The 20 Best Nursing Career Specialties Based On Salary

The 20 Best Nursing Career Specialties Based On Salary

The 20 Best Nursing Career Specialties Based On Salary
Interested in nursing, but unsure which career track is best for you? This guide describes the 20 best nursing career specialties and how to get started in these fields.

The healthcare industry continues to grow much faster than other industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 13% job growth for healthcare occupations between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than average. This growth could result in 2 million new job openings within that time frame.

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The median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, including registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), was about $29,000 higher than the national average for all occupations. Some nursing specialties make even more. These specialties allow nurses to focus on certain patient populations, increase their autonomy and salary, expand their skills, and further their education.

Learn more about the top 20 best nursing specialties based on the highest average salaries, according to Payscale data from August 2023. Find out how you can start your career in one of these specialties.
Nursing Career Specialties Based On Salary: Top 20

– Nurse Anesthetist
– Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
– Nurse Midwife
– Family Nurse Practitioner
– Clinical Nurse Specialist
– Informatics Nurse
– Nurse Educator
– Nurse Researcher
– Oncology Nurse
– Travel Nurse
– Trauma Nurse
– Dialysis Nurse
– Infection Control/Prevention Nurse
– Neonatal Nurse
– Acute Care Nurse
– Geriatric Nurse
– Nurse Advocate
– Public Health Nurse
– Pediatric Nurse
– School Nurse

Healthcare Degrees Without Clinical Components

Top Nursing Career Specialties Based On Salary to Consider

1 | Nurse Anesthetist

These APRNs administer anesthesia and pain medication, observe vital signs, make adjustments, and monitor patients during surgical procedures and in recovery. Nurse anesthetists work with patients of all ages in scheduled surgical operations or emergency procedures. Prior to surgery, they record patient histories and provide information about the types of anesthesia used in the procedure.

How to Become: This field requires a BSN degree, an RN license, and at least an MSN degree with a specialization in nurse anesthesiology. Nurse anesthetists must hold specialized certification to practice. Requirements for the certified registered nurse anesthetist credential include over 3,000 hours of clinical experience and a passing score on the national examination administered through the National Boards of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists. They must also apply for state licensure as ARPNs with prescriptive authority.
Salary: $175,390 (August 2023)

2 | Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

These APRN nurses assess, diagnose, and treat patients with mental disorders. Psychiatric mental health nurses offer services to people who have mood disorders, phobias, depression, or dementia, as well as those struggling with substance abuse issues or other addictions. In addition to administering medication and therapy, their duties include crisis intervention, mental health assessment and evaluation, and patient assistance.

How to Become: These nurses must have at least an MSN and a valid RN license to qualify for APRN licensure. Aspiring nurse practitioners (NPs) can follow several pathways to a graduate degree, including RN-to-MSN programs for RNs with associate degrees and direct entry MSN programs for holders of non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. Graduates of an NP program with a psychiatric mental health population focus seeking state licensure must obtain the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner certification available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Salary: $117,430 (August 2023)

3 | Nurse Midwife

Advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in pregnancy, prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum recovery can earn certification as nurse midwives. Nurse midwives care for patients from labor through delivery and provide postpartum assistance. While primarily focused on pregnancy care, these nurses may also offer general services for women, including gynecological reproductive and preventive healthcare.

How to Become: Nurse midwives can pursue several pathways to licensing. Prospective nurse midwives who already have their bachelor of science in nursing and an RN license may enroll in a master of science program or a doctor of nursing degree. Some MSN programs admit RNs without a bachelor’s degree. Direct-entry MSN programs admit students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. After completing their graduate training, nurses must earn the certified nurse midwife credential administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board.
Salary: $103,360 (August 2023)

4 | Family Nurse Practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) work with patients from childhood to adulthood in clinical and family practice settings. Over 65% of nurse practitioners hold FNP certification, making it the most popular of all APRN categories. FNPs examine, diagnose, and treat patients throughout the lifespan from childhood to old age, with a particular focus on preventive care.

