How Do You Switch Specialties as a Nurse Practitioner?

If you are already a nurse practitioner, your education has prepared you for a general area of practice. If you attended an Acute Care NP Program, for example, you are qualified to work in the ICU, CCU, and a wealth of other specialty clinics and hospital settings. Or, perhaps as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner you are prepared to diagnose and treat kids. But, what if you want to switch it up mid-career?

Maybe you are burnt-out in your urology practice and are looking to go derm. Or, maybe pediatrics has you frazzled and you might feel more grounded working with adults. 

Switching specialties as a nurse practitioner is relatively simple and can occur in two ways, with a new job or by supplementing your education. Lets take a quick look at these scenarios. 

Switching Specialties by Seeking New Employment

If the new specialty or practice area in which you want to work fits within the scope of practice of your educational preparation, you’re in luck. You won’t have to go back to school. All you need to do is seek employment in the new specialty of your choosing. For example, if you are prepared as a Family Nurse Practitioner, your broad foundation allows you to work with patients of all ages in many settings. You could choose to work in a dermatology, cardiology, or gerontology practice to name a few. If you are an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner by education, you can easily switch from practicing in the ICU to working in an orthopedic or gastroenterology clinic, for example.

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Switching specialties does require on the job learning and without specialty specific experience you will be at a bit of a disadvantage in the job market. But, once you find an employer willing to put in the effort to train you, you can switch areas of practice with ease.

Switching Specialties by Supplementing Your Education

If the specialty in which you want to work isn’t encompassed by your educational background, you will need to attend an NP program for additional training. Acute Care Nurse Practitioners, for example, are not certified to treat children. So, an Acute Care NP wanting to branch into pediatrics would need to acquire an additional Pediatric Nurse Practitioner certification. This involves attending an NP program for pediatric education and taking the national Pediatric Nurse Practitioner certification exam. Adding a NP specialty to your educational repertoire usually takes about a year. 

Obtaining an additional specialty requires less time, cost, and effort than your initial NP certification. Adding a specialty demands fewer courses and is therefore completed in a cost-effective manner. If you choose to switch specialties and are already a nurse practitioner, consider attending an online program as this will give you the flexibility to continue in your current employment while allowing you to further your education.

The ability to change areas of practice throughout your career is an advantage to nurse practitioners. Switching specialties can help you avoid monotony and burn-out as well as make you an expert in multiple areas of medicine.

Are you considering a mid-career specialty switch?


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13 thoughts on “How Do You Switch Specialties as a Nurse Practitioner?”

  1. Hi Sierra,

    Yes, it is possible to become a FNP then later a PMHNP. It would require about one year of additional schooling. It is possible this could be done through an online program.  

  2. We have an employee that is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, what would be involved for her to become a Family Nurse Practitioner?

  3. Hi Vicky, 

    A Women’s Health NP would need to complete a post-master’s degree to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. This is typically a one-year program part-time. Some schools may offer the degree online. 

  4. What are the requirements to switch from Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner to Family Nurse practitioner?
    Thank you

  5. Is it possible to drop the peds from my FNP and take the Adult Gero NP Exam? I have not seen peds and from what I remember from my program the FNP took exactly the same course work as the Adult Gero NP track with just the addition of the pediatric course.

  6. Inquisitive mind

    Hi there ,
    I am wondering why no one ever speaks about PMHNP to FNP path ? It’s as if other specialties can easily bridge to PMHNP but not the other way around? Please advise if anyone knows if this is possible . I want to be PMHNP but I see a trend in hiring fnp to psych nps over PMHNP s . I frankly do not want to waste my time going for fnp just to stay relevant and be paid “ 2 for 1 salary “ Why hasn’t this been addressed ? Why fashion programs as if behavioral health is trivial compared to general fnp course of study ?

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