15 Highest Paying Nursing Careers [Infographic]
The highest paying nursing jobs are:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist - $167,950
- General Nurse Practitioner - $107,030
- Clinical Nurse Specialist - $106,028
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner - $105,658
- Certified Nurse Midwife - $103,770
- Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse - $102,487
- Pain Management Nurse - $101,916
- Nursing Administrator - $99,730
- Family Nurse Practitioner - $98,408
- Registered Nurse First Assist - $96,418
- Gerontological Nurse Practitioner - $89,637
- Nurse Educator - $81,350
- Informatics Nurse - $79,014
- Critical Care Nurse - $74,588
- Health Policy Nurse - $71,703
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, earning 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 in each of them, 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. The top 15 highest paying 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 $167,950 per year as of May 2018, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it the top paying nursing specialty. CRNAs typically work 40 hours per week, making the hourly wage average out to approximately $80.75 per hour.
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. General nurse practitioners typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $51.45.
Growth outlook: Nurse Practitioner jobs (which include general) are expected to grow 26 percent 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 clinics, private practice, 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 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: According to Salary.com, the average salary for clinical nurse specialists in the United States is $106,028. Clinical nurse specialists typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $50.98.
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.
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 work with patients that suffer from a combination of mental health disorders and substance abuse issues.
Salary: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners earn, on average, $105,658 per year, as of February 2020 according to Payscale. Psychiatric nurse practitioners typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $50.79.
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. CNMs typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $49.89.
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, freestanding birthing clinics, private practice clinics, and staffing agencies.
If you love caring babies, consider the neonatal nurse career track. This specialty commands a strong salary, especially for advanced practice nurses.
Salary: The average annual NICU nurse salary is $102,48, according to ZipRecruiter. Those with a BSN, more experience, and advanced certifications have higher earning potential. NICU nurses typically work 36 hours per week, giving them an average hourly rate of $54.75.
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 a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) or neonatal clinical nurse specialist (CNS) designation is how the real advancement takes place. An advancement in degree comes with a salary bump as well. Nurses who wish to earn certification without an advanced practice degree can earn their RNC-NIC.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, private practice, birth centers, neonatal intensive care units, well-baby units, newborn nursery, private consultant, private duty baby nurse, pediatric outpatient clinics, and staffing agencies.
Pain Management Nurses help manage a patient’s 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 $101,916 per year according to Indeed.com. Pain management nurses typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $48.99.
Growth outlook: Because pain management nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings -- hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes -- the demand for this skill is strong. As the population continues to age, the need for experienced pain management nurses will only 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, drug counseling centers, drug dependency clinics, rehabilitation centers, oncology clinics, sports rehabilitation facilities, long term care facilities, fitness centers, 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. Nurse administrators typically work a minimum of 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $47.95.
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.
The position of Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is the career 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. 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. FNPs typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $47.31.
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 where 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.
A Registered Nurse First Assistant, or RNFA, is a perioperative registered nurse that functions as a first assistant during surgical operations. The role and responsibilities of an RNFA will vary greatly based on the institution. Large academic teaching hospitals might not employ as many RNFA due to residents and fellows.
Salary: The average salary for a Registered Nurse First Assist is $96,418, as of December 2019, according to Salary.com. But the range typically falls between $87,226 and $107,411. The salary range varies based on years of experience and location of the position. RNFAs typically work 36 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $51.50.
Growth Outlook: With the overwhelming number of outpatient surgical centers opening across the country, the need for well trained Registered Nurse First Assistants is rapidly growing.
Requirements: To become an RNFA, the nurse first must have substantial perioperative experience, as this advanced training builds upon the basic fundamentals and focuses on surgical anatomy, procedures, and techniques. To become a certified RNFA, the nurse must have a CNOR certification, active and unencumbered RN license, a bachelor’s degree, as well as 2,000 hours of experience working as an RNFA.
Jobs: RNFAs can work in ambulatory surgical centers, hospitals, outpatient same-day surgery centers, private offices, research, staffing agencies, and product development.
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. Gerontological nurse practitioners typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $43.09.
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 older patients. 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.
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: Nurse educators can earn an average yearly salary of $81,350, as reported by the BLS in May 2018. Nurse educators typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $39.11.
Growth outlook: There is a shortage of nurse educators (a trend 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 levels 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 practices, hospital-based nursing programs, universities and colleges, healthcare companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
Nursing, meet technology. This is one of the most in-demand nursing fields with unlimited growth thanks to the ongoing implementation of electronic medical records. According to the American Medical Informatics Association, informatics nursing integrates nursing with the management of information and communication technologies to promote public health.
