Nurse Practitioner Specialties & Careers

Last Updated/Verified: Sep 19, 2020

Completing an online nurse practitioner program at any degree level will open doors to many fulfilling careers. Nurse practitioners enjoy working with specific patient populations in high-level roles, but a job in the hospital is not the only career possibility. Read on to learn more about nurse practitioner specialties and careers to see what may be available to you.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

There is sometimes confusion over the terms "nurse practitioner" and "advanced practice registered nurse". An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and a nurse practitioner (NP) are closely related, but have some crucial differences. According to the APRN Consensus Model, an NP is a specialization of APRNs. As an APRN, a nurse has obtained at least a master’s degree in the field of nursing. In addition to the NP specialization, an APRN could also choose to specialize in the following non-NP roles:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Once you have completed your nurse practitioner degree program, you are both an APRN and an NP. However, if you complete a non-NP graduate nursing program, such as the specialties listed above, you are also an APRN. Knowing this designation is important in searching for jobs that require APRN licensure – this means as long as you are registered and certified as an NP, CNS, CNM, or CRNA, you are eligible for the role.

In addition to the four APRN roles, nurse practitioners can specialize in one of six recognized population foci. These include:

  • Adult-Gerontology
  • Family/Individual Across the Lifespan
  • Neonatal
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric
  • Women's Health

Popular Nurse Practitioner Specialties

As a nurse practitioner, you might see the same patients or families throughout their lifetime. As a generalist, an NP could see a newborn and continue to treat them as they move into adulthood over the span of many years.

Many nurse practitioners, however, choose to specialize. This allows you to work with specific populations and increases your career versatility. The following are some of the most popular NP specialty areas and careers available.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

As an acute care nurse practitioner, you’ll provide advanced nursing care to those patients who are suffering from severe illnesses that tend to be brief in nature. While collaborating with physicians and other members of the medical team, an acute care nurse practitioner might work in an ambulatory care center, emergency department, or another short-term facility to diagnose and treat their patients.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

The primary function of an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner is to help their patients manage the various effects of aging. This means that you’ll be addressing physical, social and mental conditions. Whether your patients have chronic diseases or they need medical assistance with acute conditions, providing preventative care, conducting tests, prescribing medications and analyzing lab results will be part of your job duties.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner

Patients who present with acute or emergency symptoms will be your primary focus as an emergency nurse practitioner. You’ll put your specialized training into use as you manage and care for patients of all ages who are acutely injured or ill. In most cases, you’ll be employed either in an urgent care facility or an emergency room. 

Family Nurse Practitioner

If you enjoy have autonomy and responsibility while also making a crucial difference in the lives of your patients, specializing as a family nurse practitioner could be the right career for you. You’ll diagnose and treat common medical problems, prescribe necessary medications, manage treatment plans and interpret lab results as part of your job.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

A neonatal nurse practitioner provides critical care to the tiniest of babies. As a skilled specialist, you’ll likely work in an emergency room, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), specialty clinic or delivery room as you monitor the treatment and condition of neonates. From proper basic care and feeding to performing diagnostic tests and dispensing medications, you’ll work collaboratively within a team.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, your primary focus will be providing care for children from birth to the age of 21. While a physician’s office and healthcare clinics are where most pediatric nurse practitioners work, you might also be employed by a hospital. Providing school physicals, well-child exams, childhood immunizations and developmental screenings are just a few of the services you’ll provide to your patients.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

As a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, your focus will be on providing patients with holistic care for the treatment of disorders such as anxiety, mood disorders and ADHD. Often while collaborating with physicians, you’ll evaluate patients initially and continue to follow-up with them throughout the course of their treatment.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

A women’s health nurse practitioner provides care and treatment for women throughout their lifespan. They are different than a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) who focuses solely on childbearing. In many instances, a women’s health nurse practitioner focuses on gynecological or childbearing treatment. However, you’ll also care for chronic and acute health conditions.

Other Nurse Practitioner Career Pathways

While being a nurse practitioner might bring visions of working hands-on with patients, not all will choose that career path. As a direct care NP, you’ll likely work with patients frequently and collaborate with other members of a skilled medical team that provides care in a hands-on manner.

In an indirect care role, you’ll probably still work closely with other NPs as well as physicians, and you can still utilize your expertise in your specialization area, but your role won’t be focused on bedside care. Indirect care careers for NPs include:

  • Nursing administration
  • Nursing education
  • Consultancy
  • Clinical writing/editing
  • Telemedicine/telehealth
  • "Locum Tenens" roles (contract-based medical staffing – for example, at a law firm acting as an expert witness for testimony, etc.)
  • Public health/government roles

Nurse Practitioner Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment outlook for nurse practitioners as a whole to grow much faster than the average. During the 10-year period between 2018 and 2028, the industry is expected to grow by 62,000 jobs. Some of this growth can be attributed to the continued shortages of both nurses and physicians. Due to their advanced training, nurse practitioners are versatile and can fill many roles.

Nurse practitioner employment is often impacted by factors including:

  • Area of specialization
  • City/state of residence
  • Type of employer
  • Practice Authority of the state
  • Geographical region (i.e. urban, suburban, rural, etc.)