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10 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs & Specialties

By Damon Yee on

There are many reasons to go into the nursing field. For some nurses, it’s a calling to help people and their families during illnesses and injuries. For others, it’s the promise of an in-demand career and financial stability. For most nurses, however, it’s both. Few nurses take on such a challenging career for a singular reason, especially when the ladder up is full of long days nights, difficult patient scenarios, and obstacles that seem too big to overcome. Being a nurse takes grit, commitment, and a sizeable sense of humor to get through the tough spots — but the rewards are well worth it, and there are few nurses too altruistic to admit that includes the paycheck.

There are many different types of nurses, each with a variety of responsibilities, education requirements, and estimated pay. Before you jump headfirst into nursing school, you may want to have an idea of your ideal specialty and in what capacity you see yourself in the future. Here are the 10 highest paying nursing jobs and specialties, for those who want to devote their time and skills to helping people who need it most and make bank.

10. Clinical Research Nurse

Salary Outlook
$67,509

Required Education
Bachelor’s Degree

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
A clinical research nurse provides care and support to patients undergoing clinical trials. For example, a clinical research nurse may work in a research facility where patients are receiving new types of medicines for conditions like cancer or diabetes. Although the work can be challenging, and the hours are often long like many other nursing jobs, a clinical research nurse gets to be on the forefront of new medical developments, many of which may save lives or improve quality of life.

A clinical nurse may be required to recruit, educate, and manage subjects in the clinical trial, collect samples and record vitals to be compiled into clinical data reports, and plan and coordinate daily clinical procedures for patients in the trial. Shifts can vary greatly and may include day, mid or night shifts and clinical research nurses can expect to work with a variety of medical professionals across a number of specialties, including surgeons, physicians, and other nurses. This nursing specialty is expected to grow by 10% in the next 10 years.

9. Nurse Educator

Salary Outlook
$71,260

Required Education 
Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

Typical Duties, Skills & Responsibilities
A nursing instructor is a nurse who educates other nurses during nursing school. This may be in a variety of settings, including in a classroom or clinical setting. A nursing instructor will be responsible for planning curriculum and lectures, determining course content and materials, and evaluating and grading students’ coursework. Additionally, a nursing instructor may be required to attend professional conferences and stay up-to-date on current topics in the field of nursing through by reading current literature or attend additional training sessions.

This position can be very satisfying for nurses who want to train other nurses and help educate each new generation of nursing students. However, there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with this position — nursing educators must be able to teach students how to provide care to patients safely using proper procedures, even when the way procedures are done changes frequently. Nursing instructors are typically in high demand as more individuals choose to go into the nursing profession.

8. Registered Nurse

Salary Outlook
$73,550

Required Education
Associates Degree (ADN) or Bachelor’s Degree (BSN)

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
Registered nursing is the most commonly sought-after type of nursing career. A registered nurse can work in a wide variety of fields, from doctor’s offices to nursing homes to hospitals. Registered nurses can also work in schools and even in the military. This type of nurse is responsible for providing nursing care to patients under their watch, which can include administering medications, putting in IV’s, dressing wounds, and more. Additionally, nurses are responsible for providing their patients with some health education and to provide emotional support to patients and their family members.

The hours a registered nurse works vary greatly depending on the type of facility he or she works in. Registered nurses may work a typical 9-5 shift if they work in a doctor’s office setting, or they may work varied shifts up to 12 hours at a hospital. This nursing specialty is expected to grow faster than many other types of nursing — as much as 15% in the next 10 years.

7. Nursing Administrator

Salary Outlook
$98,350

Required Education
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing; may also have experience in an administrative role

Typical Duties, Skills & Responsibilities
Typically, nursing administrators work in an office setting, however, this may be in a doctor’s office, a hospital, or a skilled nursing facility. They may be responsible for managing an entire facility or a medical practice for multiple physicians. Nursing administrators primarily plan, coordinate, and direct medical services for a facility and are responsible for maintaining compliance within their facility in regard to technology, regulations, and healthcare laws such as HIPAA.

Nursing administrators may recruit and train staff members, supervise staff members within the facility, develop goals and objectives for their departments, create and maintain work schedules of staff members, and may even manage finances, including patient billing and insurance payments. Nursing administrators may work with a variety of other nursing professionals depending on the facility that they preside over and may work with physicians, nurse practitioners, surgeons, certified nursing assistants, and registered nurses. This field is expected to grow by 20% over the next 10 years.

6. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Salary Outlook
$99,363

Required Education
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, 2 years experience as a full-time RN, a minimum of 2,000 hours clinical practice in a psychiatric or mental health facility within 3 years, and 30 hours minimum of psychiatric or mental health continuing education within 3 years. Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
A psychiatric nurse practitioner is a nurse practitioner that works specifically in the psychiatric and mental health fields. They primarily assess the mental health needs of individuals and groups and are responsible for developing a nursing diagnosis and a care plan for their patients. They have the experience and credentials required to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health and psychiatric conditions and they can also prescribe medication and conduct psychotherapy sessions for patients. Often, psychiatric nurse practitioners will own their own private practices.

