Specialising – information for nurses and midwives

What most nurses and midwives find appealing is the range of specialty fields you can work in. Chances are there is one that suits you, your skills and interests.

The type of specialty you choose may depend on your lifestyle, strengths and an area of interest. The great thing is you are never hemmed in because you can change your area of work or specialty at anytime.

All you need to do is apply to work in a different area, although some specialties may require you to do some more study. This can range from a short up-skill course to a formal postgraduate qualification at university. Contact the individual universities or State training providers.

Asian male nurse in turquoise uniform, mature male nurse in dark blue uniform and Asian female nurse in orange uniform

Scholarships are also available to help you specialise.

Clinical specialties and areas of practice

Find out which clinical specialties and areas of practice are offered in each WA Health public hospital and health service.

Specialties

There is a wide range of speciality fields available for nurses and midwives to work in.

Burns

A burns nurse cares for patients who have suffered serious burns. This area of nursing focuses on:

  • burn types
  • burn assessment and management
  • surgical intervention
  • wound care
  • skin substitutes
  • rehabilitation
  • prevention
  • education.

Cardiology

Cardiology nurses care for patients who have disorders of the heart, including patients who have:

  • chest pain related to heart attack
  • a heart defect
  • undergone heart procedures such as bypass, angioplasty, or pacemaker surgery.

They can work in hospitals or in the patient’s home, assisting with cardiac drug monitoring and providing care.

Community health

A community health nurse works within specific communities or with a public health organisation. They develop health care systems that can be easily accessed by populations or may work on policy matters in government. A community health nurse must be skilled in:

  • health promotion and disease prevention
  • case management
  • planning
  • policy development
  • working with culturally diverse populations.

Continence

Continence nurses provide specialist advice and support on all aspects of bladder and bowel problems to health professionals, children, adults and carers.

Diabetes education

GPs often refer patients who are having difficulty controlling their diabetes to a diabetes educator. Diabetes education nurses teach patients the skills and knowledge they need to live with diabetes.

Dialysis

A dialysis nurse administers a necessary, life-prolonging form of treatment for patients with end-stage renal (kidney) disease. Dialysis can be administered in a specialised hospital setting or at home. A dialysis nurse typically administers care to patients in an outpatient setting.

Education

Some nurses and midwives work in an education setting, such as a university, teaching other aspiring nurses and midwives. Such nurses and midwives may also work in a community or hospital setting educating:

  • other nurses and midwives about new technologies or procedures
  • patients and their families about their diagnoses, treatments and preventative methods (for nurses) or antenatal, pregnancy and postnatal care (for midwives).

Emergency

These nurses provide care for patients in the critical or emergency phase of an illness or trauma. They must be able to recognise life-threatening problems and rapidly arrange necessary care. Such nurses are not limited to working in the emergency room of a hospital and can also work in settings such as medical evacuations, the Royal Flying Doctor Service or defence forces.

Family health

Family health nurses and midwives work in clinics, community-based settings, long-term care facilities, and hospitals. They provide information on health promotion and disease prevention from childhood right throughout the ageing process, and are trained to develop treatment plans for acute and chronic diseases. Some are also capable of providing specialty care such as gynaecological and perinatal care.

Gerontology / aged care

Nurses in this field take care of elderly people and deal with diseases and issues specifically relevant to old age. Such services are usually provided in aged care facilities, hospitals, community or nursing homes.

Infection control

This area focuses on infectious disease control and it usually found in major health care facilities such as hospitals and aged care facilities. In an effort to monitor and prevent the spread of drug-resistant infections, nurses working in this area can work as policy-makers, administrators, educators, consultants and researchers.

Intensive care

Intensive care nurses care for patients of all ages who are acutely ill or who are in a critical condition. They often use sophisticated equipment, such as mechanical life support, and are responsible for the physical and emotional welfare of patients and their families.

Management

A nurse or midwife manager usually supports the clinical unit, ward or department by:

  • providing information
  • assisting with personnel management, recruitment, business planning and budget management.

Nurse or midwife managers develop services to enhance core business and respond to changing organisational needs. They also contribute to the strategic direction of an organisation through unit business planning and innovative management planning.

Medical nursing

Medical nurses work in hospitals, acute care units, home care, and long-term care facilities and care for patients with general medical conditions, including infectious diseases, asthma and pneumonia. They also care for those who are being treated with medications to manage an illness.