Salary: An Informatics Nurse has an average salary of $79,014 according to Payscale.com. Informatics nurses typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $37.98.
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’s of Science in Nursing, or a Master’s in Information or Computer Science.
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 but also can work in other areas of nursing. Becoming a critical care nurse is seen as one of the most coveted positions in nursing, as these nurses possess a very high level of critical thinking and nursing skills.
Salary: The average annual salary for ICU Nurses was $74,588 as of December 2019, according to Salary.com. While the range typically falls between $67,217 and $81,049, critical care nurses often make well over $100,000 based on their shift, hospital, and location. New nurses generally start at the lower end of the pay scale before quickly moving up. Critical care nurses typically work 36 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $35.85 on average.
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. Most hospitals will have specific training for intensive care nurses to ensure they are confident in their skills and abilities.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, managed care facilities, outpatient surgical centers, administration, research committees, cardiac catheter labs, post-anesthesia care units, emergency departments, cardiac centers, urgent care clinics, short-term stay hospitals, and staffing agencies. Critical care nurses can specialize in adult critical care, pediatric critical care, or geriatric critical care.
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.
Salary: ZipRecruiter.com states the average national salary for health policy nurses is $71,703. Nurses that work in this field often work as consultants, which makes the salary potential endless. Individuals will have the ability to work as much or as little as they wish. Health policy nurses typically work 40 hours per week, making their average hourly wage approximately $34.47, but this can vary widely.
Growth Outlook: With so much attention on healthcare policy, 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, occupational health, case management office, infection control, international health organizations, research, private practice, government offices, law practices, and staffing agencies.
5 More High Paying Nursing Careers
- Medical-Surgical Nurse
- Legal Nurse Consultant
- Nurse Researcher
- Travel Nurse
- Per Diem Nurses in California
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. Some hospitals will require nurses to gain experience on the medical-surgical floor before specializing in other areas.
Salary: Nurses who stay as medical-surgical team members will earn a basic RN salary. However, advanced certification, obtaining a BSN, and experience will increase earning potential. According to Glassdoor.com, the average annual salary is $71,350. The exact salary is directly reflective of the individual’s experience and the location of the position. Medical-surgical staff nurses typically work 36 hours per week, making their average hourly wage approximately $38.11.
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. While medical-surgical nurses were once considered an entry-level nursing position, these nurses are highly sought after for their ability to adapt to different scenarios and be well versed in many different kinds of nursing.
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, outpatient and inpatient clinics, home health care, retirement and nursing homes, private practice, and staffing agencies.
Legal Nurse Consultant
Legal nurse consultants work with different law professionals and perform a variety of different services for them. They will often assist in medical malpractice cases, toxic torts, insurance fraud cases, personal injury cases, worker's compensation cases, and criminal cases, among others.
Salary: A good percentage of legal nurse consultants work in a private capacity, which gives them countless monetary options. Legal nurse consultants have the ability to charge upwards of $150 per hour. Most individuals charge by billable hours and this fee is pre-determined based on the firm you are consulting for. Legal nurse consultants typically work a minimum of 40 hours per week, but their hours are dependent on their caseload.
Growth Outlook: The growth outlook for legal nurse consultants is upwards of 26%, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. With the increase in the number of accidents, both automobile and personal, legal nurse consultants will be needed to confer with law firms to ensure individuals are receiving the monetary funds that they might deserve.
Requirements: Legal nurse consultants are all highly skilled registered nurses with years of bedside nursing experience. Although it is not required, LNCs who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the profession and best practices in legal nurse consulting may decide to become certified as an LNC through the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC). Having this certification is important for securing high profile cases and earning top law firm connections.
Jobs: Legal Nurse Consultants can work in the following areas: medical malpractice, personal injury, long term care litigation and elder law, product liability, product development, and product research, life care planning, risk management, civil rights, medicare assistance, medical malpractice, forensic and criminal case, regulatory compliance, risk management, and workers’ compensation.
Nurse Researchers are key in the development and growth of the nursing profession. They are in charge of designing and implementing research studies, writing grants for federal and private funding, observing patient treatments and procedures, collecting data, and reporting the data to the nursing community and public.
Salary: The Society of Clinical Research Associates reported a median salary for research nurses of $72,009 in their SoCRA 2015 Salary Survey. Unfortunately, there is not a more recent salary survey; however, the numbers in the 2015 survey indicate that the salary has continued to rise steadily since 2004. Nurse researchers typically work 40 hours per week, making their average hourly wage approximately $34.62.
