9 Unique Types of Registered Nurses Who Make a Difference Every Shift

types of registered nurses

You love being a nurse—most of the time. Helping people heal is a truly a meaningful vocation, but there are some aspects of your job that have you ready to look for something different. As you know, there are many different ways to be a nurse. If you are looking to change your routine a little, you’ve got a few options.

Going back to school to earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing could definitely open up leadership and nursing education opportunities, but what are your options without getting another degree? A change in focus-area or specialization might be the shakeup you’re looking for.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of choices. Browse through these types of registered nurses (RNs) to see how you could do something a little different with the Nursing degree you already have.

9 Types of registered nurses you might not know about

If you’re looking for a change of pace, you came to the right place! With a bit of experience and the right certification, these nine nursing options could help you add a new credential to your badge and care for patients in a new way.

1. Certified addictions nurse (CARN)

If you’ve paid any attention to the news, then you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that addiction in America is on the rise. Those suffering from substance addiction face a challenging road to recovery and need compassionate care to help them through. An addiction nurse receives special training to work with patients struggling with (or recovering from) addiction. They can work in hospitals or private practices, but most work through rehabilitation clinics or educational facilities.

Addiction nurses keep an eye on patient treatments, administer medications and educate both patients and families about programs that can help them escape addiction. Emotional intelligence and support is a huge part of being an addiction nurse, as patients and their loved ones fight to break free of addiction.

To become a certified addictions nurse, RNs must have a minimum of 2000 hours (one year) of nursing experience related to addictions and 30 hours of continuing education related to addictions nursing within the last three years, according to the Center for Nursing Education and Testing (CNET). At that point, you can take the Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN) examination to become certified.

2. Critical care nurse (CCRN)

If you’ve worked in an acute care setting and loved it, you might be interested in a critical care specialty. Critical care nurses work in critical care environments, such as burn centers, emergency rooms and intensive care.

These nurses work with patients in emergency situations where lives are often on the line. The job can be both fast-paced and heart-wrenching, but nurses who thrive under pressure can find it very rewarding to intervene in the middle of a crisis and save lives.

Requirements for the specialty can vary by employer, but the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) states that RNs who want to obtain their CCRN certification can do so by first spending a specified number of hours working in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients, and then passing the CCRN exam.

3. Case management nurse (ACM-RN)

When patients are diagnosed with diseases like cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease or any other long-term illness, they face more than just a hospital stay. The same is true for patients facing severe physical or mental disabilities. These patients require long-term treatment, care and help with living adjustments.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to navigate constant healthcare visits, insurance, medicine, physical or occupational therapy and even assisted living all on your own? This is where case management nurses save the day.

Case management nurses work and coordinate with physicians to help create individualized care plans that fit a patient’s long-term needs—issues like allergies, physical limitations and ease of access to treatment all are important in their considerations.

Almost all medical facilities employ case management nurses. Beyond the typical facilities, case management nurses can also be found working at nursing homes, hospice care facilities and home healthcare companies.

Case management nursing hopefuls will almost universally need a couple of years of hands-on nursing experience to be considered for these positions. While certification isn’t necessarily required, the American Case Management Association (ACMA) recommends taking the American Case Manager (ACM) exam for certification.

4. Occupational health nurse (OHN, COHN or COHN-S)

“Occupational health nursing is a varied and specialized nursing practice in which occupational health nurses (OHNs) use their wide base of knowledge and skills to care for individuals in the workplace,” writes the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN).

Occupational health nurses can be found anywhere employees work. “Employment opportunities may involve assisting workers directly or in a board room involving collaboration with other safety workers, health professionals and decision makers,” according to ABOHN.

Depending on the industry they choose, occupational health nurses could need specialized knowledge or training in chemical hazards, ergonomics, biological hazards, psychophysiological (stress) concerns, safety and industrial issues, standards and regulations, disease management or health education.

There a few different certifications available in this field. RNs who want to break into occupational health will typically enroll in a certification program.

