It’s no mystery why many individuals are drawn to a nursing career. Aside from being one of the noblest of the helping professions, nursing is one of the largest occupations in the fast-growing and lucrative field of health care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the median annual wage for employees in this sector to be just under $70,000, making it one of the highest-paid occupational fields in the United States.
Moreover, there are plenty of opportunities for healthcare professionals, and these job openings are only increasing. According to the BLS, the field of healthcare is expected to expand by 15% during the decade spanning 2019 to 2029. This will result in nearly two and a half million new jobs, including well over 200,000 new high-paying RN jobs. In this ranking, our editors identify the highest-paying nursing jobs for registered nurses.
#20 Hospice Nurse
Average Salary: $67,490
Hospice nurses are some of the highest-paying nursing careers in the United States, and it should come as no surprise since these types of nurses have some of the most challenging jobs in the healthcare industry. Hospice nurses are RNs specifically trained to care for patients with terminal illnesses as well as those at the end stages of their lives. Due to the condition of their patients, hospice nurses are not concerned with improving the health of those in their care, but rather nurses work to prevent pain and discomfort and ensure the quality of life. Hospice nurses have the additional responsibility of preparing a patient’s family members for their passing.
In order to have a hospice nurse career, healthcare professionals need a minimum of a registered nurse (RN) license as well as an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) credential. BSN-prepared nurses may have a competitive advantage when applying for positions in the field. Professional certification may also be required or preferred. Hospice nurses can become officially licensed through the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses (NBCHPN).
Average Salary: $69,518
Among the most well-known and highest-paid nursing specialties for a career in the U.S. is the NICU nurse specialty. NICU nurses, also known as neonatal nurses, are registered nurses who work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Many nurses who pursue jobs as NICU nurses have the desire to work with babies, but the newborns they care for typically have critical care needs. Many of them are born prematurely, and not all of them survive.
In order to have a NICU nursing career, RNs must be mentally tough but also have a gentle touch since they work with babies whose lives are often hanging by a thread. NICU nurses routinely provide specialized care for infants immediately following their birth and up to the age of two, depending on the child’s medical needs. Their duties may include monitoring infant vital signs, providing basic care as well as medical treatment, and educating parents on how to care for their babies at home.
Like the majority of highest paying nursing careers in our ranking, the educational requirements to become a NICU nurse includes successful completion of an RN program, whether it be an associate’s or bachelor’s level degree plan. It is important to note, though, that positions for neonatal nurses are competitive, and some employers show preference to BSN-prepared nurses. Professional certification in the field is also a common requirement. Certified NICU nurses are licensed by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
#18—Emergency Room Nurse
Average Salary: $69,866
Perhaps one of the better-known highest-paid nursing careers is that of an emergency room—or ER—nurse. These types of registered nurses are trained to work in the fast-paced and stressful environment of an emergency room or critical care facility. In addition to this specialized training, ER nurses must have a high tolerance for chaos and be able to think on their feet. That’s because they are often responsible for making quick decisions that could have life-or-death consequences.
ER nurses usually work as part of a larger team comprised of other RNs, doctors, and medical associates. Common tasks may include collecting information from patients regarding symptoms, administering first aid and medications (including intravenous medications), monitoring patients’ recovery, and providing updates to doctors and supervisors.
To become an emergency room nurse, you’ll need to meet the minimum requirements of an RN. This includes completing an associates degree nursing (ADN) program and passing the NCLEX-RN licensing examination. Some employers may prefer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN degree. In addition to these educational requirements, emergency room nurses usually need a specialized license such as the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) license available from the Emergency Nurses Association.
#17—Clinical Research Nurse
Average Salary: $71,954
One of several non-traditional highest-paying nurse careers is that of a clinical research nurse. Instead of providing bedside care, these types of nurses are responsible for overseeing clinical trials and other research efforts on behalf of a hospital or other healthcare facility. Many clinical research nurses report high job satisfaction as they have a front-row seat to exciting medical advancements and breakthroughs.
A clinical research nurse has a wide range of responsibilities. In addition to recruiting patients for clinical trials and medical studies, these types of registered nurses may also take a patient’s vital signs and monitor their condition during experimental treatments. Clinical research nurses are also tasked with keeping detailed medical records, often using specialized computer software.
