal NPs work with the smallest of patients, in the NICU. These NPs are specifically trained in the issues surrounding prematurity or difficulties after birth. They have knowledge about the effects of prematurity on long term development, problems with breathing in newborns, cardiac abnormalities, surgical emergencies, and infection and sepsis in the very young. They often have many technical skills like line insertions, intubation, and venous access that are uniquely complicated on such small patients. They attend births where complications are expected and are skilled in neonatal resuscitation. These NPs often work 24 hour shifts where they remain on call near the NICU in case they are needed.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Acute Care NPs can often been found in emergency departments and inpatient units like critical care or trauma. This is a very hands on degree, with training in intubation, chest tube insertion, fracture stabilization, and bedside procedures. These NPs are trained in acute illness and injuries and learn how to stabilize life-and-death situations as well as manage patients who are critically ill. There is often a difficult balance between treating the immediate threat to life and keeping other body systems and organs functioning properly in the process. They may be skilled in things like dialysis, ECMO, and lab interpretation. This certification can be obtained by itself but is often obtained alongside a family, pediatric, or adult-geriatric certification.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are specially trained nurses that administer anesthesia during procedures. They typically work in an outpatient setting where procedures are performed or in a hospital setting, most commonly in operating rooms. This degree requires extensive clinical experience and supervision by experienced CRNAs and anesthesiologists before a student may be considered proficient. Training involves learning how to administer general anesthesia and monitor the stability of patients during surgery, as well as procedures like epidurals, and spinal or other nerve blocks. These advanced practice nurses often work 24 hours shifts and can be found throughout the hospital on call.


When considering a career as a nurse practitioner, it is important to envision what you would most like to be doing and what population you are most interested or enjoy. Whatever your area of preference is, you may or may not need a specialty certification. But even for areas where the certification is not necessary, obtaining a specialized degree does make you the most marketable for the position and allows you to provide top of the line care and practice to the fullest extent of your education.


Browse Jobs is a healthcare job board which offers a large number of positions for NPs, CRNAs, and Certified Nurse Midwives nationwide. We also advertise open positions for all other healthcare roles. Follow the links below to browse advanced practice registered nursing jobs. Nurse Practitioner Job Board: CRNA Job Board: Nurse Midwife Job Board:

By Sarah Schulze, CPNP - Hospital Recruiting
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