Learn About the Best Paying Nursing Careers: Requirements, Salary, and Job Outlook
Nurses are the beating heart of the medical industry, and we can never have enough of them. Whether tending to sick patients, organizing treatments, assisting physicians, delivering babies, or helping with medical procedures, nurses fill in the gaps wherever help is needed.
The demand for nurses continues to grow nationwide, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics is estimating 7% job growth in the field, over the coming years. They also estimate that nearly half a million nurses will retire by 2022, and the United States will need to fill over one million nursing jobs by then to avoid a nursing shortage.
In other words, nurses aren’t just appreciated… they’re desperately needed.
Jobs in nursing are not one-size-fits-all, though. Just like doctors and medical technicians, the list of nursing careers and nursing categories can be divided into many specialties, each with its own responsibilities, demand, and salary range.
But, have you ever wondered “what is the highest paying nursing job?”
To help both current and aspiring nurses find the job that’s the best fit for them, we compiled a list of the best paid nursing jobs in 2021—plus the requirements, expectations, and job outlook for each.
#1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
Certified RN Anesthetists (CRNAs) provide anesthetics for millions of surgical, obstetrical, and trauma care patients every year. In fact, nurses have held this responsibility for many ages, stretching back to when they first began administering anesthetics on the battlefields of the Civil War.
It doesn’t matter if the procedure is open heart surgery, a root canal, or a birth, Nurse Anesthetists collaborate with surgeons and anesthesiologists across all medical fields. In many rural hospitals, CRNAs are the only provider of anesthesia, making their role more vital than ever, and for these reasons, the certified registered nurse anesthetist is the highest paid nurse on our list.
What Does a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Do?
- Perform physical assessments of patients
- Educate patient and their families
- Prepare patients for anesthesia
- Administer and maintaining anesthesia during medical procedures
- Oversee anesthesia recovery
- Monitor postoperative patient recovery
How Much Do Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Get Paid?
According to the BLS, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists make an average of salary of about $181,000 per year (or $87.00 per hour).
Nurse Anesthetist salaries in the top 10th percentile and can reach as high as $208,000 or more.
The highest paying cities for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are Toledo, OH; San Francisco, CA; Columbus, GA; Fairfield, CA; and Sacramento, CA.
What Is the Job Outlook for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists?
Job growth for CRNA’s is estimated at 45% by the BLS, much higher than average for all occupations (4%).
How Do I Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist?
To become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Acquire at least one year of experience as an RN
- Complete an accredited nurse anesthesia program
- Pass the NBCRNA exam to earn certification
Click here to learn how to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
#2. Nursing Administrator
If nurses are the beating heart of the healthcare industry, think of the Nursing Administrator (NA) as the signal that keeps that heart rhythm beating.
Nursing Administrators are responsible for managing the nursing staff. They are also in charge of scheduling, resources, and many other nursing functions that are essential to the smooth operations of a hospital or clinic.
This job requires both a keen understanding of a nurse’s responsibilities and a specialized knowledge of medical office administration. Because their role embodies the perfect balance between those two worlds, nurse administrators hold a vital position amongst the hospital staff and their patients.
It is also one of the highest paid nursing specialties in our list.
What Does a Nursing Administrator Do?
- Oversee hiring of nursing staff
- Create and maintain department budgets
- Ensure all regulations are being followed
- Mentor and educate nursing staff
- Attend committee and board meetings
- Prepare and present reports
- Schedule and oversee the daily work of nursing staff
- Observe overall patient care and satisfaction
How Much Do Nursing Administrators Get Paid?
According to the BLS, Nurse Administrators make an average salary of about $115,000 per year (or $55.00 per hour).
Nursing Administrator salaries in the top 10th percentile and can reach as high as $189,000 or more.
Five of the highest paying cities for Nursing Administrators are Santa Cruz, CA; Fairfield, CA; Stamford, CT; Salinas, CA; and Hanford, CA.
What Is the Job Outlook for Nurse Administrators?
According to the BLS, the job outlook for Nursing Administrators is projected to grow 32% by 2029.
How Do I Become a Nursing Administrator?
To become a Nurse Administrator, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Earn two years’ work experience in mid-level nursing administration
- Complete an accredited MSN degree with an Administration track
- Complete the Nurse Executive certification through American Nurses Credentialing Center
Click here to learn how to become a Nursing Administrator.
#3. General Nurse Practitioner
One of the many benefits of being a General Nurse Practitioner (GNP) is that you are licensed to operate autonomously—in other words, not under the direct supervisor of a doctor.
