15 Highest Paying Nursing Careers [Infographic]
The highest paying nursing jobs are:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
- General Nurse Practitioner
- Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
- Pain Management Nurse
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Informatics Nurse
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nursing Administrator
- Nursing Educator
- Neonatal Nurse
- Critical Care Nurse
- Health Policy Nurse
- Medical-Surgical Nurse
If you’re an aspiring nurse, you already know that nursing credentials and skills offer you a career path with staying power. Registered nurses are in demand, commanding a median annual wage of $71,730 as of May 2018 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)— and job projections are extremely strong.
To really thrive, however, many RNs earn additional certifications, go for an advanced degree, and specialize in one particular area of nursing. This increases their earning potential by helping them qualify for positions at more prestigious hospitals especially academic teaching hospitals. Some advanced practice RNs can even open their own clinics depending on state legislation.
To help you decide which career direction is right for you, take a look at some of the highest paying specialties for RNs, what you can earn and how to get started as an advanced practice nurse. Keep in mind that salaries do vary greatly based on location and employer, so the earnings listed below are just a baseline to help with your research. In no particular order, the top 15 nursing jobs are:
This highly skilled profession involves preparing and administering anesthesia to patients in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists, and other qualified healthcare professionals, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
Salary: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn an average of $174,790 per year as of May 2018, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it the top paying nursing specialty.
Growth outlook: According to the BLS, the expected growth for CRNAs is 17 percent from 2018 to 2028.
Requirements: Be prepared to hit the books in order to achieve a minimum of a master’s degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program, and upon completion, passing the National Certification Examination.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, free-standing surgical centers, ambulatory centers, pain management centers, and staffing agencies.
As a general NP, you can choose to open an independent practice or work in a variety of primary care settings. You can also advance your skills and your earning potential along the way. General NPs can later specialize in a field if they wish.
Salary: General nurse practitioners can earn up to $107,030, as of the May 2018 BLS.
Growth outlook: Nurse Practitioner jobs (which includes general) are expected to experience a 26 percent growth through 2028. Add to that the option to work independently, and the outlook for this specialty is robust.
Requirements: A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum degree requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner, followed by earning Nurse Practitioner licensure as specified by your state.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, urgent care, outpatient clinicals, private practice, and staffing agencies.
Older patients have a unique set of health issues requiring specialized care. RNs who prefer working with elderly patients should look no further than the gerontological nurse practitioner track.
Salary: Payscale.com reports the median annual salary for this specialty to be $89,637 for practitioners with approximately one year of experience as of September 2019.
Growth outlook: The aging population, longer life spans, and more access to long-term care options means there will be a greater need for nurses who specialize in caring for the aged. With a dramatic rise in the Baby Boomer population, there has become a sudden surge in the need for this specialty
Requirements: To practice this specialty, RNs must become Certified Gerontological Nurse Practitioners (CGNP) after obtaining their Master’s degree in Nursing.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, long term care facilities, urgent care, nursing homes, retirement communities, and staffing agencies.
Pain Management Nurses help manage patient pain post-surgery or work with patients who have chronic pain issues. They work within a healthcare team to help determine the cause of the pain and the proper course of treatment, while also educating patients about pain management and avoiding addiction or dependence on prescribed medication.
Salary: The average yearly salary for pain management nurses is $60,000 per year according to Payscale.com.
Growth outlook: Because pain management nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings – from hospitals to clinics, to rehabilitation centers, to nursing homes – the demand for this skill is strong. As the population continues to age, the need for experienced pain management nurses will continue to rise.
Requirements: While an advanced degree isn’t necessary to become a pain management nurse, sufficient experience as an RN is required to vie for the Nurse Practitioner certification for Pain Management Specialists.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, long term care facilities, fitness centers, and staffing agencies.
For nurses with an interest in mental health, working as a psychiatric nurse practitioner will give you the opportunity to work with psychiatric medical physicians and counsel patients regarding mental health disorders. Psychiatric nurse practitioners also will work with patients that suffer from a combination of mental health disorders and substance abuse issues.
Salary: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners earn on average $107,928 per year, according to PayScale.com
Growth outlook: As the need for improved mental healthcare gains national attention, and the demand for adolescent and child psychiatric services increases, PNPs will be highly sought after. Additionally, as substance abuse continues to rise throughout the country, PNPs will need to become well versed in both mental health and substance abuse issues.
