Advice and development

How to choose the right branch of nursing

Whether it’s adult, children, mental health or learning disabilities, Kathy Oxtoby talks to nursing lecturer Parveen Ali about how to choose the branch of nursing that’s right for you. 
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Whether its adult, children, mental health or learning disabilities, Kathy Oxtoby talks to nursing lecturer Parveen Ali about how to choose the branch of nursing thats right for you

If you are starting a career in nursing, one of the first things you need to consider is which branch you want to specialise in: adult, children, mental health or learning disabilities.

Lecturer in the school of nursing and midwifery at the University of Sheffield Parveen Ali says aspiring nurses should look at courses that are the best fit for them. They should also familiarise themselves with how the healthcare system works and the opportunities and challenges they may face.

Consider previous workplace experiences, where applicable. What has worked for you? And how could these experiences help inform what you would

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Whether it’s adult, children, mental health or learning disabilities, Kathy Oxtoby talks to nursing lecturer Parveen Ali about how to choose the branch of nursing that’s right for you


From the outset, nurses must choose which career path to follow. Picture: iStock

If you are starting a career in nursing, one of the first things you need to consider is which branch you want to specialise in: adult, children, mental health or learning disabilities.

Lecturer in the school of nursing and midwifery at the University of Sheffield Parveen Ali says aspiring nurses should look at courses that are the best fit for them. They should also familiarise themselves with how the healthcare system works and the opportunities and challenges they may face. 

Consider previous workplace experiences, where applicable. What has worked for you? And how could these experiences help inform what you would like to achieve in nursing? 

Choosing a specialty

‘That understanding can help inspire your specialty choices,’ says Dr Ali. ‘For example, if you’ve been a teacher and feel you cannot deal with children’s needs, you will already know that children’s nursing is probably not for you.’ 

She suggests asking yourself what motivates you, why you would want to go into a particular field, and what inspires your choice of specialty. 

‘It’s about knowing yourself and reflecting on your experiences to draw on examples for your interview,’ she says. ‘If you have seen school nurses at work, for example, you could talk about how they have been an inspiration for your choice of a career in children’s nursing.’ 

Having chosen one of the four branches, you may want to specialise once you qualify. Dr Ali says among the many things to take into account when choosing a specialty is the age group you think you can best support, and whether you want to work in the community or a hospital. 

Lifelong learning 

‘It’s about asking yourself questions about your practice, and how you would communicate effectively in different environments,’ she says. 

If you choose to work in the community, you may need to consider whether you are prepared to visit people in their homes and provide the required care, such as changing dressings and administering medication.

If you want to work in critical care, consider whether you can cope with caring for sick patients, including managing the emotional demands of patients and families and keeping your technical skills up-to-date. 

The different acute and community placements during training will give students a sense of what it is like to work in a particular area. Dr Ali also recommends seeking advices from mentors, lecturers and fellow nurses, particularly those working in a specialty you are considering, to give you an insight in to what the role might involve.

Whatever specialty you have chosen, Dr Ali says there are still opportunities to develop, change and move to other areas. ‘Choosing your specialty is just the start of your journey in nursing, which is a lifelong learning process.’ 


Kathy Oxtoby is a freelance journalist 

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