7.2 Exploration of the Field

Laura Haygood and RaeAnna Jeffers

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the learner will:

  • Describe a five-step process for choosing a career
  • Explore a variety of nursing specialties
  • Discover a process for how to select a nursing specialty

The Five-Step Process for Choosing Your Career

As your thoughts about your career expand, keep in mind that over the course of your life, you will probably spend a lot of time at work—thousands of hours, in fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workday is about 8.7 hours long, and this means that if you work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 35 years, you will spend a total of 76,125 hours of your life at work. These numbers should convince you that it’s pretty important to enjoy your career.

If you do pursue a career, you’ll find yourself making many decisions about it. Is this the right career for me? Am I feeling fulfilled and challenged? Does this career enable me to have the lifestyle I desire? It’s important to consider these questions now, whether you’re just graduating from high school or college, or you’re returning to school after working for a while.

Choosing a career—any career—is a unique process for everyone, and for many people the task is daunting. There are so many different occupations to choose from. How do you navigate this complex world of work?

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has identified a five-step decision process that will make your career path a little easier to find. Below are the steps:

  1. Get to know yourself.
  2. Get to know your field.
  3. Prioritize your “deal makers” and rule out your “deal breakers”.
  4. Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action.
  5. Go out and achieve your career goal.

Step 1: Get to Know Yourself

Get to know yourself and the things you’re truly passionate about.

  • Gather information about your career-related interests and values.
  • Think about what skills and abilities come naturally to you and which ones you want to develop.
  • Consider your personality type and how you want it to reflect in your work.

Step 2: Get to Know Your Field

Get to know your field. You’ll want to investigate the career paths available to you. You may also want to see what your college Career Center offers or conduct informational interviews to find out more about your field. One of the handiest starting points and “filters” is to decide the level of education you want to attain before starting your first or your next job. Students should consider determining both how much education they are willing to acquire, and how much education a particular career will require. Do you want to earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate or professional degree? Meeting with a college counselor or career counselor can help a student clarify this information.

Step 3: Prioritize Your Deal Makers

Prioritize your deal makers and rule out your deal-breakers. Educational requirements aren’t the only criteria that you will want to consider. Do you want to work outside or in an office? In the country or a city? In a big or small organization? For a public organization or a private company? What type of industry is interesting to you? What role do you see yourself playing in the organization? Do you want to be your own boss?

Step 4: Make a Preliminary Career Decision

Make a preliminary (or first) career decision and create a plan of action. It is not set in stone and you may have multiple careers in your lifetime, but everything starts with that preliminary career decision and plan of action. As a student matures and gains experience, more career opportunities will present themselves.

Now that you have an idea of who you are and where you might find a satisfying career, how do you start taking action to get there? Some people talk to family, friends, or instructors in their chosen disciplines. Others have mentors in their lives with whom to discuss this decision. Your college has career counselors and academic advisers who can help you with both career decision-making and the educational planning process. Nevertheless, be advised: You’ll get the most from sessions with your counselor if you have done some work on your own.

 Step 5: Go out and Achieve Your Career Goal

Go out and achieve your (initial) career goal! Now it’s time to take concrete steps toward achieving your educational and career goals. This may be as simple as creating a preliminary educational plan for next semester or a comprehensive educational plan that maps out the degree you are currently working toward. You may also want to look for internships, part-time work, or volunteer opportunities that help you test and confirm your preliminary career choice. Your college counselor can help you with this step, as well.

Your work experiences and life circumstances will undoubtedly change throughout the course of your professional life, so you may need to go back and reassess where you are on this path in the future. However, no matter if you feel like you were born knowing what you want to do professionally, or you feel totally unsure about what the future holds for you, remember that with careful consideration, resolve, and strategic thought, you can find a career that feels rewarding.