To be eligible for a nursing career in clinical research, though, you’ll need more than just the basic requirements for a registered nurse role. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is usually required for this position, making it one of our picks for the highest paying nursing jobs with BSN credentials. Typically, certification is also preferred. To earn this additional qualification, you’ll need to take and pass an official licensing examination from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.
#16—Infection Control Nurse
Average Salary: $72,997
Even before Covid-19 was an issue, hospitals and other healthcare facilities had made infection control a top priority, making infection control nurses some of the highest-paid nurses in the medical field. These healthcare professionals are responsible for preventing and mitigating the spread of infection within a clinical setting and providing treatment for patients suffering from an infection. Their specific duties may include analyzing information about an infection’s spread, making plans to respond to an infectious outbreak, and training other healthcare professionals about infection prevention.
Infection control nurses aren’t just ordinary registered nurses; they’re highly trained in their area of expertise. Typically, these types of nurses have completed an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) program and have at least two years of experience working as an RN in a clinical setting. Some infection control nurses have a BSN credential. Many employers prefer applicants who are certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC).
Average Salary: $73,454
Some of the highest-paid nurses in the healthcare industry, nurse navigators are aptly named since they help patients navigate the sometimes confusing world of health and medical care. These types of registered nurses are specifically trained to educate patients about their diagnoses, treatment plans, and prognoses. Nurse navigators may also help connect patients to the resources that they need as they move through their treatment plans such as financial or emotional support resources, for example.
Though one of the highest-paid nurses careers, nurse navigators may not need a bachelor’s degree in nursing to become gainfully employed. Sometimes, an associate degree in nursing, or ADN credential, may be sufficient. Still, these types of registered nurses must be licensed and have several years of experience in the healthcare field to be eligible for navigator roles.
In addition to these educational and professional requirements, nurse navigators need a special combination of skills. Specifically, they must have a firm understanding of medical conditions and healthcare principles as well as the ability to communicate this understanding to their patients. Clearly, not all nurses have the potential to work in this specialized role, but those who do will be well compensated.
#14—Utilization Review Nurse
Average Salary: $73,847
While not a typical high-paying nursing career, the role of a utilization review nurse is one that is indispensable to the healthcare industry. These medical professionals are responsible for ensuring that the medical treatments provided to patients are necessary and appropriate, based on each individual’s symptoms, condition, and insurance coverage. In essence, their job is to confirm that a hospital or other healthcare facility’s resources are being allocated responsibly.
Though not required, a bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, is often preferred by potential employers. Other requirements for work as a utilization review nurse include an official RN license and prior experience working as a registered nurse. Certain industry certifications may also be requested such as those from the American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians.
#13—Occupational Health Nurse
Average Salary: $73,978
Occupational health nurses make nearly $74,000 per year, making this one of the highest paid nursing careers. A nursing career in occupational health, sometimes referred to as an employee health nurse, cares for a special population of patients, namely employees in a workplace setting. These are trained registered nurses skilled in identifying health risks in the work environment.
Occupational health nurses may also provide routine first aid and other basic health services to employees on the job. Additional duties could include administering medication, performing laboratory tests (including drug screenings), and providing rehabilitation and physical therapy for injured workers.
In addition to licensure as a registered nurse, occupational health nurses must have a special type of certification. This certification can be obtained through The American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. Acceptable academic credentials include an associate degree in nursing (AND) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
#12—Critical Care Nurse
Average Salary: $75,456
Understandably, critical care nurses are some of the highest-paid nurses. These healthcare professionals have the extremely challenging job of providing medical care to some of the sickest patients, including those with life-threatening injuries and medical conditions. Critical care nurses can be found in burn centers, intensive care units, and emergency rooms, for example.
As one of the highest-paid nursing careers critical care nursing requires highly specialized training. In addition to an RN license, applicants for these types of nursing jobs are required to have at least a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN). Some employers in the healthcare field will prefer critical care nurses with a master’s credential in nursing (MSN). In addition, nurses who wish to pursue a position in critical care nursing must earn professional certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACCN).