Furthermore, these types of nurses can specialize in specific areas of health (such as dermatology or pediatrics) and can work within a private practice.
Overall, General Nurse Practitioners receive glowing reviews for their work, with GNP patients reporting higher overall satisfaction and fewer hospitalizations than patients under the care of a doctor. Healthcare through a General Nurse Practitioner is also typically more affordable than that of doctors.
Based on some of this information, it should not come as a surprise to learn that General Nurse Practitioners belong to one of the highest paid nursing specialties in our nation.
What Does a General Nurse Practitioner Do?
- Provide overall healthcare services to a diverse population
- Patient education
- Develop treatment plans
- Follow up on treatments
- Collaborate with other healthcare professionals
- Treat medical conditions
- Administer and interpret diagnostic tests
- Diagnose patients
How Much Do General Nurse Practitioners Get Paid?
According to the BLS, General Nurse Practitioners make an average salary of $112,000 per year (or $53.77 per hour).
Nurse Practitioners with salaries in the top 10th percentile and can make over $152,000 per year.
The highest paying cities for General Nurse Practitioners are Fairfield, CA; Spokane, WA; San Francisco, CA; Longview, WA; and Sacramento, CA.
What Is the Job Outlook for General Nurse Practitioners?
Job growth for Nurse Practitioners is estimated at 45% by the BLS, which is much higher than the average total for all occupations.
How Do I Become a General Nurse Practitioner?
To become a General Nurse Practitioner, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Acquire at least one to two years of experience as an RN
- Complete an accredited graduate degree in nursing
- Pass the required exam(s) for your state to earn certification and licensure
(Note: some states require GNPs to hold more than one certification. Visit the American Association of Nurse Practitioners website to find your state’s exact requirements.)
Click here to learn how to become a General Nurse Practitioner.
#4. Certified Nurse Midwife
The primary responsibilities of a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) revolve around pregnancy and childbirth, but a CNM’s job doesn’t end there. In fact, nurse midwives are highly trained medical professional equipped to care for women from adolescence through end-of-life.
Pregnancy and childbirth are the most common jobs for a Certified Nurse Midwife. Their responsibilities include providing medical care and diagnostic tests outside of a traditional medical setting, providing for labor and delivery outside of a hospital, and admitting patients to hospitals should labor complications arise.
For their many responsibilities, nurse midwives require a lot of training. All that hard work pays off, however, as these professionals belong to one of the highest paying nursing careers in the medical field.
What Does a Certified Nurse Midwife Do?
- Provide primary and secondary healthcare for women
- Patient counseling and education
- Newborn care
- Monitor health of baby and mother throughout pregnancy
- Assist during labor and delivery
- Provide post-partum care, such as breastfeeding instruction
How Much Do Certified Nurse Midwives Get Paid?
According to the BLS, Nurse Midwives make an average salary of about $109,000 per year (or $52.00 per hour).
The highest paid Nurse Midwives (top 10th percentile) and can earn over $159,000 per year.
The five highest paying cities for Nurse Midwives are Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Diego, CA; Toledo, OH; and Minneapolis , MN.
What Is the Job Outlook for Certified Nurse Midwives?
The role of Certified Nurse Midwife is expected to grow by 45% over the next decade.
How Do I Become a Certified Nurse Midwife?
To become a Certified Nurse Midwife, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Earn one year or more of work experience
- Complete an accredited MSN degree in Nurse-Midwifery
- Obtain certification through the American Midwifery Certification Board
Click here to learn how to become a Nurse Midwife.
#5. Informatics Nurse
Computers and information technology are at the core of almost every industry, and healthcare is no different.
The job of an Informatics Nurse is to figure out how best to harness the power of information technology in order to improve multiple facets of nursing operations and patient care. This can range from analyzing data, cutting costs, boosting patient care efficiency, and strengthening communication across entire hospitals and health networks.
Dubbed as one of the top nursing careers in the industry, nurses who work in informatics may be known by a variety of different titles, including:
- Nurse informaticist
- Nursing informatics specialist
- Nursing informatics clinician
- Clinical analyst
- IT clinical nurse
What Does an Informatics Nurse Do?
- Analyze clinic or hospital statistics
- Write policies based on research findings
- Optimize system performance
- Track the success of clinic and hospital programs
- Apply new technology to patient care
- Train nursing staff on new IT tools
How Much Do Informatics Nurses Get Paid?
According to ZipRecruiter, Informatic Nurses make an average salary of about $102,000 per year (or $49.00 per hour).
Based on their location and level of experience, the top-paid Informatics Nurses can make up to $188,000.
