In regard to the question about specializing...
I am a new grad in May. In my ICU rotation recently I was paired with a great nurse who gave me what I think is good advice. She said that a lot of people will tell you not to specialize - that you should get med-surge experience first. She said that she went straight to NICU when she graduated. They had a great residency/new grad program. She learned wonderful assessment skills and her time working with neonates allowed her to become extremely precise. She recently relocated to adult ICU and is enjoying herself there. She has been a nurse for about 15 years.
I personally just accepted a job in the ED. I will be adult and peds trauma certified within 1 year. I have 5 months of residency/orientation and then I will go to my regular schedule. After that I will take additional classes to learn triage which will include classes that will enhance my assessment skills. This is valuable info and certifications that I would not get on a med-surge floor. That will put me in the position to go to a lot of other places if I choose to do so.
This of course is not to knock med-surge nursing. Assessment and critical thinking skills are just as important. Its just that med-surge is not for me and I know that I will want to go to a specialty area no matter which one I will choose.
I guess the moral is to make sure that you will get plenty of education and support no matter what area you will go to, and of course ..."follow your heart"!
BTW, I am in NC too - piedmont-triad!