Nursing Specialist vs. Generalist

Nurses take care of patients in a wide variety of health-care settings.
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Everybody knows that nurses take care of sick people, but most people don't realize how specialized their jobs have become. Trendy nurses -- and who says they can't be -- are heading back to school and learning new skills that advance them from general nursing jobs to specialty nursing professions. Choose a specialty that moves you, such as pediatric care if you get jazzed around kids. Then figure out what training you need to be truly specialized at what you do and love.

Generalist Nurse

    The educational curriculum for nurses is designed to prepare them to work in any health-care setting. A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, typically completes a one-year training program to earn a nursing certificate and work in a generalist job. A registered nurse, or RN, has either an associate's degree or a bachelor of science in nursing. New LPNs might be assigned to permanent duties immediately, but most new RN hires in hospitals or clinics do rotations in different departments to learn the ropes. Only after at least a few months of experience do RNs start to choose specialties, and must have at least one year of experience as a generalist before applying to a specialty or advanced practice nurse training program.

Specialist Nurse

    Nurses may pursue one of many specialties, including critical care, cardiovascular health, pediatrics or addiction. Some nurses develop overlapping specialties, such as pediatric critical care or pediatric oncology nurses. Accredited nursing schools offer a wide variety of nurse specialist training programs, and most require six months to one year to complete. You must also pass an exam to qualify for a certificate.

Advanced Practice Nurses

    Advanced practice nurses complete the equivalent of a master's-level graduate program in their specialty. They must also pass an exam in the subject area. Advanced practice nurses include nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists. Clinical nurse specialists focus on a specific area, oncology or pediatrics or psychiatric-mental heath, for example.

Generalist vs Specialist Nurse Salaries

    LPNs are on the low end of the nurse pay scale. They are paid a median annual salary of $40,380 as of May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. RNs earned a median salary of $64,690 in 2010. RNs working in nursing facilities earned a median salary of $58,180 a year, while those working in private hospitals earned a median salary of $66,650. Advanced practice nurses earn significantly higher salaries. Scrubs Magazine lists certified registered nurse anesthetists, or CRNAs, as the highest-paid nurses, at an average salary of $135,000 a year.

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