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Drawing Blood: The Most Taxing Fields of Nursing

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Drawing Blood: The Most Taxing Fields of Nursing

There are more than 100 specialties in nursing, but some are decidedly more physically and emotionally draining than others. Let’s take a close look at these fields and what they offer for soon-to-be nurses or current nurses looking for further specialization.

The Nursing Hierarchy: A Quick Guide

Not all nursing degrees are created equal. The longer you are in school and the more specialization you seek, the longer your list of career possibilities becomes. Here is a short reference for all nursing designations. Most of the tough fields mentioned require RN licensure or higher. (1)

UAP (unlicensed assistive personnel)

CNA (certified nursing assistant)

LPN, LVN (licensed practical nurse, licensed vocational nurse)

RN (registered nurse)

   ADN (associate degree, 2 years)

   BSN (bachelor’s degree, 4 years)

APRN (advanced practice registered nurse)

   MSN (master’s degree, 2 years)

     CNS (clinical nurse specialist)

     NP (nurse practitioner)

     CRNA (certified nurse anesthetist)

     CNM (nurse midwife)

   DNP (doctor of nursing practice degree, 3 years)

   Ph.D. in nursing

The Toughest Tracks

Of course, all fields of nursing are demanding. But here are some that test the patience, strength and overall dedication of nurses everywhere. Some are, understandably, the highest paid positions for specialized nurses. (2)

Oncology (cancer care) (3)

Dealing with patients young and old suffering from both curable and incurable forms of cancer is incredibly difficult.


  • Care before and after treatments
  • Education and support to patients and family members
  • Medication administration
  • Managing side effects of treatments
  • Ongoing care for relapsed or terminal patients

Median salary: $64,072

Hospice (end-of-life care) (4,5,6)

This is one of the fastest growing fields of nursing, due to the aging baby boomer population. In 2012 alone, an estimated 1.5 million patients received hospice care. But caring for people in their final stages of life takes a certain kind of personality.


  • Medication administration
  • Assessment and care planning
  • Day-to-day care of immobile or unresponsive patients
  • Educating family members regarding end-of-life processes
  • Emotional support
  • Crisis care

Median salary: $63,458

Surgical (6,7)

Surgical, or medical-surgical, nurses are one of the largest groups of working nurses. Especially for those who work during high-risk surgeries, this job carries with it a lot of tension and stress.


  • Pre-operative patient care
  • Maintaining and monitoring vital signs during surgery
  • Assisting surgeons
  • Providing proper surgical supplies during surgery
  • Post-operative care

Median salary: $83,960

Geriatric (6,8,9)

The average age of nursing students’ patients across the country is 65+. Geriatric nursing is one of the most in-demand nursing jobs out there; it’s also one of the most demanding.


  • Preparing progress reports on patient health
  • Drug and treatment administration
  • Researching drug interactions
  • Daily care of immobile patients
  • Performing diagnostic testing
  • Relocating patients to long-term care facilities

Median salary: $62,223

Emergency department (6,10)

It doesn’t need explaining why nurses who work in the emergency room need to be able to handle hectic and stressful situations. There are only an estimated 90,000 emergency department nurses in the U.S., and there has been a shortage of them for quite some time.


  • Quickly assessing incoming patients
  • Maintaining knowledge of a wide variety of health issues
  • Assisting in diagnostic testing
  • Assisting physicians
  • Educating patients
  • Creating follow-up plans
  • Administering medication and treatments

Median salary: $67,411

Psychiatric (6,11)

Mental health nursing requires a special kind of patience, as well as specialized knowledge of psychiatric disorders. Working in a hospital or inpatient facility is especially taxing.


  • Monitoring physical well-being of patients
  • Medication administration
  • Monitoring results and side effects of administered meds
  • Aid in socialization of patients
  • Assist in therapy
  • Provide resources for patients in and out of facility

Median salary: $68,433

Correctional facility (11)

Nurses who work in prisons deal with unique difficulties on a day-to-day basis. Their patients aren’t all willing to cooperate. Many refuse treatment, while some complain of faked ailments every week.


  • Medication administration
  • Emergency care
  • Care of chronically or terminally ill inmates
  • Education and follow-up planning
  • Maintaining composure while working with possibly hostile or dangerous patients
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Psychiatric evaluations

Median salary: $64,690



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