Requirements: A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum degree requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner, followed by earning Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner licensure as specified by your state.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, mental health units, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, and staffing agencies.
For RNs who love obstetrics, labor and delivery, and prenatal care, becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife is the perfect career path. CNMs mostly work in OB/GYN offices, clinics, or hospital settings, but many open their own practices depending on their state of practice.
Salary: Certified nurse midwives can expect to earn an average salary of $103,770 per the BLS.
Growth Outlook: The job outlook for midwives is beyond good, with expectations that openings will grow 16 percent during the 2018 to 2028 decade.
Requirement: To practice certified nurse midwifery, nurses can go through the American Midwifery Certification Board to earn the Certified Nurse-Midwife and Certified Midwife designations. Learn more about Certified Nurse Midwives.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, free-standing birthing clinics, private practice, clinics, and staffing agencies.
The position of Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is probably the type of nursing that is closest to functioning like a primary care physician. FNPs typically perform many of the same functions as an MD, working in a medical office, hospital, clinic, or nursing facility. Among their responsibilities include patient consultations, assessments, prescribing medications and treatment, and more.
Salary: Family nurse practitioners earn an average of $98,408 per year as of December 2019 according to Payscale.com.
Growth outlook: As stated above, nurse practitioner jobs are expected to grow 28 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS. Those who focus on family practice will always be in demand since there are a variety of healthcare institutions for which they can work. Fully autonomous practice is possible in almost half the states in the U.S., as well as within the Veterans Administration (VA) system.
Requirements: FNPs must earn the Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) designation.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, freestanding ambulatory centers, urgent cares, and staffing agencies.
Nursing, meet technology. This is one of the most in-demand nursing fields with unlimited growth with the ongoing implementation of electronic medical records. According to the American Medical Informatics Association 7, informatics nursing integrates nursing and its information and knowledge, with the management of information and communication technologies to promote public health.
Salary: Average salary of $79,014 for informatics nurses according to Payscale.com.
Growth outlook: The AMIA estimates that up to 70,000 nursing informatics specialists/analysts may be needed in the next five years.
Requirements: To get into nursing informatics, expect to earn a Master of Science in Nursing, or a Master’s in Information or Computer Science.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, healthcare technology companies, medical record companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
Those who wish to work in a specialized unit or clinic should consider the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) path. In addition to diagnosing and treating various conditions, you’ll be looked upon as an expert within your healthcare team. You might also specialize in a specific illness. Clinical Nurse Specialists also focus on improving the status of nursing at the hospital. They are involved in research and bettering the care provided in the healthcare setting.
Salary: As per PayScale, the median salary for clinical nurse specialists is $107,928 depending on years of experience.
Growth outlook: Because Clinical Nurse Specialists can offer specialized care at a lower cost than a physician, more and more hospitals and institutions will be seeking to add these professionals to their teams.
Requirements: A Clinical Nurse Specialist must earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing, with a specialization in clinical nursing.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, private practices, and staffing agencies.
A nursing administrator deals with the backstage operations of nursing, from budgeting and staff management to HR functions.
Salary: Nursing administrators earn an average salary of $99,730 per year as of May 2018 according to the BLS.
Growth outlook: Employment of medical and health services managers (of which nursing administrators are a part of) is projected to grow 23 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS.
Requirements: Usually, a master’s degree in healthcare administration is required, as is state licensing. Some Nursing Administrators will also have a Masters in Business Administration.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, private practice, healthcare companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
At some point, you may wish to transition from patient care to nurse education. If working directly with other nurses to train them or facilitate continuing education sounds appealing, becoming a nurse educator could be a good fit.
Salary: Nursing educators can earn an average yearly salary of $81,350, as reported by the BLS in May 2018.
Growth outlook: There is a shortage of nurse educators and that is expected to continue, making this a smart choice if you wish to get off the hospital floor and go to the head of the class. Currently, there are thousands of open nurse educator positions at the undergraduate and graduate level that are waiting to be filled.
Requirements: Nurse educators must hold a master’s degree at minimum, although many do earn a doctoral degree as well. Nurse educators can also earn national certification in their field.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, private practice, hospital-based nursing programs, universities and colleges, healthcare companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
If you have a real love of babies, caring for newborns is your main job as a neonatal nurse. This specialty commands a strong salary, especially for advanced practice nurses.