Mental health

Mental health nurses specialise in caring for children and adolescents, adults, seniors, or those in the justice or prison systems with mental illness or mental health problems. This care occurs in partnership with the patient, their family, and the community.

They work closely with other professionals including:

  • psychiatrists
  • clinical psychologists
  • social workers
  • counsellors
  • medical doctors
  • occupational therapists.

Their work can be undertaken in a variety of settings including:

  • general hospitals
  • specialised mental health hospitals or wards
  • emergency services
  • community mental health services
  • triage (telephone or face-to-face)
  • residential services
  • prisons
  • other organisations including mine sites, pharmaceutical sales, and counselling
  • rural and remote areas.

Mental health nurses can be enrolled nurses (ENs) or registered nurses (RNs), but may be required to complete a postgraduate course to become a specialist in mental health.

Neonatal intensive care

Nurses who specialise in this area care for newborn babies including premature births, newborns with health problems and newborns with acute, life-threatening illnesses.

Nurse practitioner

Learn more about nurse practitioners.

Occupational health

Occupational health nurses work to ensure the continued health of working populations using both health promotion and the prevention of injuries and diseases. They work in a wide range of settings, including:

  • government agencies
  • health care facilities
  • insurance companies
  • consulting firms
  • industry.

Oncology

Oncology nurses work in hospitals and care for patients with cancer who are chronically, acutely or terminally ill. They:

  • monitor their patients' physical conditions
  • administer medication such as chemotherapy
  • formulate symptom management strategies
  • provide education and emotional support for the patient and their family.

Paediatric

Paediatric nurses care for babies and children up to the age of 18 years and:

  • assess children's medical and surgical nursing needs
  • provide emotional and family assessments and support
  • plan and deliver care in hospitals, outpatient departments and in other locations, such as in transit between hospitals.

Peri-operative

Peri-operative nurses assist with surgical procedures in operating theatres including:

  • preparing patients for surgery
  • offering comfort and support to ensure a safe and effective patient experience
  • assisting with both minor and major surgery, such as heart transplants.

Different positions within this specialisation include scrub nurses (who pass sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons) and circulating nurses (who work outside the sterile field). Peri-operative nurses are also responsible for looking after patients in the recovery room following their procedure.

Plastic surgery

A plastic surgery nurse provides care for patients undergoing reconstructive or cosmetic procedures. These procedures range from small and elective procedures, such as dermabrasion, to more complicated procedures such as:

  • facial reconstruction after an accident
  • skin graft care
  • breast replacement after a mastectomy.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation nurses work in hospitals and long-term care facilities. They help patients recover from debilitating injuries and diseases and also provide education and support for their patients as they move from the health care facility back into their daily lives.

Remote area nursing

Remote area nurses practice in geographically isolated areas including

  • mining sites
  • tourist resorts
  • remote communities
  • satellite clinics on pastoral properties.

As they are geographically isolated they often work independently or as part of a small team and have to refer patients to other areas. The majority of remote area nurses are accessible to the population they care for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Research

Research nurses and midwives work to improve patient care by translating research findings into practice innovations at the bedside. They are responsible for:

  • conducting research
  • analysing data
  • solving clinical problems
  • writing grants
  • and sharing their findings with the larger healthcare community.

Rural nursing

Rural nurses practice in hospital and community settings outside of metropolitan and major towns. These nurses use critical thinking and decision-making skills as in many small rural hospitals, there will only be one or two nurses  rostered on each shift. During unexpected events, such as an emergency, other staff will be called in to assist.

School nurse

School-based nurses work with primary and secondary students to help them make a safe transition into adulthood. They identify developmental problems and promote healthy behaviours and attitudes which will hopefully continue through the students’ lives.

School-based youth health nurses undertake preventative activities with adolescents aged 12 to18 and their families and initiate and participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of health promotion projects within the school setting.

Surgical nursing

These nurses provide care and support to patients before and after surgery. Surgical nurses work in many areas, such as orthopaedics (bones), neurosurgery (brain and spinal), plastic surgery and general surgery. They are responsible for:

  • pre-operative education
  • post operative monitoring of vital signs
  • attending to surgical wound dressings
  • rehabilitation
  • discharge planning.

Wound management

Wound care nurses support and care for individuals with:

  • stomas
  • vascular and pressure wounds
  • draining wounds
  • neuropathic wounds
  • fistulas

They also help their patients manage these conditions and educate other nurses on appropriate wound care products.

Produced by

Nursing and Midwifery Office