Which Nursing Specialties Will Be in Demand in 2021?


Check out the nursing specialties in demand for 2021

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

If you’re a new registered nurse looking for a job, there is some good news. Your job prospects look strong overall for the next decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of RNs will likely grow about 7 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations. 

But do you know where your skills will be most needed? New grad RNs and others seeking a change should consider which nursing specialties are likely to be in the most demand as they chart their career path. 

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Nursing specialties with the most demand

The pandemic altered–or upended–some healthcare organizations’ staffing plans this year. Some organizations found themselves moving staff around, reducing hours or even furloughing or laying off nurses during low points, while others scrambled to find enough trained staff during surges. 

While no one knows exactly what 2021 will bring for healthcare, many experts believe that the pandemic will still drive the need for certain kinds of nurses. 

Julie Miller, BSN, RN, CCRN-K, a clinical practice specialist with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), expects that the nursing specialties with the highest demand next year will include critical care, emergency care, progressive care and telehealth. Those highly skilled specialties have already been in demand this year.

“Critical care, progressive care and emergency care nurses are in high demand due to the increasing numbers of hospitalized patients with COVID-19,” said Miller.

And experts believe that demand will continue. 

“Those are the truly the areas where there is the most growth,” said Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, chief nurse of health, learning, research and practice for Wolters Kluwer and an adjunct faculty member in the graduate nursing program at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

In addition, nurses who specialize in psychiatry and mental health issues are likely to see increased demand in the future, said Miller. According to Mental Health America, the prevalence of mental health issues was already on the rise prior to COVID-19, and people’s struggles have sharply increased since the pandemic began. 

If you’re interested in pursuing one of these nursing specialties, seek out opportunities to shadow experienced nurses or work as an extern or nursing assistant in this type of unit. 

Be self-aware and flexible

But don’t choose a specialty solely because of the demand factor. 

“New graduate nurses and nursing students need to identify a specialty that aligns with their personality, their tolerance for stress and anxiety, and their ability to assimilate new information and skills. And all nursing specialties require the nurse to develop great self-care skills,” said Miller. 

Another important tip: don’t be discouraged if you can’t land your dream job right out of nursing school, or you have trouble finding a position in your chosen specialty. 

“Critical care and ER are two areas that need nurses, but most hospitals do not hire new grads in these two areas,” said Tracy Jones-Darnell, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE, a faculty member for Walden University’s RN to BSN program, which is headquartered in Minneapolis.

However, if you do land a job in one of those specialty areas, be sure to ask about the orientation program and mentorship opportunities to help you get up to speed, she noted.

“As new grads begin a job search, having an open mind to different nursing positions will be essential,” said Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, who is a faculty member for Walden University’s RN-to-BSN program. “Being open to what may not necessarily be your first choice so that you can get into the field to obtain experience will be important.” 

Over the years, many nursing educators have urged new grad RNs to develop their skill set on a medical–surgical floor for a year or so before choosing another specialty area. 

“The knowledge gained on this type of unit will provide a foundation of skills and knowledge that a nurse can carry throughout his or her nursing career,” said Jones-Darnell.

If your school of nursing has partnerships with local healthcare organizations, look for opportunities there, suggests Woods. You might be able to find a nurse internship or residency program where you can gain experience and get your foot in the door. 

“Those nurses have a better success rate,” she said. “They’re just much better prepared.” 

Above all, don’t panic if you’re still job searching.

“I don’t think that you should be any more worried now about getting a job as compared to prior to the pandemic,” said Slaughter. “Continuing to focus on your academic skills and having a portfolio to demonstrate the experiences that you have had during nursing school are a great way to demonstrate preparedness.”

“Be ready to interview well. Anticipate questions about dealing with conflict and performing under stress. These types of life skills are even more important now,” Slaughter concluded.

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