Salary: The average hourly wage for neonatal nurses per Payscale.com is $28.47 to $34.15 per hour depending on years of experience. Those who work in the neonatal intensive care unit have the potential to earn more, as do those with advanced certifications.
Growth outlook: Both advances in technology and the frequency of premature births have contributed to a strong job outlook for neonatal nurses.
Requirements: While you can get neonatal unit experience as a staff RN, earning either neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) or neonatal clinical nurse specialist (CNS) designation is how the real advancement takes place. With advancement in degree, comes a salary bump as well.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, private practice, pediatric outpatient clinics, and staffing agencies.
Critical care nurses require a specialized set of skills since they literally deal with life-and-death matters on a daily basis. They often work in hospital ICUs.
Salary: The average hourly salary for ICU Nurses was $33.18 to $35.30 as of December 2019, according to Payscale.com.
Growth outlook: When you hear about nursing shortages, the biggest areas in need include adult critical care units, pediatric and neonatal ICUs, and emergency departments. That’s why critical care nurses should generally have no problem finding work.
Requirements: While no specific credentials are needed to begin working in critical care, in order to advance you should consider the CCRN certification exam.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinicals, and staffing agencies.
If you are passionate about health and public policy, becoming a health policy nurse will let you take on the tasks of advocacy, research, analysis, policy development, implementation, and evaluation, as explained by DiscoverNursing.com.
Salary: While there is no specific salary survey for this track, the income potential is strong.
Growth Outlook: With so much attention on Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), there is no better time to take this career route.
Requirements: After earning your MSN, you’ll have to complete a 10-week health policy residency program in government offices, advocacy organizations, or community groups. Learn more about how specializing in Health Policy can advance your nursing career.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, private practice, government offices, law practices, and staffing agencies.
Medical-Surgical Nurses are on the front lines of the nursing profession. Because so much is required of them, those who excel and decide to advance are considered to have entered a specialty area.
Salary: Nurses who stay as medical-surgical team members will earn a basic RN salary. However, advanced certification and experience will increase earning potential. According to PayScale.com, the average hourly salary for medical-surgical nurses is $34.69 to $36.00.
Growth outlook: Medical-surgical nurses will always be in demand at hospitals and other healthcare settings. The sharper your skills, the more likely you are to be hired.
Requirements: After working at least two years as an RN, you can take the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN®) exam through the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses’ (AMSN) Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB).
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, private practice, and staffing agencies.
More About Nurse Salary
Many factors affect nurse salaries. As an aspiring nurse, or one who is looking to advance, it pays to know how to increase your earning potential. A nurse’s salary is also dependent on your location, the type of healthcare facility, and additional job benefits including healthcare, dental, vision, retirement contributions, and disability. These factors may be out of your control but see below for other ways to increase your earning capacity.
According to the Health School Finder, here are the main factors that can increase your nurse salary.
Level of education. No surprise here. The higher your education level, the more qualified you will be for high-paying specialties like Nurse Practitioner.
Experience. Just like with any job, experience matters. You’re worth more when you can handle any situation, and are especially valuable if you can manage other nurses to do the same.
Location. You will make more when you live in a higher-cost area. But be careful. That doesn’t mean your standard of living will be higher. Make sure your nurse salary is adequate compared to the cost of living. See our 50-state list of highest paying states for nurses based on cost of living.
Shift differentials: As could be expected, night shift nurses will make more than day-shift. Most healthcare companies offer shift differential for evenings, nights, and weekends. You’ll make more if you are willing to work holidays, weekends, or fill in and earn overtime. Be wise, though. RNs must balance the desire to make a higher salary with taking care of themselves.
Unionization: Being part of a union can increase your nurse salary simply because unions have more negotiating leverage than an individual nurse. It may not be as good as it sounds, though. You will pay union dues, and you might be required to join.
Where you work: Hospitals tend to pay more than doctors’ offices. Travel nurses can make more than staff RNs. You can “shop around” for jobs and job types to increase your nurse salary.
Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, a NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, WomansDay.com, Parents, CreditCards.com, and more.
Updated January 13, 2020, with May 2018 BLS data.