Education and training are often insufficient to prepare nurses for the work of critical care. These nurses must also have innate qualities such as compassion, confidence in their abilities, and mental and emotional toughness. Because of the condition of those in their care, critical care nurses may experience the death of their patients more frequently than other types of nurses.
Average Salary: $77,303
Nurses with an interest in making a broader impact on the nursing community and the field of healthcare, in general, may consider a high-paying nursing career as a nurse educator. These seasoned nurses use their professional experiences to develop curricula for nurses in training and to teach these students the fundamentals of nursing.
To be successful in this prestigious role, nurse educators must have a combination of nursing skills and instructional know-how. In essence, they’re both nurses and teachers, so they must be skilled in both healthcare and education.
Since they’re among some of the highest-paid nurses in the field, it’s no surprise that nurse educators must be highly educated themselves. Most universities and schools of nursing require their faculty members to hold a minimum of a master’s degree in nursing or MSN. Many nurse educators hold terminal degrees such as a doctorate in nursing or DNP. A professional certificate is often required as well such as the National League for Nursing’s Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) designation.
Average Salary: $79,197
One of the most intriguing and high-paying RN jobs is the position of a transplant coordinator. These types of nurses work alongside other trained medical professionals as part of a hospital’s transplant team. Their precise duties may vary depending on where they work, but generally speaking, transplant nurses have the incredible responsibility of coordinating a medical procedure involving the transplant of a human organ from the organ donor to the organ recipient. This may include ensuring a proper organ match, scheduling and providing pre and post-operative care for both donors and recipients, and assisting with the actual transplant surgery.
Like many of the highest paying nursing careers highlighted here, the job of a transplant coordinator requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing or BSN. Many transplant nurses hold a master’s degree in nursing, however. A professional license from the American Board for Transplant Certification may also be required for employment.
Average Salary: $79,631
Many of the highest paying nursing careers combine skills in nursing and management, but the role of an informatics nurse marries talents in nursing and technology. These types of nurses trade their bedside duties for more technical tasks, namely those related to data analytics. Nurse informaticists use specialized software to analyze medical records and other healthcare data to improve clinical efficiency and patient care. They may also evaluate new healthcare technologies and train other nurses to implement these advanced systems.
Although it’s been called one of the highest paying nursing jobs with BSN credentials, an increasing number of informatics nurses hold graduate degrees in the field such as a Master of Science in Health Informatics, or MSHI. Those with aspirations of holding directorships or other leadership roles may even consider a doctoral program. In addition, nurse informaticists need prior experience in the healthcare field, particularly working with electronic medical records. They may also be required to hold a professional certification in their specialty area, such as the Informatics Nursing Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
Average Salary: $87,948
Some of the highest-paid nurses in the field are not just nurses, but nursing directors. These types of nurses possess strong leadership and management skills that they use to provide supervision and oversight to their entire nursing departments. Specific tasks associated with this supervisory role may include hiring and training new nurses, developing and implementing nursing protocols, ensuring regulations are followed, and managing the department’s finances.
Registered nurses will need several years of experience as well as a BSN credential in order to be eligible for a nursing directorship. Some nursing directors hold advanced degrees in nursing, business, and/or healthcare administration. A professional certification or license such as the Certified DNS-CT license from the American Association of Directors of Nursing Services (AADNS) may also be required.
#7—Operating Room Manager
Average Salary: $93,788
Another of the highest-paying nursing careers that merge skills in business and healthcare is that of an operating room manager. Not to be confused with a surgical services director, an operating room manager plays more of a hands-on role in the nursing field. That is, the OR manager is responsible for the organization and efficiency of the operating room itself (including its staff and equipment) rather than the surgical department as a whole. Specific duties may include establishing patient care standards, supervising surgical teams, and training new staff members.
One of the best nursing jobs for mid-career nursing professionals, the role of an operating room manager usually only requires a few years of experience as an operating room nurse, yet it still yields a handsome salary. Though a BSN is not required for the position, many hospitals and healthcare facilities prefer that their OR managers hold this respected credential.
#6—Quality Management Director
Average Salary: $103,283
Like many of the highest paying nursing jobs, the role of a quality management director requires a high level of skill and experience in both management and healthcare. These nursing professionals are responsible for ensuring quality outcomes for a hospital or other healthcare facility. Their specific duties may include confirming that hospital policies and guidelines follow regulatory standards and approved best practices, developing budgets and financial guidelines for various departments, and devising plans for improving aspects of the clinical environment such as safety, patient care, and efficiency.
