June 20, 2024


Science It Works

Specialization options within the doctor of nursing practice degree

When it comes to pursuing a Doctor of Nursing degree, there are a lot of different factors which you need to take into consideration. One of the first things you will need to establish is which specialty you would like to focus on. Most nurses develop several over the course of their careers, but extending your learning in this way means that you’ll need to pick something you’re really passionate about. It will not only be your primary focus for the duration of your course, but it’s likely to be central to your career afterwards, whether you elect to stay in academia or take on a senior role within the profession. Every option has its advantages, so there is no simple answer as to which is best — it all depends on you.


Pediatrics is one of the most rewarding areas of nursing, but also one of the most demanding. It’s constantly changing as we learn more about how diseases affect children and enhance our understanding of their physical and psychological development. Nurses with experience attending to their complex needs are often the people best placed to do research in this area, both with regards to the development of nursing itself and in relation to how it can more usefully interact with other healthcare professions. Specializing in pediatrics also provides access to leadership and policy-making roles, which the whole system depends on to implement methods derived from new knowledge swiftly and effectively.


With population demographics currently undergoing a significant shift, there are more and more elderly people in need of care. This isn’t just a consequence of past changes in the birth rate – it’s also due to people living longer. Improvements in general healthcare mean that most people remain active for longer too, but there is still a significant increase in chronic illness, including various forms of dementia. Consequently, there has also been an increase in the number of people requiring expert care. This means that more expertise is needed at a senior management and policy development level, while it’s also important that there be increased research into more effective and efficient ways of providing care across the range of environments in which older people need support.


One of the factors associated with an aging population is an increase in cardiac disease, and there is mounting evidence that this may also be increasing as a result of COVID-19 exposure. Cardiology is a field in which skilled nursing is particularly important for two reasons. Firstly, because patients experiencing acute illness need to be kept calm both before and after medical intervention, and secondly because chronic manifestations need careful monitoring and patients need to be educated on reducing their risks, in many instances, through lifestyle change. Patients need a lot of practical care, a lot of counseling of the sort which nurses are well equipped to provide and ongoing support in the community. There is a need for highly skilled nurses to coordinate this work as well as to refine and improve the models on which it is built.


Oncology is a field which is growing more complex for multiple reasons, some of them positive as many cancers are no longer the death sentence they used to be. This means that more people are undergoing treatment with the aim of curing their cancer or managing it as a chronic condition. This means that there is more need than ever for skilled oncology nursing, and nurses need to familiarize themselves with new treatment protocols to provide appropriate support for this vulnerable patient group. Consequently, there is a significant need for research. Oncology is a field which offers extensive academic and teaching opportunities because of the constant need to integrate and disseminate new knowledge as well as the need for nurses to support and train patients’ home caregivers.


Another growing area, rheumatology is a diverse field which requires many different types of nursing strategies. As such, it presents a challenge to senior managers and policy makers, while offering a wide range of interesting possibilities from a research perspective. Rapidly developing medical research, together with emerging technologies and pharmaceuticals, present a challenge for nurses who need to be able to adapt to every change while keeping track of a group of conditions which can manifest very differently. It’s an opportunity for ambitious leaders to shine and it’s an intriguing, fast-paced area for researchers which offers a lot of opportunities for creative collaboration.

Psychiatric medicine

According to the CDC, more than one in five Americans has experienced mental illness, and one in 25 is currently living with mental illness. With rates of depression and anxiety rising, psychiatric nurses have never been more urgently needed. In many ways, this is still a young field. Attitudes to patients have changed dramatically in recent decades and our understanding of how different conditions develop and manifest is constantly being revised. This makes it a fascinating area to work in, especially at senior levels. Nurses can pursue a DNP PMHNP through a reputable educational institution such as Baylor University to gain an excellent foundation, with a focus on how mental illness is experienced across the lifespan and how it affects people from different cultural backgrounds. With 100% online coursework, this psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program provides the perfect springboard for an academic career in the field, but also prepares you to move directly into a leadership role.

Taking on a doctorate is a big step, but as more and more nurses do it, the whole profession is experiencing the benefit. There are now more highly trained, capable individuals able to advance the profession, bridging the gap between developing knowledge and what happens on the wards or out in the community. It also means that the research which shapes nursing practice is increasingly led by nurses themselves, with the insight that only they can bring to it. It’s people like you, engaging with this challenge, who are enabling the profession to move forward confidently into the future.