5. Dialysis nurse (CDN)

Dialysis is a growing area of treatment thanks to a growing population of senior citizens and people dealing with kidney disease and diabetes. These nurses are focused on administering the lifesaving dialysis treatment of their patients. One positive aspect of this specialized role is that dialysis patients receive their treatment through a scheduled plan of care. This means that many dialysis nurses work more regular-workweek hours than their acute care counterparts.

Dialysis nurses can work in any environment where dialysis takes place—clinics, specified dialysis facilities and hospitals. RNs who are interested in this specialty should seek extra experience or training in nephrology and can take an exam to become a certified dialysis nurse (CDN), according to the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC).

6. Holistic nurse (HN-BC)

If you are craving a nursing practice that allows you more time with each patient to truly understand the many factors that influence their health, then holistic nursing might be the field for you. According to the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA), a holistic nurse is a licensed nurse who adds a holistic (encompassing all of mind, body, spirit and emotion) approach to the traditional nursing practice.

While most nurses try to care for their patients in more than just a physical way, holistic nurses structure their work around the integration of relationships, complementary therapies and traditional medicine. “Holistic nurses practice in a variety of settings from hospitals to universities, to private, independent practices,” writes the AHNA. “Many holistic nurses have become personal wellness coaches or consultants to institutions that are working to integrate complementary and alternative therapies.”

You do not need certification to practice as a holistic nurse, but RNs who do become certified will have better opportunity with employers specifically looking for holistic nurses. You can become certified in many individual complementary and alternative medicine areas, or you can take an exam for certification in holistic nursing generally.

7. Correctional Health Professional Nurse (CCHP-RN)

You might not have given it a second thought before, but correctional facilities obviously need skilled nurses. While it might not be the ideal job for everyone, it is a unique and challenging setting to practice nursing in. These RNs work with inmates to keep them healthy. “Correctional nurses play a vital role through use of infection-control principles, control of sharp and hazardous materials and involvement in emergency procedures,” writes the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare (NCCHC).

Correctional nursing is unique in its patient demographic, as some inmates have never had healthcare coverage or may have lived in very unstable environments prior to their incarceration. This gives correctional nurses experience with unusual healthcare issues as well as the chance to care for people who don’t receive much contact with the outside world.

Nurses interested in corrections should be RNs with at least two years of experience. Certification as a CCHP-RN is awarded upon successful completion of the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare’s certification exam.

8. Lactation consultant (CLC)

Nurses who love working with new moms or babies might want to consider becoming a lactation consultant. While you might be able to offer plenty of advice and help working in a postpartum unit, becoming a board-certified lactation consultant opens special opportunities to help women breastfeed in hospitals, clinics and specialty facilities.

Women trying to breastfeed often face frustration and confusion on top of the difficulties of recovering from giving birth. Lactation consultants who can help new mothers navigate the process and provide some emotional support along the way can find the job very rewarding.

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) states that to be a certified lactation consultant, you must be an RN and log enough hours of experience and education in breastfeeding and lactation. After you meet these requirements, you can take an exam to become certified.

9. Forensic nurse

If you are drawn to working with victims of crime and getting involved in the legal system, forensic nursing might be the field for you. “Victims of violence and abuse require care from a health professional who is trained to treat the trauma associated with the wrong that has been done to them—be it sexual assault, intimate partner violence, neglect or other forms of intentional injury,” writes the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).  

Forensic nurses care for victims first, then collect evidence. “Forensic nurses have a specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation,” the IAFN explains. “After attending to a patient’s immediate medical needs, a forensic nurse often collects evidence, provides medical testimony in court and consults with legal authorities.”

A common certification for forensic nurses is the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) credential. Looking into this certification can get you started on one of the many paths available to RNs who want to get into forensic nursing.

Excited about your potential registered nursing career options?

There are so many different options available for RNs beyond a traditional hospital or clinic shift. If you love nursing but want to dig a little deeper into a certain area or specialty, then look around! You can probably find nurses in places you never imagined working.

These types of registered nurses are only scratching the surface of what is available. They also only scratch the surface of what you can do to advance your nursing practice. If you are ready to take things a little further, then check out, “Nursing Career Advancement: 7 Ways to Stand Out in Your Scrubs.”

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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