Some of the highest paying states for Informatic Nurses are New York, Massachusetts, Washington, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.
How Do I Become an Informatics Nurse?
Gaining certification or a higher-level graduate degree is not required to become an Informatics Nurse, but both these things can increase your hiring potential.
In order to become certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become an RN with a BSN degree or higher
- Have completed 30 hours of continuing education in nursing informatics within three years before certification
- Meet the ANCC practice hour requirements
- Complete a graduate program in nursing informatics that includes a minimum of 200 hours of supervised practicum
Click here to learn how to become an Informatics Nurse.
#6. Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
A Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse (or NICU nurse) is tasked with the incredible responsibility of caring for some of the hospital’s most fragile patients—newborns.
In addition to caring and monitoring premature infants, NICU nurses also treat patients up to one or two years of age who are medically compromised. This highly specialized field not only demands a great deal of strength and compassion, it also requires expert communication skills for discussing care and diagnoses with anxious parents.
It’s difficult work, but it’s also one of the highest paying jobs in nursing.
What Does a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Do?
- Provide round-the-clock care for medically complicated infants
- Monitor vitals
- Educate new parents
- Communicate with patient families
- Administer medications and nutrients
- Comfort distressed infants
How Much Do Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses Get Paid?
According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for NICU nurses is about $102,000 per year (or $49.00 per hour).
NICU in the highest pay brackets can earn up to $142,000 per year.
The highest paying states for Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses include New York, Massachusetts, Washington, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.
How Do I Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse?
To become a NICU nurse, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Become certified in neonatal resuscitation
- Earn either the national certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses
Click here to learn how to become a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse.
#7. Clinical Nurse Specialist
Every team needs an expert, and for those in healthcare, that expert is the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).
The CNS is a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) with specialized training within a specific field. Those fields include:
- Population (pediatrics, women’s health, etc.)
- Concern (wound care, pain management, etc.)
- Disease (oncology, diabetes, etc.)
- Place (critical care, emergency, etc.)
- Type of care (psychiatric, rehabilitation, etc.)
Clinical Nurse Specialists have two roles in these fields. First is treating patients, including ordering tests, and prescribing medication. The second is working to improve their field of healthcare from within—looking at the big picture to improve overall care for all patients.
What Does a Clinical Nurse Specialist Do?
- Provide valuable input on improving patient care
- Prescribe medicine
- Work autonomously (in some clinics)
- Order and read diagnostic tests
- Coordinate patient care
- Serve as consultant for both patients and medical teams
- Monitor the quality of care
How Much Do Clinical Nurse Specialists Get Paid?
According to Payscale.com, Clinical Nurse Specialists make an average salary of about $91,000 per year (or $44.00 per hour).
Top salaries, however, can reach an average of $120,000 per year.
The top five highest paying cities for Clinical Nurse Specialists are Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Seattle, WA; San Diego, CA; and Atlanta, GA.
How Do I Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist?
To become a Clinical Nurse Specialist, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN) with a BSN degree
- Pursue work experience within your preferred specialization
- Complete an accredited MSN degree with a Clinical Nurse Specialist track
- Obtain certification through the National Certification Corporation in your desired specialty
- Apply for state licensure where you hope to work
Click here to learn how to become a Clinical Nurse Specialist.
#8. Nurse Educator
In order for there to be nurses, there first must be a Nurse Educator—an experienced and qualified instructor tasked with preparing the next wave of nurses for the challenges (and rewards) of a career in healthcare.
A Nurse Educator (NE) is a registered nurse who combines their work experience with specialized academic training. They may teach anywhere from universities to hospitals to nursing colleges and can also serve as administrators or consultants. In addition to teaching, many Nurse Educators continue to treat patients in hospitals and clinical settings as well.
What Does a Nurse Educator Do?
- Plan and teach nursing curricula
- Give lectures on nursing standards and practices
- Oversee students’ clinical and lab work
- Assign homework
- Assist in clinical research
- Provide patient care
- Mentor working nurses
How Much Do Nurse Educators Get Paid?
According to the BLS, Nurse educators can make an average salary of about $77,000 per year (or $37.00 per hour).
Nurse Educators with earn in the top 10th percentile and can make over $124,000 per year.
Some of the highest paying cities for Nurse Educators include Washington, DC; Camden, NJ; New York, NY; San Francisco, CA; and Atlantic City, NJ.
How Do I Become a Nurse Educator?
To become a Nurse Educator, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN) and earn work experience
- Complete an accredited MSN degree with an Education track (you may be asked to choose a specialization within the degree)
- For Nurse Educators who plan to teach at a University, a doctoral degree in nursing may be required.
