Top specializations that a nurse practitioner can advance to

Nursing has evolved in recent decades. With additional training, nurses are now able to fill roles in critical care, clinical management, diagnosis and even IT.

Specialization allows you to focus on a particular group of patients, such as the elderly, women or children. You can also choose to specialize in patients who suffer from a specific chronic illness, a particular age group or patients within a particular setting.

As a practicing nurse who is looking to streamline your focus, the first question you may ask is: “What areas of specialization are available?” The answer to this question will help you choose the right kind of training.

To specialize, you need to earn a Master’s in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. As you are already a working professional, you may want to consider online nursing programs. These programs allow you to learn at a relaxed pace, and you can keep working while you study.

The online nursing programs at Spring Arbor University are a good example of online nursing programs that allows nursing professionals to specialize by equipping them with the right mix of theoretical and practical skills.

What specializations are available?

There are seven broad specializations in nursing that you can choose from. Also called population foci, they can be further broken down into sub-specialties. We will look at the seven specializations along with the specific training you need to qualify for each. We will also look at a few sub-specializations so that you have an idea of the kinds of jobs that are available after you complete your training.

  • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner

Also called AGPCNPs, adult-gerontology nurse practitioners care for adults, though their area of focus can stretch from teenagers to the elderly. They obtain medical histories, perform examinations, order and interpret tests and administer medications, among other duties.

Additional roles include helping patient transition and vetting home care nurses. As an AGPCNP, you can expect to work in a hospital-based clinic or private practice. Many also work in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

As you work with each patient, you need to be aware of their specific occupational, social, economic and even environmental needs so that you can deliver tailored solutions.

To qualify as an AGPCNP, you need a Master’s in Nursing from a university that is CCNE or ACEN-accredited. At the end of your course, you will have learned how to deliver healthcare to young adults, adults and the elderly. AGPCNPs are expected to renew their licenses every five years.

  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner

What distinguishes this specialization from adult gerontology practitioners is the word “acute”. You provide advanced care to adults and the elderly, especially those with acute or chronic critical illnesses. You are also involved, along with other medical professionals, in developing treatment plans for critically ill patients.

Additional roles usually include collecting patient histories, evaluating patient information and dealing with emergencies.

As an AG-ACNP you can further specialize in cardiology, endocrinology, nephrology, oncology, pulmonology, transplantation and other areas of medicine. Alternatively, you can choose to remain in critical care and serve a wider array of patients with acute needs.

To become an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, you need to qualify as an AGCNP and then pass an acute care certification examination. Find a master’s, postgraduate or doctoral program that is CCNE or ACEN-accredited.

After qualifying, you will receive a license to practice as an AG-ACNP in the state where you reside. You will need to renew your certification every five years.

Requirements to join a master’s program vary from school to school. Some require applicants to have worked with patients for a set number of years, while some schools only enroll students who have worked in certain clinical settings.

As you look at online nursing programs that will allow you to pursue this career path, check whether you meet the specific requirements needed to enroll.

  • Pediatric nurse practitioner

As the name suggests, this specialization allows you to work with children. You can work as an in-patient or outpatient nurse in a hospital or private clinic and work in primary or acute care or both.

Roles typically include performing examinations of children, assessment of child development, care of chronically ill children, treatment of common illnesses and managing prescriptions.

Your job puts you in regular contact with medical specialists and it is your responsibility to provide whatever support they need to provide medical care to child patients in your hospital or clinic.

To become a PNP, you need to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and then apply for a Master’s in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. At the end of your training, you will need to pass an exam offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.

Apart from the technical skills that you will learn in your course, you will need soft skills such as empathy and communication.

  • Acute care pediatric nurse practitioner

Also called pediatric acute care nurses, these are professionals who work with the sickest of children. They are experts in physical assessment, decision-making, managing critical illness and tracking child development.

These nurses are required to have an in-depth understanding of diseases that affect children as well as injuries and disorders during the formative years. They are also expected to perform routine tasks such as ordering tests and evaluating results and dispensing medications.

To become an acute care pediatric nurse, you need to enroll in a Master’s program with a specific focus on pediatric acute care. Most of these programs require you to have at least 600 clinical practice hours. Make sure that your course is CCNE or ACEN-accredited.

You will also need to demonstrate some skill in acute care and may be required to complete clinic hours in a burn unit, trauma unit, ER or surgical department.

  • Family nurse practitioner

This is the recommended area of specialization for nurses who want to be versatile. If you become an FNP, you can expect to work with people of all ages and manage patients with all types of conditions.

Typical work environments include hospitals and private clinics, nursing homes, urgent care centers, hospices and public health departments.

To become an FNP, you need a Master’s in Nursing degree from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited program. If you have the time, you can attend in-person classes that take about three years to complete. Most working professionals opt for accelerated online degrees that can be completed in about one and a half years.

After you finish your Master’s, you will need to become an FNP board-certified member to practice.

  • Neonatal nurse practitioner

An NNP works with babies, especially vulnerable and at-risk ones. Primary roles for this nursing specialization include caring for sick newborn babies, supervising neonatal staff and educating families of at-risk babies on how to care for them.

You need to have a Master’s degree in Nursing to practice as an NNP. You also need to pass an advanced certification exam.

  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

Some nurses choose PMHNP because it allows them to work in a variety of settings. You can work in a hospital or private clinic, an addiction clinic, a mental health institution or even deliver services in homes.

You get to work with people of all ages who are struggling with mental issues and deliver solutions to individuals and families struggling with psychiatric issues.

To become a PMHNP you need a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in mental health. Choose a program that is accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Some employers require that you be certified by the Psychiatric–Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Board Certification.

  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

If you are passionate about women’s health issues, this is an excellent specialization. You get to focus on problems that affect girls and women while working with other specialists to provide treatment and care to patients.

To become a WHNP you must hold a master’s or doctoral degree in Nursing. Licensing requirements vary depending on your location. However, all practitioners are required to have a license from the National Certification Corporation.

What nursing sub-specializations can I pursue?

Numerous sub-specializations allow you to focus even deeper into certain subsets of patients. Some require specific qualifications while others only require a certain amount of work experience. Some need a combination of both.

Common sub-specializations include emergency nursing, aesthetic nursing, cardiology nursing, dermatology nursing, oncology and orthopedic nursing. Whatever you choose, make sure that you are aware of the requirements. Each specialization is different.

Apart from specializing, nurses can advance their careers by taking management courses. If, for example, you take a Master’s in Health Administration, you can gain the skills needed to manage a health institution.


Nursing specialization is a good way to focus your career and ensure that your skills are always in demand. Specializing usually requires a master’s degree in Nursing. You can enroll in in-person classes that typically take at least two years to complete.

Online nursing programs take a shorter time but deliver the same quality of education. Whatever school you choose, ensure that it is accredited by the right bodies and can provide the support you need to complete your course.