How to Become: An MSN serves as the minimum educational requirement for FNPs. While most nurse practitioner programs, including those offered online, require a BSN, some schools admit students without a bachelor’s degree. Prospective FNPs may enter bridge programs with associate degrees in nursing or direct-entry programs designed for holders of non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. After finishing their graduate training, FNPs pursue family

practice certifications from various nurse practitioner certification boards.
Salary: $101,730 (August 2023)

5 | Clinical Nurse Specialist

This type of APRN needs a master’s or doctor of nursing degree in a specialized area of nursing practice. Clinical nurses can choose focus areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, critical or emergency care, specific disease care (such as diabetes or cardiovascular illness), rehabilitation, mental health, or pain management and wound care.

How to Become: Most clinical nurses enter an MSN program after obtaining their RN license and some work experience. Like other APRNs, clinical nurses may select from several educational paths depending on their previous degree and training. While the field does not require specialized certification to practice, many clinical nurses pursue specialized credentials to advance in their careers and earn higher salaries. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers several certifications in gerontology, cardiovascular disease, oncology, and other practice areas.
Salary: $98,160 (August 2023)

6 | Informatics Nurse

Many organizations, including hospitals, nursing homes, insurance agencies, and public health agencies, use the services of informatics nurses to manage healthcare data and communications. These nursing specialists, trained in computer science, information technology, and nursing, manage data integration among all healthcare providers to help these organizations increase efficiency and improve patient care.

How to Become: These specialists typically enter the field after earning a BSN degree and receiving their RN license. After completing a BSN, RNs interested in nursing informatics sometimes earn a general MSN degree or an MSN in health informatics. Some RNs acquire graduate degrees in information science or computer science. While not required by all employers, obtaining specialized certification in nurse informatics through the American Nurses Credentialing Center can enhance career prospects.
Salary: $83,780 (August 2023)

7 | Nurse Educator

Nurse educators are registered nurses who have completed advanced graduate training preparing them to teach nursing students in academic institutions or hospital nurse training settings. In addition to teaching nurses enrolled in diploma or degree programs, they also offer continuing education and refresher courses for nursing professionals. Other duties include advising students, creating and evaluating nursing curriculum, conducting research, and writing grants.

How to Become: Like all nursing career paths, becoming a nurse educator involves completing several educational requirements, beginning with a passing score on the NCLEX-RN. Then, candidates must complete an MSN and gain additional clinical experience in an APRN practice area. Nursing schools increasingly prefer to hire nurse educators who have earned either a doctor of nursing practice degree or a Ph.D. in nursing. These specialized nurses must also pass the National League of Nursing exam to receive the required certified nurse educator credential.
Salary: $82,120 (August 2023)

8 | Nurse Researcher

These highly specialized nursing professionals conduct scientific studies, analyze data, and report their findings about illnesses and improving healthcare. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and research laboratories. While nurse researchers do not provide direct nursing care to patients, they perform important healthcare functions, focusing on topics that impact the field of nursing and save peoples’ lives.

How to Become: Most nurse researchers have completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree and hold a valid RN license. A growing number of nurse researcher positions require doctoral level training. While nurse researchers do not need specialized certifications, they can boost their career potential by earning the certified clinical research professional certification through the Society for Clinical Research Associates or pursuing other research credentials administered through the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.
Salary: $81,500* (August 2023)
(*based on a small sample size)

9 | Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses care for patients receiving treatment for various stages of cancer. They typically specialize in subfields such as pediatric cancer, geriatric cancer, breast cancer, or hematology. These nurses administer chemotherapy, identify symptoms, and monitor progress. Oncology nurses also play a crucial role in creating a comfortable and supportive environment for cancer patients.

How to Become: Educational requirements include an RN license and an associate or BSN degree. A graduate degree from an NP program that offers an oncology specialization will prepare nurses for advanced clinical roles and better paying career opportunities. Although not all states require these nurses to obtain oncology certification, this credential and graduate training can provide a competitive edge. The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers the oncological certified nurse credential and several specialized certifications.
Salary: $81,160 (August 2023)

10 | Travel Nurse

These RNs travel from one healthcare facility to another across the country, and sometimes internationally, to fill staffing needs for varying periods of time. Travel nurses may specialize in a particular practice area or perform the gamut of general RN duties such as recording patient histories, assessing symptoms, making diagnosis, and administering treatment and medicine. Whether self-employed or placed through an agency, travel nurses take contracts anywhere from one month to two years.

