How to Choose a Nurse Practitioner Specialty – 10 Important Factors to Consider

Written By: Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN

While some aspiring nurse practitioners struggle to decide which field they wish to specialize in, others seem to know they are made for a specific practice area. There are so many fascinating specialties to choose from that it can be confusing!

Perhaps you are one of the nurses who is having trouble deciding which area to pick and are asking the question of “how to choose a nurse practitioner specialty?” If so, don’t fret; we have some answers for you. This article, “10 important factors to consider while choosing a nurse practitioner specialty”, will clarify what is most essential for you in deciding which NP field of practice best fits your career goals and passion.


The list of nurse practitioner specialties is increasing by the day. Whatever your passion, there will likely be a program specializing in that area.

Some of the more traditional and less common NP specialties are:

1. Family Nurse Practitioner
2. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
3. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
4. Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
5. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
6. Acute Care Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
7. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
8. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
9. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
10. Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner
11. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
12. Emergency Care Nurse Practitioner
13. Cardiology Nurse Practitioner
14. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner
15. Dermatology Nurse Practitioner
16. Oncology Nurse Practitioner
17. Forensic Nurse Practitioner
18. Gastroenterology Nurse Practitioner
19. Hospice Nurse Practitioner
20. Pain Management Nurse Practitioner

As you can see, there is an impressive list of NP specialties. It’s no wonder some would-be nurse practitioners have difficulty deciding on a specialty area to practice.



There are no rules to restrict your decision when choosing a nurse practitioner specialty. You can select any area that you desire. However, there are some prerequisites to getting into nurse practitioner school, but they typically only include standard courses in your undergrad nursing curriculum.


You have to choose a specialty as a nurse practitioner. That is how the profession is designed. If you want to be a generalist, you should choose to be a family nurse practitioner, as that is the broadest of all the NP specialties. However, the FNP degree is a specialty in itself.


(The following are the 10 important factors to consider while choosing a nurse practitioner specialty that is right for you.)

FACTOR #1: Try shadowing

About the Factor:

Shadowing an experienced nurse practitioner is a common way to help you to decide which specialty to choose. Shadowing opportunities exist in almost every area of medicine, so don’t feel shy to ask an NP if it’s OK to follow her around for a few days to observe precisely what she does on the job.

Why Consider this Factor:

Shadowing an NP is the best way to get a feel for the role and duties of a nurse practitioner in the field in which you are interested. What you may imagine a specialty to entail can be completely different from actuality. To make sure that your specialty decision is sound, try shadowing as one of the first steps in the decision process of choosing a nurse practitioner specialty.

FACTOR #2: Choose a familiar field

About the Factor:

Most nurse practitioners choose a specialty area that is a natural progression from their nursing experience. For example, an ER nurse may become an emergency care nurse practitioner, and a nurse working with children will likely become a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Why Consider this Factor:

Choosing a nurse practitioner specialty you are familiar with makes sense. Having prior experience and knowledge will help make your schooling to be easier. Also, you can be sure that your choice will make you happy since there should be no big surprises.

FACTOR #3: Consider the demand

About the Factor:

When choosing a nurse practitioner specialty, you should research to ensure that the job market is brisk for your area of interest.

Why Consider this Factor:

Nothing would be worse than being unable to find a job in your specialty due to lack of demand. Also, your paycheck may reflect your choice as NP positions that are harder to fill command a greater wage typically.

FACTOR #4: Compensation

About the Factor:

You will want to check the average wage of an NP in the field you wish to pursue. This factor, when considering your specialty speaks for itself. Some areas naturally pay better than others. For example, cardiac and inpatient NPs typically make more than family and pediatric NPs.

Why Consider this Factor:

Some NPs may be interested in pursuing the highest-paying nurse practitioner specialties. If you invest a lot of time and money into furthering your career, you should ensure that your decision pays off financially in the long run.

FACTOR #5: Program accessibility

About the Factor:

Before you make any big decisions, you will need to know if your specialty has an NP program nearby or offered online.

Why Consider this Factor:

Choosing a nurse practitioner specialty also involves researching the NP program itself. Is the school nearby so that you can physically attend the classes? Do they offer online courses that accommodate students in your location (double-check on the clinical locations)? Not having access to your interest area can quickly curtail your chosen specialty.

FACTOR #6: Program cost

About the Factor:

The cost of nurse practitioner school can vary greatly. Although the cheapest school may not always be the best option, you want to ensure that you get a quality program at a reasonable price. Now that many NP programs are offered online, it is wise to compare costs to find the best value for your needs.

Why Consider this Factor:

Factoring in the cost of an NP program is vital in the decision-making process as you need to live within your means and don’t want to be overwhelmed with student debt upon graduation. With so many programs, you do not have to settle for the closest and possibly more expensive option.

FACTOR #7: What degree level are you willing to pursue?

About the Factor:

Are you thinking of getting an MSN, or do you plan to go on to get your DNP? There are different programs for each of these degrees, so this factor must be considered when choosing your specialty. For example, you will rarely need to get a DNP if your goal is to be (and stay) in a position at a hospital as a neonatology NP. On the other hand, a DNP is an excellent choice if you want to go into education.

Why Consider this Factor:

When choosing an MSN vs. a DNP, you need to think far into the future. What are your 5 and 10-year goals as an NP? Will your specialty and degree support these goals? Of course, you can always go back to school, but you may save time and money if you pursue your ultimate career goal with the appropriate schooling right from the get-go.

FACTOR #8: Where do you want to work?

About the Factor:

Knowing what type of environment and where you want to work will help you choose your specialty. If you love the hospital, many NP specialty areas will fit your needs. However, if you have a narrower focus, such as wanting to work in ambulatory care only with a specific population, you will have fewer options available as an NP.

Why Consider this Factor:

Knowing what type of environment you want to work when choosing a nurse practitioner career specialty will help you to zero in on your specialty. Being realistic about post-graduation expectations such as the job setting will make finding a job easier on all levels and help you to focus on the exact type of specialty area that you want to pursue.

FACTOR #9: What patient population appeals to you?

About the Factor:

Knowing what type of patient population you are willing to work with will make choosing a specific area to specialize in much more straightforward. For example, an aspiring NP who does not want to work with sick or elderly patients can narrow their decision to areas such as OB-GYN specialties and aesthetics.

Why Consider this Factor:

Future NPs intent on working with a specific population must choose carefully when deciding on their specialty area. It would be a shame if your specialty did not fit your patient population preference upon graduation.

FACTOR #10: Do what you love

About the Factor:

The number one factor to help you choose a nurse practitioner specialty is to pursue your passion in nursing.

Why Consider this Factor:

Once you become an NP, you can be in your career for a long time. Doing what you love at work will make your days enjoyable and keep you interested in your job well into your golden NP years. As the business magnate Steve Jobs says, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do”.


Sometimes, once you see a plan in writing, the answers begin to fall into place. After reading “10 important factors to consider while choosing a nurse practitioner specialty” you should be in an excellent position to make this sometimes confusing yet necessary career decision. With the tools and tips outlined here, the dilemma of how to choose a nurse practitioner specialty? should be less daunting.

I hope you find your passion as an NP and pursue a specialty supporting your greatest professional dreams.

Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN
Donna Reese is a freelance nurse health content writer with 37 years nursing experience. She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in her local community clinic and as an RN in home health, rehabilitation, hospital, and school nursing.