10 Highest-Paying Jobs for Nurses
Posted: February 17, 2015 by Cathy Weselby in Careers & Credentials Updated March 31, 2017
We realize people don’t enter the field of nursing just for the paycheck. But while you’re working hard for a living, it’s helpful to know which nursing specialties actually earn the most money. We surveyed the gamut of nursing professions and ranked them according to the national average annual salary. Data is courtesy of Salary.com.
Chief Nursing Officer – $210,204
Want to work at the top? The chief nursing officer (CNO) is the highest-ranking administrative nurse in a hospital. Along with the high salary, however, comes a high level of responsibility and long work hours. As a member of the executive team, the CNO, or head of nursing, provides leadership and direction for the development of strategies to promote the recruitment and retention of nurses in the organization. The CNO also serves as the spokesperson for nurses.
This role requires a business background and a broad knowledge of the health care system. A master’s degree in nursing is essential, and a doctorate degree is recommended if you want to work in a university-based hospital.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – $169,549
As a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), you not only earn high pay but also have a high degree of autonomy. CRNAs administer anesthesia and monitor patients during and after surgical procedures. They may work in hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers or offices of dentists, podiatrists, plastic surgeons and pain management specialists.
CRNAs work with minimal supervision by anesthesiologists, and some choose to work independently for a number of facilities. To become a CRNA, you need to be a registered nurse with at least one year of experience in an acute care setting, complete a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia and pass the national certification exam.
Nursing Director – $134,611
If you’re a registered nurse who aspires to a more administrative role, you might be interested in becoming a nursing director.
This position is also a stepping-stone to becoming chief nursing officer. Nursing directors typically oversee several departments and work in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities.
Job responsibilities are a combination of supervising nursing staff, managing patient care and performing administrative tasks such as budgeting. A nursing director should enjoy working with people because they frequently interact with doctors, administrators, nurses, patients and their families. Most hospitals require nursing directors to be registered nurses with a master’s degree.
Nursing Education Director – $116,060
Directors of nursing education are usually nurse educators who move up the ranks to leadership. The role includes directing and coordinating curriculum development and overseeing the training staff. A nursing education director conducts needs analyses, evaluates the performance of training programs and ensures training meets regulatory requirements.
You’ll need to be a registered nurse with five to 10 years’ experience and a master’s degree in nursing education, although some employers prefer a doctorate degree. This position typically reports to senior management.
Nurse Manager – $100,888
Sometimes referred to as a head nurse or nursing supervisor, a nurse manager is in charge of a particular clinical department. The most common workplaces are hospitals, ambulatory care centers and long-term care centers. Nurse managers are responsible for recruiting, overseeing and retaining nursing staff, interacting with doctors on matters regarding patient care and assisting patients and families as needed. The ideal candidate is someone who is responsible, influential and remains calm under pressure.
Salaries are higher for nurse managers in ambulatory care facilities, averaging $121,186 annually. Wages also vary depending on the hospital department.
- ICU: $101,360
- Operating room: $97,922
- Critical care: $97,440
- Emergency room: $95,111
- Obstetrics: $94,584
Nurse Practitioner – $99,451
A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has completed advanced education and clinical training.
An NP performs physical examinations, diagnoses and treats common illnesses and injuries, coordinates referrals, provides immunizations and manages chronic health problems. They are able to prescribe medications in all 50 states. A master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree is required, and there is a growing movement in the U.S. to require nurse practitioners to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
An NP may work in a variety of health care settings, including clinics, family doctor’s offices and urban community health centers. Salaries vary according to subspecialty.
- Neonatal NPs: $113,235
- Emergency room NPs: $103,199
- Specialty care NPs: $102,250
Clinical Nurse Specialist – $97,650
Clinical nurse specialists are expert clinicians in a specialized area of nursing practice, such as gerontology, pediatrics or women’s health. In addition to providing direct patient care and consultation, clinical nurse specialists influence care outcomes by providing expert consultation for nursing staffs and by implementing improvements in health care delivery systems. They typically work in hospitals, clinics and medical offices. A clinical nurse specialist must be a registered nurse who obtains an advanced degree, either a master’s degree or doctorate in nursing.
Certified Nurse Midwife – $100,347
A certified nurse midwife (CNM) helps bring new life into the world. But that’s only part of the job. CNMs also provide gynecological exams, prenatal care, well-baby visits and family planning services. In some cases, CNMs act as primary care providers for women and newborn infants. A certified nurse midwife may have a private practice, or work in a birthing center, health department or hospital.
An advanced degree in midwifery is required, as is certification from the American College of Nurse-Midwives Certification Council (ACNM) or similar organization. Certified nurse midwives are licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Professor of Nursing – $87,590
It may take years of experience and training to become a nursing professor, but once you do, you will be in high demand. Nursing professors are greatly needed to train the next generation of nurses. This highly rewarding career involves delivering lectures, leading classroom discussions and grading papers and exams.
In addition, nursing professors conduct research and field studies that are ultimately published in trade journals and textbooks. A nursing professor should have excellent public speaking skills and enjoy meeting with and advising students. Most schools require nursing professors to have a doctorate degree, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Surgical First Assistant Nurse – $85,490
If you can keep a cool head under pressure, you might be a good fit as an RN first assistant (RNFA). Registered nurses usually work their way up to the first assistant position, starting out as a scrub nurse or circulating nurse in the operating room. An RNFA works alongside the surgeon in the operating room providing direct patient care, such as controlling bleeding, suturing incisions and wounds and intervening if complications arise. RNFAs also care for patients before and after surgery.
RNFAs must have a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN) and be licensed as registered nurse. Many RNFAs get certification in perioperative nursing or obtain credentials as advanced practice nurses.
Related career articles
Needless to say, earning a job in any of these high-paying nurse professions takes years of experience and education. Here are more articles to help guide your path to the top:
- Secrets from a Nurse Recruiter: Nursing Career Advice
- Where the Jobs Are: Nursing Career Expert Donna Cardillo Looks at the Job Market
- Up Your Game: Why Professional Nurse Associations Make You a More Desirable Nurse
- Careers & Credentials: Visit our main careers page to learn more about how to improve your nursing career and knowledge!
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