Over 2.5 million nurses are practicing nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), making nursing the largest workforce within the U.S. healthcare industry. And even that number might not be enough. The BLS estimates there will be a continued demand for more qualified nurses as the health care field is becoming more complex with specialized fields expanding and the large population of retiring nurses leaving the workplace. If you’re considering a career in nursing, take a look at our most recent ranking of the best online RN to BSN programs.
Certainly all nursing career choices are rewarding and fulfilling emotionally, but with so many specialties and career path options, it can be difficult for nurses to choose one. If compensation and job security are at the top of your list of deciding factors, what follows may help you narrow your field of options. Here are the top 10 most popular nursing specializations, based on annual salary, and industry demand. Because they are the highest paid, these nursing roles also require the most education and training as compared to some other types of nurses.
#1: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are advanced practice nurses who provide more than 32 million anesthetics for surgical, obstetrical and trauma care each year in the United States. They administer every type of anesthetic, work in every type of practice setting and provide care for every type of operation or procedure – from open heart surgery to pain management programs. CRNAs work in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists and other qualified healthcare professionals. As an advanced practice registered nurse you would be given a high degree of autonomy and professional respect and your average annual salary would reflect that: $144,000 to $165,000. Podiatrists, also known as a foot doctor, are anesthesiologists with extensive training in treating conditions associated with abnormal joints. They perform a variety of procedures to repair and maintain the integrity of the joint and to restore it to its optimal condition. The most common type of joint disease they treat is osteoarthritis. A more specialized type of joint disease is joint degeneration and its resulting loss of mobility.
#2 Nurse Researcher
Nurse researchers are scientists who study various aspects of health, illness, and health care. By designing and implementing scientific studies, they look for ways to improve health, healthcare services, and healthcare outcomes. Should you choose to specialize here, part of your job description would be identifying research questions, designing and conducting scientific studies, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting their findings. Many researchers teach in academic or clinical settings, and often write articles and research reports for nursing, medical, and other professional journals and publications. Often, you will begin your research career in positions such as research assistant, clinical data coordinator, and clinical research monitor. Average annual salary: About $95,000.
#3 Psychiatric Nurse
As one of the highest paying nursing specialties ($95,000 a year on average), psychiatric nurse practitioners provide consultation and care to patients suffering with mental health and psychiatric disorders. In short, they treat patients diagnosed with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. They’re also trained in behavioral therapy, which allows these nurses to teach patients, and their loved ones, how to deal with challenges that go along with psychiatric disorders. As a psychiatric nurse, you could specialize in working with children or older people, or in a specific area such as eating disorders. Mental health nurses often work in multidisciplinary teams, liaising with psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, GPs, social workers and other health professionals.
#4 Certified Nurse Midwife
A certified nurse midwife is the primary care provider for expectant women who are healthy enough to sustain child birth without complications or high risk. The nurse provides them physical and emotional support before, during and after childbirth. As a midwife, nurses can work from a health care facility or within patient’s homes or another specified location. Midwives offer genealogical examinations, prenatal care, labor and delivery assistance and neonatal care. The American College of Nurse-Midwives predicts the ever increasing demand of certified nurse-midwives saying that soon one in ten babies will be delivered by them in the U.S. Average salary: $84,000
#5 Pediatric Endocrinology Nurse
The nurses within this field care for young children (infant to teenager) suffering from endocrine diseases and disorders, including adrenal, thyroid and pituitary problems. As a Pediatric Endocrinology Nurse, you would work closely with pediatricians to help develop your patients’ treatment plan and care. Since one of the most common diseases in pediatric endocrinology is juvenile diabetes, you will also play an important role in teaching children and their parents about the effects of diabetes, and help them make healthy lifestyle choices. Average salary: $81,000.
#6: Orthopedic Nurse
An orthopedic nurse helps provide care for patients who suffer from musculoskeletal ailments including arthritis, diabetes, and joint replacement issues. These nurses also provide patient education and help prepare treatment plans. Your specialized skills would include traction, neurovascular status monitoring, continuous passive motion therapy, casting, and care of patients with external fixation. Average salary: $81,000.
#7 Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses who provide care to patients throughout the lifespan, from premature newborns to the elderly. NPs, as they are called, certainly earn their place on the list of highest paying nursing specialties, as they are increasingly serving as primary and specialty care providers in under acknowledged areas of health care. They are qualified to provide most basic care and preventive health services to patients, and in many states nurse practitioners can prescribe medications. They perform comprehensive and focused physical examinations; diagnose and treat common acute illnesses and injuries; provide immunizations; manage high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and other chronic health problems; order and interpret diagnostic tests such as X-rays and EKGs, as well as laboratory tests; prescribe medications and therapies; perform procedures; and educate and counsel patients and their families regarding healthy lifestyles and health care options. Average Salary: $79,000.
#8: Clinical Nurse Specialist
These nurses develop and establish uniform standards pertaining to patient’s quality of care, and work with staff to ensure these guidelines are met. Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) are Advanced Practice nurses who hold a master’s or doctoral degree in a specialized area of nursing practice. Their area of clinical expertise may be in: a population (e.g. pediatrics, geriatrics, women’s health); a setting (e.g. critical care, emergency room); a disease or medical sub-specialty (e.g. diabetes, oncology); a type of care (e.g. psychiatric, rehabilitation); or a type of health problem (e.g. pain, wounds, stress). Besides the conventional nursing responsibilities which focus upon helping patients to prevent or resolve illness, a CNS’s scope of practice includes diagnosing and treating diseases, injuries and/or disabilities within his/her field of expertise. Clinical Nurse Specialists provide direct patient care, serve as expert consultants for nursing staffs, and are active in improving health care delivery systems. Average salary: $76,000.
#9: Gerontological Practitioner
Gerontological Nurse Practitioners (GNPs) are Registered Nurses who serve as primary and specialty health care providers under a physician. They hold advanced degrees specializing in geriatrics. Much like a geriatrician, GMPs work with elderly patients, diagnosing illness, conducting exams, and prescribing medication They are able to diagnose and manage their patients’ often long-term and debilitating conditions and provide regular assessments to patients’ family members. Similar to all geriatric nurses, GNPs must approach nursing holistically and pay special attention to maintaining a comforting bedside manner for their elderly patients. As a GNP, you can work at nursing homes, with home healthcare services and in hospice facilities, or run your own private practice. Average salary: $75,000
#10: Neonatal Nurses
Neonatal nursing is a sub-specialty of nursing that works with newborn infants born with a variety of problems ranging from prematurity, birth defects, infection, cardiac malformations, and surgical problems. The neonatal period is defined as the first month of life; however, these newborns are often sick for months. Neonatal nursing generally encompasses those infants who experience problems shortly after birth, but it also encompasses care for infants who experience long-term problems related to their prematurity or illness after birth. A few neonatal nurses may care for infants up to about 2 years of age. Most neonatal nurses care for infants from the time of birth until they are discharged from the hospital. Average salary: $74,000.