November 25, 2019

Top 5 Highest Paying Nursing Degrees

Top 5 Highest Paying Nursing Degrees

By: Portia Wofford

There are many different pathways to enter the nursing field. Registered nurses are in high demand and earn a median annual wage of $71,730 per year as of May 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average growth rates for registered nurses over the next decade. 

Many RNs are choosing to advance their practice and increase their job opportunities by obtaining certifications and advanced degrees. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for advanced practice nurses -- nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners -- was $113,930 in May 2018, and the projected growth rate is 26% over the next decade. 

Here's a closer look at the top five highest-paying nursing degrees.

1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

With roots beginning in the 1800s, CRNAs are advanced practice registered nurses with master's and doctorate level education. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, not only do CRNAs provide anesthetics to patients in every practice setting, but they're the primary provider of anesthesia to the men and women serving in the United States' Armed Forces!

Salary: As reported by Payscale, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn an average of $147,603 per year. The BLS reports a median average of $167,950. BLS rates outpatient centers and home health care services as the top-paying industries for this occupation. 

Growth outlook: According to the BLS, the expected growth for CRNAs is 17 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Degree: It's not an easy feat to earn the minimum education required to become a CRNA. A minimum of a master's degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program is required; however, by 2025, all new CRNAs will need doctorate degrees. Additionally, passing the National Certification Examination is required.

2. General Nurse Practitioner

Many general nurse practitioners choose to open independent practices or work in a variety of primary care settings. These practitioners generally take care of the entire family and work with a diverse patient population--from childhood to advanced age and geriatrics. 

Salary: As of May 2018, the Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that the median average pay for general nurse practitioners is $107,030.

Growth outlook: Nurse Practitioner jobs are expected to experience a 28% growth from 2018 to 2028.

Degree: A master of science in nursing (MSN) is required to become a nurse practitioner (although some choose to obtain a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP)), followed by earning the nurse practitioner licensure specified by your state.

3. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Interested in mental health or psychology? Then becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner or psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) might be your dream job. 

Salary: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners earn, on average, $103,526 per year, according to PayScale.

Growth outlook: While there is a nursing shortage, there's also a physician shortage. According to Forbes, psychiatrists are highly sought after physicians, coming in second after family medicine physicians. As more people seek mental healthcare, psychiatric nurse practitioners can help with the demand for highly skilled and trained providers and provide care and treatment for patients.

Degree: Complete a master's or doctoral program and obtain certification. The American Nurses Credentialing Center's requirements include:

  • A current RN license
  • A master's, postgraduate, or doctoral degree from an accredited psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program
  • A minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours within the program
  • Completion of graduate-level courses in three specific courses of study
  • Experience studying content in
    1. Health promotion and/or maintenance
    2. Differential diagnosis and disease management including prescribing medications, and clinical training in at least two areas of psychotherapy

4. Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

A gerontology nurse practitioner (GNP) is an advanced practice nurse with a clinical focus on geriatric patients. GNPs work with a broad patient population in a variety of settings. 

Salary: Payscale reports $89,169 as the median average salary.

Growth outlook: As the population ages, there is a greater need for practitioners who specialize in caring for the aged. 

Degree: Upon completing a master's degree from an accredited program, nurses will take an exam to receive their board certification as AGNPs. With several different certifications available, this field is wide open:

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification- Adult-Gerontology (ACNPC-AG) 
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner- Board Certified (AGPCNP-BC)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner- Board Certified (AGACNP-BC )
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP) 

5. Pain Management Nurse

Pain management nurses are registered nurses who specialize in the care of patients with chronic pain. Officially recognized in 2005 by the American Nurses Association as a specialty, pain management nurses are considered experts on pain management interventions and techniques. You'll often find these nurses at hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, and specialty clinics that focus on pain management. 

Salary: The average yearly salary for pain management nurses is $60,000 per year.

Growth outlook: Pain management nurses work in very diverse settings, so the demand for this specialty is strong.

Degree: The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Society for Pain Management Nursing offer a Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC) credential in pain management. To be eligible nurses must:

  • Hold an active RN license
  • Have practiced the equivalent of two years full-time as a registered nurse
  • Have practiced in a nursing role that incorporates pain management for at least 2,000 hours in the prior three years, prior to taking the exam
  • Have completed thirty hours of continuing education in the prior three years prior to taking the exam, with fifteen hours related to pain management

Find Nursing Programs

About Nursing Salaries 

Salaries presented in this article are based on national figures, but many factors affect salary, including:

  • Level of education
  • Experience
  • Location
  • Where you work
  • Demand

Portia Wofford is a nurse, content strategist, healthcare writer, entrepreneur, and nano-influencer. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for development--while helping healthcare organizations and entrepreneurs create engaging content. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.