The medical field has some of the fastest growing careers with room for advancement. With new technology and research for treatments constantly evolving, this area has one of the highest job growth rates. So one has an excellent chance of obtaining gainful employment upon graduating from college or university. With so many options out there to choose from, looking at the top 15 highest paying nursing careers can help when trying to decide which route to take.
So here are the top 15 specialties along with their salaries (which may vary depending on region and institution), requirements for certification, and growth outlook.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
The outlook for growth is optimistic according to the BLS. From 2012 to 2022, the expected growth is 25%.
Requirements for this certification include:
- A minimum of a master’s degree from an accredited anesthesia education program
- Successful completion of the National Certification Examination
Possible employers include:
- Staffing agencies
The salary range is about $157,000 on average according to the BLS.
General Nurse Practitioner
A general NP has a fairly broad spectrum of job choices, including working in a primary care setting or starting one’s own practice. There’s also opportunity for advancement and enhancing one’s skills.
Best yet, jobs are predicted to increase by 34% through 2022. What makes this field even more robust is the prospect of self-employment.
To become certified, the following must be completed:
- Coursework that leads to a Master of Science in Nursing
- State-specified exam for licensure for a Nurse Practitioner
- Staffing agencies
- Private practice
Whether one works for a hospital or is self-employed, salaries can reach up $97,000 per year according to the BLS.
Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
If one enjoys working with the elderly, then becoming a gerontological nurse practitioner would be the ideal option. Due to an increase in this population along with longer life spans, this is another field that is looking at immense job growth.
In order for an RN to become certified in this field he or she has to:
- Earn a master’s degree in gerontological nursing
- Take and pass the exam for acute or primary care of geriatric patients
Possible job openings, like those previously mentioned, consist mainly of hospitals and staffing agencies. Moreover, the average salary, according to BLS, is 95,070.
Pain Management Nurse
This area, with its high demand and versatility, also has a very optimistic growth outlook. Pain management nurses work with healthcare teams to assist patients after surgery or who have chronic pain. They are instrumental determining causes of pain and how to best manage them; plus they play a role in educating the patient about self-management of pain and how to avoid dependence or addiction to prescription drugs.
Preparation for becoming a pain management nurse includes the following requirements:
- Nominal amount of years of experience as an RN (no advanced degree is required)
- Preparation for and passing the certification exam for Pain Management Specialists
The wide array of possible employers include:
- Nursing homes
- Rehabilitation centers
- Hospitals and clinics
- Staffing agencies
The average salary is $90, 288 for the fast-growing field.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
For nurses who want work in a psychiatric setting in conjunction with doctors and other personnel to help patients overcome mental health issues, this would be the ideal career option. And with more attention being drawn toward the need for improvement in mental health care, particularly for children and teens, this looks to be a rapidly growing field.
To become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, one needs to earn a master’s degree with an emphasis in psychiatric nursing. Some possible employment settings would include:
- Mental health facilities
- Rehabilitation centers
- Public school districts/school-based clinics
According to PayScale, the average yearly salary for this field is $90,376.
Certified Nurse Midwife
This is another rapidly growing career option for RN’s who prefer to work in labor and delivery or even to go into private practice or work as an associate with an OB/Gyn.
Between 2012 and 2022, there is an expected 29% job growth rate. To break into this field one would need to go through the American Midwifery Certification Board in order to obtain licensure as a certified nurse midwife or a certified midwife.
The average salary for a certified nurse midwife is $102,390, but this can vary depending on whether or not a nurse goes into private practice.
Family Nurse Practitioner
A family nurse practitioner also has the option of an independent practice. Additionally, many healthcare facilities have family nurse practitioners on staff since they can perform many of the same duties as a doctor, like prescribing medication. This demand also makes this one of the fastest growing fields at 34% between 2012 through 2024.
The following are an overview of requirements to become a family nurse practitioner:
- Master’s degree
- FNP-BC designation from the certification board
The average salary falls right around $84,240.
An RN can summon “the inner geek” in this field where he or she would be applying the latest communications technology to the management of information.
Around 70,000 informatics specialists would be needed in the next 5 years according to the AMIA. Currently, there are 19,325 openings in this field.
To become an informatics specialist/analyst, one needs to earn a Master of Science in Nursing or a Master’s in Information or Computer Science. Annual salary is about $83,000.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
Clinical nurse specialists practice in a specific unit or clinic, treating a one type of illness or condition. In other words, this area has more of a narrow focus.
To gain certification, one must take the following pathway:
- The National Council Licensure Examination
- Master’s degree with emphasis in a specialized area like gerontology
- Option to study further to obtain a doctorate in nursing
Since clinical nurse specialists offer specialized care at a lower cost than a doctor, the job growth outlook is quite positive. The average salary is $75,000 to $85,000.
An administrator plays more of a role behind the scenes in the areas of management, budgeting, and HR. Therefore, the outlook is very positive with a projected 23% between 2012 and 2022 according to the BLS.
For state licensure, a master’s in healthcare administration is required. The average salary is $79,064.
If a transition from working in a healthcare to teaching prospective nurses or facilitating continuing education sounds appealing, then this field would the best fit.
Currently, there is a shortage of nursing instructors. Combining that factor with a high demand for nurses, in general, this job growth outlook is one of the highest.
To become an educator one must obtain a master’s at the very least; however, most instructors work toward earning a doctorate.
The salary averages at about $73,633.
For nurses who most enjoy caring for newborns, this field would be quite rewarding. Furthermore, with the higher incidence of premature births, there is an increased demand for neonatal and NICU nurses.
For advancement in the field, one can consider the following options:
- Licensure for neonatal nurse practitioner
- CNS designation
One can start working towards these licenses while gaining valuable experience as an RN in the neonatal unit. Hourly pay averages at about $29.60 per hour.
Critical Care Nurse
This is one of the fields that is experiencing a severe shortage, so there are many openings in various hospitals around the country. Likewise, an RN can choose a specialty such as pediatric, neonatal, and emergency rooms.
To become a critical care nurse, one should take the CCRN exam. As mentioned, there are also specialty areas to consider if one does not want to work in the critical care unit.
The average salary is $76,563.
Health Policy Nurse
Although average salaries for this field are still relatively obscure, there is no shortage of job openings, especially now with the re-examination of the Affordable Care Act.
Preparation for becoming a health policy nurse includes:
- An MSN
- Completion of a ten-week health policy residency program in community agencies, government offices, and/or advocacy organizations
Those who have entered this specialty area work on the front lines of medical field. Furthermore, this line of work is expected to grow continuously as hospitals are always looking to hire and retain surgical nurses with sharp skills.
Requirements for becoming a medical-surgical nurse include:
- Two years’ experience as an RN
- Passage of the CMSRN exam for state licensure
The salary falls at $77,492 but can increase with advanced experience and certification.
Therefore, one does not need to worry about finding work in the nursing field. Furthermore, there is plenty of opportunity for advancement or even for a change of specialty altogether if a person is already a licensed RN. Most importantly, an individual would be contributing in the realm of the one of the most rewarding careers by saving lives.