It doesn’t take long for any patient who regularly interacts with a skilled nurse practitioner (NP) to acknowledge the critical role they play in healthcare. Across the country, NPs provide expert care to patients of all ages and backgrounds and are often a lifeline for underserved communities where access to quality care is limited.
Whether you’re an established registered nurse (RN) looking to move into an advanced practice role or are new to the healthcare field and exploring a potential career option, you likely have some questions about becoming a nurse practitioner.
One important and sometimes surprisingly complex subject to sort out is that of nurse practitioner specializations. In this article we’ll highlight why specialization matters, look at some of the common specialization options and answer other critical questions for you so that you can have that information before enrolling in a Nurse Practitioner program.
Why do nurse practitioners specialize?
Like physicians and other healthcare professionals, it’s common for nurse practitioners to focus their careers on working with a specific patient population or type of care. The human body—and treatments for all that potentially ail it—is an expansive and complex subject that can confound and surprise even the most experienced healthcare professionals. While all nurse practitioner programs provide strong foundations in generalist NP skills, narrowing the focus via a specialized program can help NPs who are invested in working with a specific patient population develop a deeper expertise for working with that group.
Even so, it’s still very common for NPs to pursue a specialization that leads to working with a broad patient population focus. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference—some value the flexibility of a broader population, while others know that there’s a specific population that they’d prefer to work with. Either way, the specialization topic is one you’ll have to address sooner than later.
Unlike registered nurses who typically move into a specialty focus with relative ease after completing their formal education, new nurse practitioners often narrow their focus prior to (or during) their graduate studies. This means prospective NPs need to understand their options for specialization and carefully consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of each.
What are some of the most common nurse practitioner specializations?
Generally, nurse practitioners align their practice with one of six patient populations or focus areas:
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Among these specializations you may also find a dividing line between primary and acute care to accommodate the different skillsets and training needed to care for high- and low-acuity patients. This distinction will also have an important influence on where you can practice as an NP.