Specialized fields

Nursing Specialties

While you may have already chosen nursing as a field, it is important to consider the various roles nurses may fill. The following three resources provide information about the various specialties nurses can pursue, as well as information about the average salary and the education level needed:


The following publications are helpful resources to explore more aspects of nursing practice (UTA Students, follow the hyperlinked title for access):

Guiding Questions To Think About

You should consider the following questions when deciding if you want to specialize in a particular field of nursing. Regardless of your answers, there is likely a field of nursing that will suit both you and the profession:

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

How you answer this question requires deep insight on your part. Consider the various environments you might work and thrive in based on your natural tendencies. This question does not imply that either is better or worse than the other.

Some specialties for introverts include (not limited to):

  • Forensic Nursing
  • Nursing Education
  • Legal Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Private Duty Nursing
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Surgical Nurse
  • Case Management
  • Infection Control and Prevention
  • Mental Health Nursing

Some specialties for extroverts include (not limited to):

  • Emergency Nursing
  • Critical Care/Intensive Care Nursing
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing
  • Labor & Delivery Nursing

Are you willing to go for additional training beyond this degree?

This is a valid question in that nursing is a challenging degree to obtain. Your individual circumstances after graduation may play into whether or not you pursue additional degrees and/or certifications. Many specialties require more credentials, so look through all of the requirements of the specialty you choose.  Think about your support system and other logistics involved in obtaining the required training, too.

Which population are you most interested in caring for?

For some, this is an easy question to answer. For others, it will take more self-evaluation to determine. If you find that no specific population rises to the top of your list, do not worry! There is still a place for you.

There are many areas that work with a variety of patients, such as (not limited to):

  • Primary Care Nursing
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Rehabilitation Nursing
  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Pain Management Nursing
  • Specific Disease Care (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, etc.)

Do you have a personal experience that connects you to a field of study?

Many nurses were called to the profession by a personal experience that stirred something within them to serve. If you have those experiences, examine what sparked the interest. That could provide you with the link between your professional nursing service and your true passion.

Are you afraid of blood and bodily fluids? What things gross you out most?

Consider what each specialty will expose you to. Be aware these can become desensitized over time with experience. However, if there are phobias and/or strong aversions that may interfere with your ability to care for your patient(s), those areas of practice should be avoided if possible.

Do you prefer providing team-based care or individualized 1:1 care?

Recognize that nurses work in a myriad of environments. Some are conducive to individualized 1:1 or 1:2 care, while others lean on care teams to coordinate. If you like to spend a lot of time with your patients, you might choose a specialty that lends itself to that level of care. Conversely, if you prefer lots of interactions with colleagues, choose those that encompass your preference for collaboration.

What pace of work do you perform best in?

The pace of a nurse’s work varies greatly depending on the specialty, facility, location, time of day, patient load, etc. Knowing your preferences in this area will help you identify the kind of environment you need to work in to be optimal.

Fast-paced nursing specialties (not limited to):

  • Emergency Care Nursing
  • Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Nursing
  • Cardiovascular Care Nursing
  • Progressive Care/Step-down Care Unit

Slower-paced nursing specialties (not limited to):

  • Clinic Nurse
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Occupational Health Nurse
  • Informatics Nursing
  • Home Health Nursing

How do you respond to stress/crisis?

The way you react to stress in your body impacts your ability to provide care amid crisis. Think about your natural physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual response to different levels of experienced stress. Picture yourself in the environment you selected. Imagine all of the sensory inputs you encounter there. Process how this makes you feel inside your body. Use this to guide you toward a specialty that resonates with your natural level of stress tolerance.

What is the need in your area of residence?

Need drives jobs! Get to know the local market in your specialty. Be prepared to relocate or create a secondary plan if the available openings are competitive (2019 Texas Professional Nursing Trends: Statewide)

activity 7.2: Nursing specialty exploration

Nursing Specialty Quiz

Take the Johnson and Johnson’s Nursing Specialty Quiz and reflect on the questions you read about above. Did you discover any additional specialties you haven’t thought of before? What have you learned about yourself in the process?




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Strategies for Success in Nursing School: From Start to Finish by Laura Haygood and RaeAnna Jeffers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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