15 Highest Paying Nursing Careers [Infographic]
Updated March 31, 2017, with May 2016 BLS data.
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 $72,180 1 as of May 2016 — and job projections are 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. Some advanced practice RNs can even open their own clinics.
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.
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.
For more information on becoming a nurse anesthetist, see our CRNA career guide.
Salary: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn an average of $133,000 per year, as reported by PayScale 2, asking it the top paying nursing specialty.
Growth outlook: According to the BLS, the expected growth for CRNAs is 25 percent from 2012 to 2022.
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.
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.
Salary: General nurse practitioners can earn up to $97,990, as of the May 2014 occupational employment statistics 3 .
Growth outlook: Nurse Practitioner jobs (which includes general) are expected to experience a 34 percent growth through 2022. 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, and staffing agencies. Get matched with high paying travel general practice nursing jobs now.
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: The BLS reports the median annual salary for this specialty to be $95,070 as of May 2013.
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.
Requirements: To practice this specialty, RNs must become Certified Gerontological Nurse Practitioners (CGNP).
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, and staffing agencies. Get matched with high paying travel nursing positions of various specialties and experience.
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 $90,288 per year.
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.
Requirements: While an advanced degree isn’t necessary, sufficient experience as an RN is required to vie for the Nurse Practitioner certification for Pain Management Specialists.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, and staffing agencies. Get matched with high paying travel nursing jobs of various specialties and experiences.
For nurses with an interest in mental health, working as a psychiatric nurse practitioner will give you the opportunity to work under a psychiatric physician and counsel patients regarding mental health disorders.
Salary: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners earn on average $90,376 per year, according to PayScale 4 .
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.
Requirements: Because of the complexities involved in this advanced position plan to earn a master’s degree with a specialty in psychiatric nursing in order to break in. Learn more about Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, and staffing agencies. Get matched with high paying travel nursing jobs.
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.
Salary: Certified nurse midwives can expect to earn an average salary of $102,390 per the BLS 5 .
Growth Outlook: The job outlook for midwives is beyond good, with expectations that openings will grow 29 percent during the 2012 to 2022 decade. That is much faster than the average for all occupations, and for RNs without a specialization.
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, clinics, and staffing agencies. Get matched with high paying travel nursing jobs of various specialties and experience.
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 $84,240 per year 6 .
Growth outlook: As stated above, nurse practitioner jobs are expected to grow 34 percent from 2012 to 2024, 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, and most who choose this direction also earn a master’s degree. Learn more about Family Nurse Practitioners!
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, and staffing agencies. Get matched with high paying travel nursing positions nationwide.
Nursing, meet technology. 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 the public health.
Salary: Average salary of $83,000 8 for informatics nurses.
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. Learn more about Informatics Nurses.
Jobs: There are currently several open travel nursing positions of various specialties and experience.
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.
Salary: As per PayScale 11 , the median salary for clinical nurse specialists is $75,000 - $85,000 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. Learn more about Clinical Nurse Specialists.
Jobs: There are currently several thousand open travel nursing positions of various specialties and experience.
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 $79,064, as per PayScale 14 .
Growth outlook: Employment of medical and health services managers (of which nursing administrators are a part of) is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS.
Requirements: Usually, a master’s degree in healthcare administration is required, as is state licensing.
Jobs: Get matched with high paying travel nursing positions. Employers include hospitals, 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 $73,633, as reported by the AACN 9 in March 2014.
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.
Requirements: Nurse educators must hold a master’s degree at minimum, although many do earn a doctoral degree as well. See this informative profile for further information on becoming a Nurse Educator.
Jobs: Get matched with thousands of high paying travel nursing positions. Employers include hospitals, 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 10 is $29.60 per hour. 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 the neonatal nurse practitioner (NNPs) or neonatal clinical nurse specialist (CNS) designation is how the real advancement takes place.
Jobs: Employers include hospitals, clinics, and staffing agencies. Critical care nurses are urgently needed. View 578 open jobs for Neonatal nurses.
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 salary for ICU Nurses was $76,563 as of March 2017, according to the salaryexpert.com website. 12
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, clinics, and staffing agencies. Critical care nurses are urgently needed. Submit your application for high paying travel positions nationwide.
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 13 .
Salary: While there is no specific salary survey for this track, the income potential is strong.
Growth Outlook: With so much attention on the 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: Get matched with high paying travel nursing jobs nationwide. Employers include hospitals, clinics, 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 SalaryExpert.com, the average salary for med-surg nurses is $77,492.
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: Get matched with thousands of travel nursing positions nationwide. Employers include hospitals, clinics, and staffing agencies.
More About Nurse Salary
Many factors affect nurse salary. As an aspiring nurse, or one who is looking to advance, it pays to know how to increase your earning potential.
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. You’ll make more if you are willing to work holidays 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.