How to Become: The minimum educational requirement for travel nurses consist of an associate or BSN degree and a current RN license. Most employers and agencies that hire travel nurses look for approximately two years of nursing experience. While national certification does not

currently exist for travel nurses, certain RN specialties can improve employment prospects. The most commonly sought-after certifications include certified pediatric, certified critical care, and certified emergency nurse credentials.
Salary: $80,870 (August 2023)

11 | Trauma Nurse

Within emergency rooms, critical care units, or as part of emergency medical response teams, trauma nurses aid patients facing critical, unstable, and life-threatening conditions. These registered nurses (RNs) possess specific training to collaborate with doctors in stabilizing and treating traumatized patients. They manage wound care, emergency medications, and administer IV fluids or blood transfusions. Additionally, they operate life-saving equipment like defibrillators and closely monitor vital signs.

Path to Entry: Trauma nurses usually commence their careers by attaining an associate or BSN degree and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Aspiring nurses should make the most of field experiences or internships in trauma-related settings. Following two years of RN work experience, these nurses should seek certified emergency nurse credentials or related trauma certifications through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.
Salary: $80,560 (August 2023)

12 | Dialysis Nurse

Dialysis involves the medical procedure of purifying the blood of patients afflicted by kidney-related ailments. Such disorders hinder their kidneys from eliminating undesired waste and fluids from the bloodstream. Dialysis nurses operate the equipment responsible for blood cleansing, evaluate patients’ vital signs before and after dialysis, and offer guidance on medications and post-treatment care.

Path to Entry: Dialysis nurses must possess a nursing diploma, associate, or bachelor’s degree in nursing along with an RN license. Those who hold an MSN degree can pursue higher-paying APRN positions. Gaining certifications in nephrology, which centers on kidney function, disease, and treatment, can also augment career prospects. RNs have the option of acquiring either the certified nephrology nurse or certified dialysis nurse credential provided by the Nephrology Nursing Certification Committee.
Salary: $80,240 (August 2023)

13 | Infection Control/Prevention Nurse

Infection control and prevention nurses identify, monitor, and oversee infections, diseases, and viruses. Commonly registered nurses, these experts have played a pivotal role during the COVID-19 pandemic, as healthcare systems require specialized personnel to focus on patient case reporting and comprehensive infection prevention. They operate within hospitals, clinics, and community health centers.

Path to Entry: To specialize in this field, candidates need to attain certification in infection prevention and control (CIC) from the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. The CIC credential mandates an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, at least two years of RN experience, and substantial exposure – approximately two years – to working with infectious diseases.
Salary: $78,460 (August 2023)

14 | Neonatal Nurse

Neonatal nurses function within intensive care units caring for infants at risk of complications and requiring specialized attention. This encompasses premature newborns and those born with cardiac or other congenital abnormalities, genetic conditions, or drug dependencies. Neonatal nurses generally provide care for these infants until their departure from the hospital, extending beyond the newborn stage in certain cases.

Path to Entry: Fundamental prerequisites for a neonatal nursing career comprise a valid RN license and at least an associate degree, although more competitive positions necessitate a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). All neonatal nurses must secure Neonatal Resuscitation Program certification. Many also pursue supplementary credentials such as low-risk neonatal nursing or neonatal intensive care nursing certifications.
Salary: $75,350 (August 2023)

15 | Acute Care Nurse

Acute care nurses deliver care to patients requiring immediate attention for severe or life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks or abrupt complications arising from chronic illnesses like diabetes. This versatile nursing specialization offers 15 certifications encompassing fields from neonatal and pediatric acute care to adult cardiac and gerontology acute care.

Path to Entry: A valid RN license and an MSN or doctoral degree resulting in licensure as an acute care nurse practitioner open doors to the most lucrative career prospects. While certification requisites vary by state, acute care nurse practitioners must secure specialized certifications aligned with their practice area. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses provides certifications with distinct clinical practice, licensure, and degree prerequisites for both RNs and APRNs.
Salary: $74,590 (August 2023)

16 | Geriatric Nurse

As the baby boomer generation ages, the demand for geriatric nurses has surged. These RNs necessitate comprehensive training to comprehend and address the requirements of the elderly population. They collaborate closely with primary care physicians, social workers, families, and other caregivers to manage the healthcare concerns of their patients and facilitate education about conditions and treatment alternatives.

