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Top 3 Nursing Careers: Highest Paying Nursing Careers

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Top Three (Non-management) Clinical Nursing Roles:

Over 2.5 million nurses are practicing nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), making nursing the largest workforce within the healthcare industry. There are so many different types and levels of nurses, it can be overwhelming to decide which nursing field to choose.
If compensation and job security are at the top of your list of deciding factors, this list may help you narrow the field of options for you. Below are the top three nursing fields, 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. This list also includes clinically practicing nurses, and does not include roles which primarily consist of management or supervisory responsibilities.
All of the below are advanced practice nurses, meaning they are highly specialized and educated at a graduate level. (The salary and other data, unless otherwise attributed, is based on my compilation of information I’ve acquired over the years working as a recruiter, and assisting hospitals with searches for these nursing roles.)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

    With an average annual salary of $100,000 or more, CRNAs have one of the highest salaries among the nursing field. If you are already a licensed registered nurse (RN), you may be qualified to enter a graduate education program to become a CRNA.
CRNAs are part of the surgery team working with, or in place of, anesthesiologists, delivering anesthesia during surgical operations. In fact, CRNAs existed in medicine before anesthesiologists. Becoming a CRNA could be a great option for someone who has an interest in surgery or who has good technical skills. Providing anesthesia care is a more episodic type of care because you are working in a surgical setting. Therefore, if you are not as interested in continuity of care, or following a patient over time, this may be a career for you. Also keep in mind that your patients are "out cold" for most of the time you are treating them.

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)

    A nurse practitioner, sometimes referred to as a "mid-level provider," provides direct patient care at varying levels of independence, depending upon state laws. Some states require NPs to work under the supervision of a licensed physician, while other states allow NPs to practice relatively independently. NPs are qualified and authorized to do patient exams and some minor procedures and tests and can fulfill many of the same duties as a physician.

    State laws regarding nurse practitioners vary widely from state to state. In some states, NPs are legally required to practice under the supervision of a physician, and must have a licensed physician to sign off on their work. However, in other states, NPs practice independently of physicians, providing primary care, or specialty care, and may prescribe medications as such. Becoming a nurse practitioner could be an excellent choice for someone who wants to earn as much as a CRNA, and would also like to experience some continuity of care, and build relationships and rapport with returning patients over time. For more information on becoming an NP, plus salary information, see the nursing career profile.

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

    A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice nurse who also assists with specialized research, education, advocacy, and sometimes management. In addition to being Registered Nurses, Clinical Nurse Specialists also hold a Master’s of Science degree in Nursing (MSN) and they have completed the additional CNS certification for their respective area of expertise.

    Clinical Nurse Specialists are, as the name implies, trained and educated in a particular medical specialty. For example, a CNS of oncology would be highly trained in the treatment of cancer patients. A CNS of oncology may assist with clinical trials, and hold informational or educational meetings for cancer patients or other oncology nurses. Additionally, the CNS for oncology may assist in developing nursing protocols or quality improvement methods within the oncology department of a hospital.

    According to www.allnursingschools.com, there are over 15 areas in which a CNS may specialize including psychiatry, cardiology, infectious disease, geriatrics, and more.

    The average salary for CNS roles is around $70,000 – 80,000. It’s difficult to quote an average salary across all CNS roles, since pay varies according to the subspecialty as well, but there are many positions paying up to $90,000 or more with experience.

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