- Obtain certification through the National League for Nursing.
Click here to learn how to become a Nurse Educator.
#9. Critical Care Nurse
“Critical” is an excellent description for Critical Care Nurses (CCNs).
These highly trained and thoroughly equipped professionals focus their time and attention on patients whose lives delicately hang in the balance. These are the patients for whom a single decision or action can mean the difference between life and death, and to be a Critical Care Nurse (also known as an ICU nurse) requires nerves of steel, extensive knowledge of pathology, and fast and accurate decision making skills.
A high level of organization is important for all nurses, but it’s especially important for Critical Care Nurses. A meticulous and highly observational approach is needed for patient care, and CCNs work closely with the intensive care team to ensure the best outcome for their wards.
What Does a Critical Care Nurse Do?
- Plan and implement patient care within ICU
- Treat wounds
- Provide advanced life support
- Assist intensive care physicians
- Operate and maintain ventilators, monitors, and other ICU equipment
- Administer IVs and other fluids
- Educate patient families
- Serve as patient advocates
- Care for pre- and post-operative patients
- Respond to life-saving situations
How Much Do Critical Care Nurses Get Paid?
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not explicitly report on wage statistics for Critical Care Nurses, Nurse Practitioners are generally seen as a valid comparison. These nurses make an average salary of about $110,000.
However, Nurse Practitioner salaries in the 90th percentile can reach an average of about $152,000 per year.
Five of the highest paying states for Nurse Practitioners are New York, California, Texas, Florida, and Ohio.
How Do I Become a Critical Care Nurse?
To become a Critical Care Nurse, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Earn either 1,750 hours of applicable work experience across two years OR 2,000 hours of applicable work experience across five years.
- Obtain CCRN certification through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
Click here to learn how to become a Critical Care Nurse.
#10. Legal Nurse Consultant
Not all nurses work within hospitals or clinics… or even with patients!
Some work in legal offices and courtrooms, applying their work experience and medical knowledge to the frequent occasion when medical and legal cases overlap.
It’s the job of a Legal Nurse Consultant to provide education, strategy, expert analysis, and collaboration with legal counsel in order to build the best medical legal case possible.
Medical legal cases can vary greatly from day to day. A Legal Nurse Consultant may spend one day assessing healthcare costs for a patient following a work accident, or identifying potential areas of malpractice the next. In the end, the Legal Nurse Consultant’s goal is no different than their counterparts in the hospital—use their skills and medical knowledge to provide the best possible care for their patients.
What Does a Legal Nurse Consultant Do?
- Participate in client interviews
- Identify and analyze medical records
- Prepare medical timelines
- Evaluate strengths and weaknesses of medical-legal cases
- Attend independent medical exams
- Locate and prepare medical evidence for trial
- Serve as a nurse expert witness in court
- Educate attorneys and clients on medical terminology and relevant issues
- Identify and screen expert witnesses
- Perform cost-care estimates
How Much Do Legal Nurse Consultants Get Paid?
According to ZipRecruiter.com, Legal Nurse Consultants make an average salary of about $85,000 per year (or $41.00 per hour) and can reach an average of $139,000 in the upper percentiles.
Pay for any type of consultant, LNC’s included, can vary wildly according to location, firm, and employment type. For example, some LNC’s may be paid a yearly salary, while others may work according to billable hours as an independent contractor.
Five of the highest paying states for Legal Nurse Consultants are New York, Massachusetts, Washington, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.
How Do I Become a Legal Nurse Consultant?
Certification isn’t required to become a Legal Nurse Consultant—you simply need to be a nurse with applicable experience—though holding certification increases the likelihood of being hired.
To certify as a Legal Nurse Consultant, you must meet the following requirements:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
- Earn a minimum of five years’ work experience
- Show evidence of 2000 hours in legal nurse consulting experience over the past five years, which can include but is not limited to:
- Collecting and analyzing medical records
- Assessing issues of liability or damages
- Researching health guidelines or regulations
- Identifying, evaluating, and collaborating with experts
- Drafting documents for use as evidence by an attorney
- Collaborating with attorney and client in legal matters
- Testifying as an expert witness
- Any activity that is generally considered billable
- Obtain LNCC certification through the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board.
Click here to learn how to become a Legal Nurse Consultant.
More Opportunities For Nurses
These high paying nursing careers are just a handful of the possibilities available for hardworking, trained nurses looking to advance their career, and all of them have the same goal in common—helping people.
Careers such as these are ripe for the taking. All you need is a plan, a good nursing college, and the will to make it happen. Good luck!