Path to Entry: An RN lacking an advanced graduate degree can become a geriatric nurse, although APRNs equipped with advanced training in a geriatric specialization at the master’s or doctoral level will encounter improved employment prospects. APRNs holding licenses can obtain the APRN gerontological specialist – certified (GS-C) designation through the Gerontology Nursing Certification Commission.
Salary: $73,570 (August 2023)

17 | Nurse Advocate

Nurse advocates evaluate, educate, and represent patients, bridging communication between patients and their physicians. They assess patient worries and collaborate with doctors to ensure quality, cost-effective healthcare. Their responsibilities encompass patient education regarding conditions, treatments, and available healthcare procedures. Moreover, they stand as representatives for patients by articulating their preferences and mediating conflicts with physicians.

Path to Entry: The journey to becoming a nurse advocate initiates with acquiring a BSN degree and successfully passing the NCLEX-RN exam for RN licensure. While working as RNs, potential nurse advocates should capitalize on continuing education courses and professional experiences exposing them to advocacy techniques. While nursing advocacy certifications are currently unavailable, entities like the Patient Advocate Certification Board present credentials for healthcare professionals active in this domain.
Salary: $71,610 (August 2023)

18 | Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses engage with specific populations or communities, educating individuals on health and safety concerns and aiding them in accessing healthcare. Rather than delivering individual patient care, their emphasis lies in prevention. They identify health issues, prioritize safety matters within communities, formulate and execute safety plans, and act as healthcare proponents.

Path to Entry: Public health nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to acquire their RN license and amass work experience in community or public health nursing. The sole certification accessible to public health nurses, the certified public health credential, mandates a bachelor’s degree, at least five years of public health experience, and successful completion of an examination administered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners.
Salary: $69,660 (August 2023)

19 | Pediatric Nurse

This sought-after nursing specialization concentrates on the healthcare requirements of children from infancy to adolescence. Based on their degree of training, pediatric nurses offer primary and preventive healthcare, conduct physical examinations, manage chronic and acute illnesses, conduct diagnostic tests, and devise treatment plans. They extend assistance to children across diverse settings while also providing healthcare education to patients and families.

Path to Entry: Pediatric nurses can commence their careers with an RN license and relevant certification. While many nurses enter the field with an associate or BSN degree, APRNs with a pediatric focus and an MSN or doctor of nursing degree encounter heightened demand for their services. The American Nurses Credential Center oversees the pediatric nursing certification program. RNs may qualify for this national examination after completing two years of work experience involving a minimum of 2,000 hours in pediatric nursing.
Salary: $62,070 (August 2023)


20 | School Nurse

Operating within elementary, middle, and high schools, school nurses fulfill a pivotal yet underappreciated role. Their duties encompass administering first aid to ill or injured students, providing acute care, collecting health data, conducting health screenings, and assisting students dealing with chronic illnesses.

Path to Entry: School nurses require RN licensure before assuming roles in educational institutions. Although an associate degree fulfills the qualification, the National Association of School Nurses advises obtaining a BSN instead. While school nurses don’t necessarily require specialized certification, they can acquire credentials from the National Board for Certification of School Nurses to augment their qualifications.
Salary: $51,530 (August 2023)

Frequently Asked Questions

How many types of nursing specialties are there?

Nursing has 106 specialties, including pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology, and acute care. These specialities can also be combined to create even more subspecialities, such as pediatric oncology.

What is the highest paid nursing specialty?

Nurse anesthetists are the highest paid nursing specialty. Nurse anesthetists make an average of $175,390 annually, or $92.99 an hour, according to Payscale data from August 2023.

What type of RN is most in demand?

All RNs are in demand more than other occupations. The BLS projects 6% job growth for all RNs between 2021 and 2031, compared to 5% job growth for all occupations. Some specialties that are in especially high demand are neonatal nursing, surgical nursing, and critical care nursing.

What qualifications do you need for nursing?

The minimum qualifications you need is a nursing diploma or an associate degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program, an RN license, and basic life support certification. Most employers now prefer or require RNs to have a bachelor of science in nursing.

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