How to Pick a Specialty When You’re in Nursing School

How to Pick a Specialty When You’re in Nursing School
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Some people go into nursing school already knowing exactly what it is they want to do.  They’ve dreamed of taking care of babies their entire lives, or being there for the geriatric population as they take their last breath.  But for others, the decision isn’t as easy.  I know for me, I went into nursing school completely clueless at what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I struggled through school as one semester passed, then the next, never feeling “called” to a specialty.

It wasn’t until I was about to graduate that I finally had my “ah-ha” moment.  And although it came later than most of my classmates, I eventually got there.  So sit back, relax, and try your best to enjoy learning and growing as a nurse without putting too much pressure on yourself to pick a specialty right away.


How to Pick a Specialty When You’re in Nursing School


You’re Allowed to Change Your Mind

For starters, you have to realize that you are not married to the specialty you choose to go into.  While it’s an important decision, it isn’t life and death and you are allowed to change your mind.  I think knowing this can take the pressure off and allow you to enjoy learning about multiple specialties in school.


Ask for the Experiences You Want to Have

Second, sometimes in life (and in nursing school), you need to ask for the experiences that you want to have.  Don’t expect that your teachers know where to place you or even have your best interests at heart.  If you know that you like critical care settings, request more than one day of learning about the ER, ICU, NICU, PICU, etc.

If you don’t know exactly what experience it is that you want to have – experience everything.  Even if your curriculum doesn’t allow for a day in the ER, pull your teacher aside and request one, even if it’s for a couple of hours.  Try your hardest to visit every floor in the hospital so that you start to realize what it is that you do and do not like.


While this is important during nursing school, it’s especially important as a new grad.  Make sure to read 6 Essential Tips for New Nurses to see why.


Write Down Your Feelings

As you go through school, continually write down your feelings at the end of each day.  Even if it seems trivial, write down your feelings after you leave a unit at the end of the day or after you’re done in the skills lab.  Maybe you’ll look back and realize that everything you’ve written down about being on the L&D floor has a negative connotation.  Or maybe you’ll look back and think, “Wow, I didn’t realize how much I was enjoying myself.”


As You Master Your Skills, Keep Track of Whether or Not You Enjoy Them

As you master a new skill, make a list of whether or not you like doing that skill.  You change a diaper on an adult – did you enjoy that or would you rather change a diaper on a baby?  You learn how to start an IV, do you want to work in a unit where the patients need IVs or not?  You learn how to put in a foley catheter; would you be okay doing that to a child or would you prefer to do it to an adult?


Ask Yourself These Questions

Start asking yourself the following questions…

  • Do you prefer working with pediatric patients or adults?
  • Do you enjoy forming long-lasting relationships with your patients?  If so, then you’ll want to work on a floor where patients stick around longer than a few days.
  • Do you prefer caring for incredibly sick people?  If yes, perhaps you’ll want to work in an ICU setting.
  • Do you like to focus on one body system?  If so maybe you’ll work on a neuro floor, cardiac floor, or another specialty floor dedicated to one body system.
  • Do you like working in the hospital?  Maybe not and a clinic job is better for you.  You could work at a pediatric clinic, psychiatry office, or even get into aesthetics.

As you continue through school keep expanding your list of questions and each week go back and re-ask yourself if you’re on the right path.  If you decidedly hate working with kids, cross off anything to do with pediatrics moving forward.  Although you may still have to finish up with pediatric clinical, at least you can focus your energy on finding an adult floor you like more.  Keep narrowing down your list until you’re certain you found a specialty that you’ll enjoy.


Of course, finding a specialty that you love is easier said than done.  I hope that with the above tips you’re able to see past some of the noise in nursing school and at least figure out what you don’t like to do.  Remember, you’re not married to the first job you take out of school.  If you decide you don’t like the floor you’re working on its 100% okay to leave and find somewhere else to work instead.  You’ll figure it out eventually.


Read more:  10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Nurse


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Kylee is a NICU nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee has been a NICU nurse for 9 years and a travel nurse for 7 years. Since starting her career in travel nursing, she’s worked in six different states, 10 different hospitals, volunteered as a nurse in North Macedonia, worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, and has traveled to 45+ countries. Her favorite travel nurse assignment was in Seattle and her favorite destination is Georgia (the country). Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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