Growth Outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 19% growth rate for nurse researchers between 2016 and 2026, a faster than average rate compared to many other careers.
Requirements: Individuals interested in becoming a nurse researcher will need to obtain their Master’s of Science in Nursing in order to secure top-paying jobs. Individuals must have experience in informatics, data collection, grant writing, and authoring scholarly journal articles. Some nurse researcher positions prefer candidates who have earned the Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) certification offered by the Society for Clinical Research Associates.
Jobs: Nurse researchers typically work in medical research organizations, international health organizations, hospitals, major university research departments, government agencies, clinical laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, grant writing, product development, or public speaking capacities.
Strike Travel Nurse
Travel nursing is one of the hottest and most in-demand careers for nurses that want to explore the country, help save lives, and earn premium pay. Typical travel nurses work 13-week contracts in hospitals and units that have hard to fill positions. These positions might be vacant due to high turnover, ineffective leadership, and/or multiple nurses on maternity leave.
Travel nurses also fill positions during times of hospital strikes and crisis situations. Working during hospital strikes or crisis situations is VERY different than working as a regular contracted travel nurse. Strike contracts can last for a few days or months. These nurses are hired for the length of time of the nursing strike. Sometimes that will be before orientation is even completed, while other times it can take months.
Salary: The average salary for a strike nurse according to ZipRecruiter.com is $85,355. However, strike nurses can earn over $150,000. This depends directly on the length of time of the strike. Nurses interested in strike nursing will need to pair with an agency that deals specifically with strike nurse contracts.
Growth Outlook: As long as there are nursing unions that can strike, strike travel nurses will always be in demand. Currently, there are over 100,000 nurses in the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) which is the largest nursing union in the United States.
Requirements: While no specific credentials are needed to begin working as a travel nurse, in order to start travel nursing, most registered nurses need to have a minimum of two years of experience. Travel nurses are only given minimum orientation to hospitals and units. These nurses must possess strong bedside skills, effective communication techniques, and increased flexibility.
Jobs: Travel nurses, especially strike travel nurses, generally work in the hospital setting but can also work in ambulatory settings, urgent care facilities, long term care facilities, private practices, and outpatient clinics.
Per Diem Registered Nurse
Per diem nurses are Registered Nurses that work on an as-needed basis. These nurses are employees of a hospital or healthcare system and are paid a premium for working hard-to-staff shifts such as evenings, nights, and weekends. One of the most important factors to consider with per diem nursing positions is time is not guaranteed. Per diem nurse jobs can be canceled prior to shifts and without compensation.
Per diem nurses throughout the country earn higher than average pay, but those in California, specifically Northern California, have the ability to earn the highest pay in the country.
Salary: Per diem nurses rarely get traditional employee benefits such as healthcare, dental, vision, 401K, long term disability, or paid time off. This is one of the reasons that per diem rates are higher than traditional staff nurses. According to Payscale.com, per diem nurses can earn over $60 an hour with some earning $120/hr.
Growth Outlook: Registered Nurses are projected to have a 12 percent job growth rate through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau also predicts there will be a need for an additional 203,700 new RNs each year through 2026 to fill newly created positions and to replace retiring nurses. Per diem nurses will be utilized to fill these gaps.
Requirements: Individuals interested in becoming a per diem nurse must first pass the NCLEX examination and become a Registered Nurse. Most hospitals will require one to two years of nursing experience prior to earning a per diem nursing position. Earning certifications such as CCRN, CPON, and RNC will allow individuals greater per diem job access.
Jobs: Per diem nurses can work in hospitals, private practices, ambulatory care centers, urgent care centers, staffing agencies, and outpatient clinics.
More About Nurse Salaries
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 we’ve listed a number of ways to increase your earning capacity below.
Top ways to increase your salary as a nurse
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 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 does, but you may have to pay union dues.
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 March 6, 2020, with May 2018 BLS data.
The salaries listed are highly generalized. Nurses can expect to see major variances based on geography, experience, and a number of other factors.
When calculating hourly wages for nurse salaries, we used the following formula: For a nurse working 40 hours a week, we estimated 52 of those would be working weeks. 40 hours/week multiplied by 52 weeks/year = 2,080 hours per year. The hourly wage is equivalent to Annual Salary / 2,080 for a position with a 40-hour workweek. The same formula was applied for careers with a 36-hour workweek.