There are additional sub-specialties within the field, including forensics, geriatrics, and child and adolescent mental health. Most nurses who decide to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner have done volunteer work in psychiatric hospitals or clinics and have developed a passion for the work. Although the role of psychiatric nurse practitioner requires extensive education and work experience, it can be extremely rewarding and nurses for this role are in high demand.

5. Clinical Nurse Specialist

Salary Outlook
$101,847

Required Education
Bachelor of Science in Nursing, RN license, clinical nurse specialist certification or license, and a Master’s or Doctoral Degree

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice that can earn a sizeable income. This type of nurse can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and skilled nursing facilities. They are typically considered experts in their field and will specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as cardiovascular health, orthopedics, oncology, and other types of specialties. A clinical nurse specialist is responsible for the management of registered nurses who work underneath them and may also be involved in research, facility administration, and teaching depending on where they work and the type of role they are filling.

Clinical nurse specialists often work independently and may conduct a number of exams on their own, such as wellness exams or women’s health and gynecological exams. This field is expected to grow 16% in the next ten years, and clinical nurse specialists will be in particularly high demand.

4. Pain Management Nurse

Salary Outlook
$103,321

Required Education
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, two years’ experience as a full-time registered nurse, has practiced pain management in their nursing role for a minimum of 2,000 hours in the previous 3 years, and has received 30 hours of continuing education in the last three years with at least half of those hours relating directly to pain management. Advanced certifications may be required in some settings.

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
A pain management nurse is a registered nurse who works exclusively with patients who suffer chronic pain and works to help them manage their pain using a variety of medications and treatments. Pain management nurses may work at doctor’s offices or hospitals, but they are more likely to work at clinics specifically dedicated to pain management. They may work with patients who have a variety of conditions, including but not limited to diabetic nerve pain, spinal cord injuries, migraines and headaches, degenerative disc disease, and cancer.

Therapies that a pain management nurse may perform can include the administration of pain medications, monitoring patients who are sedated and helping them to recover and assisting physicians during more invasive pain relief therapies. This field of nursing is challenging because it requires nurses to have tremendous patience and be aware of pain cues, including non-verbal ones, but it can also be extremely rewarding.

3. Certified Nurse Midwife

Salary Outlook
$103,640

Required Education
Master’s Degree in Nursing, specializing in Midwifery

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
The career path of a certified nurse midwife is a highly rewarding one. Not only is the position the third top paying nursing specialty, the job can bring a great deal of satisfaction. Certified nurse midwives specialize in reproductive health and help care for women during pregnancy and childbirth. Many medical practitioners would agree that delivering a baby is an exhilarating experience and it’s at the core of what certified nurse midwives do. These types of nurse practitioners will also conduct well-woman and gynecological exams and prescribe birth control.

As women seek more intimate care for their reproductive health and their pregnancies and labors, certified nurse midwives are increasing in demand. The projected growth for this nursing specialty is 29% in the next 10 years. Certified nurse midwives may work in hospitals or obstetrics clinics, or they may have their own private practices.

2. Nurse Practitioner

Salary Outlook
$104,610

Required Education
Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
A nurse practitioner functions in a similar capacity as a traditional family doctor. They have the ability to examine patients independently, prescribe certain medications, diagnose illnesses, and provide or recommend certain types of treatment. Nurse practitioners can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, but often work in clinics. Emergency rooms and urgent care clinics may refer less-emergent cases to nurse practitioners to help balance patient flow during busy times. In 20 states, nurse practitioners have full practice authority, meaning that they do not need to work under a physician.

Nurse practitioners can provide most of the care that a primary physician is able to provide, and the career can be a highly rewarding one. Depending on the facility, the hours can be hectic, or they can be regular. Job growth is one of the highest of all nursing specialties and is expected to expand by 31% in the next 10 years.

1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Salary Outlook
$110,930

Required Education
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and 7 years post-secondary education and experience

Typical Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities
A certified nurse anesthetist is perhaps one of the most rewarding nursing career choices, both personally and financially. There is a high degree of responsibility, however, and nurse anesthetists often do similar work as anesthesiologists. They may administer local and general anesthetics, provide twilight sedation, perform nerve blocks and epidurals, and may work in a pain management capacity. They can work in a variety of settings, including clinics and even dental offices, however, hospitals are the most common. Certified nurse anesthetists must monitor patient vitals while under certain types of anesthesia and administer the correct dosage of anesthesia to ensure that the patient remains sedated according to the needs of the physician and/or procedure.

Job satisfaction in this role is high for nurses, and it is one of the most in-demand fields with growth expected to be over 30% in the next 10 years.

What Kind of Nurse Do You Want to Be?

Making the decision to become a nurse is an exciting albeit frightening one and making the decision to specialize in one of the top paying nursing fields is even more so. However, the right career path can be both personally and financially rewarding for you depending on what you want for your future. If you’re undecided, don’t worry — all nurses have to start somewhere, and that’s with a bachelor’s degree. As you gain experience and work in different clinical settings, you’ll find what you’re passionate about.

With time, additional education, and plenty of hard work, you can enter a specialized nursing field where you have respect, responsibility, and great pay.