In addition to an RN credential, quality management directors are usually required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or BSN. Most employers will also expect applicants for this position to have at least five years of experience in a supervisory or management role. Many quality management directors also have a master’s degree in business and/or nursing.
Average Salary: $111,130
One of the highest paying nursing careers available, nurse midwives make well over six figures per year, on average. These advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) provide medical care for women before, during, and after giving birth. They are trained to be the primary care provider during labor, and they may also assist a doctor during a cesarean section. Like other types of APRNs, nurse midwives must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills in addition to medical knowledge. They must be able to keep mothers and their partners informed and reassured during the birthing process, and they must also be able to stay calm in case of an emergency or unexpected complication during labor.
Nurse midwives are not only some of the highest-paid nurses in the world, but they’re also some of the most sought-after. Like many other professions in healthcare, nurse midwives are in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 12% increase in employment for these types of nurses between 2019 and 2029.
Nurse midwives must enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program and pursue a specialty in Nurse Midwifery. Depending on where they live, these advanced practice nurses may also need certain licenses or certifications to practice their profession, such as the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) credential from the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), for example.
Average Salary: $111,680
Another extremely popular option for individuals looking for the highest paying nursing jobs is the occupation of a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are highly skilled advance practice registered nurses who work as primary care providers for their patients. These expert medical professionals perform many of the same tasks as doctors, including ordering tests and prescribing medications.
Nurse practitioners are currently in very high demand due to an aging “baby boomers” population who require more care as they get older. The BLS reports a whopping 52% increase in employment opportunities for these types of nurses over the next eight years, resulting in more than 110,000 new positions.
Nurse practitioners must undergo a specialized course of study and training, usually in a master’s or doctoral degree program. Typically, nurse practitioners are also required to hold national certification and a state license before they can practice in a clinical setting.
#3—Director of Surgical Services
Average Salary: $117,715
One of the highest paying nursing careers with BSN credentials, the Director of Surgical Services holds a multifaceted role within a hospital or outpatient clinic’s surgical wing. This nursing professional oversees the overall operations of a surgical department, including its personnel, budget, resources, and outcomes. Specific tasks of a surgical services director may include supervising and evaluating the work of other members of the surgical team, purchasing surgical equipment as necessary, ensuring excellent patient care, and making plans for departmental changes and improvements.
In addition to an RN credential, nursing professionals must have several years of professional experience before being eligible for the role of a Director of Surgical Services. Some candidates hold a master’s degree in nursing or an advanced degree in business with a healthcare administration specialty.
Whatever their educational backgrounds and training, surgical services directors must possess strong management and leadership skills. Additional skills necessary for the job include project management, budget analysis, and knowledge of human resource principles.
#2—Chief Nursing Officer
Average Salary: $133,623
One of the highest-paid nurses in the world, a chief nursing officer, or CNO, is the leading nurse manager in a healthcare facility. Sometimes known as the chief nurse executive (CNE), this nursing professional manages the daily operations of a nursing department and acts as a liaison between nurses and other departments within a hospital or clinic. Working with other nurse managers, the CNO may make important decisions regarding nursing practices, departmental budgeting, and patient care. He or she may also work with other healthcare executives throughout the hospital or other healthcare facility to coordinate work tasks and professional responsibilities and to develop business strategies for the organization.
To become a chief nursing officer, registered nurses must hold a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Many CNOs have an advanced degree in nursing such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a specialty in Nursing Administration. Because the role requires a high degree of business acumen, some chief nursing executives earn an MBA with a healthcare administration concentration. Moreover, it is not uncommon for some larger medical facilities to hire CNO candidates with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Chief nursing officers may also hold professional licenses and certifications related to their occupational roles such as The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)’s Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC).
Average Salary: $183,580
Taking the number one spot in our list of highest paying nursing careers is that of a nurse anesthetist. Known as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), a nurse anesthetist is a special type of nurse responsible for administering anesthesia during surgeries and other medical procedures. These types of certified nurses must have excellent bedside manners as many patients experience anxiety regarding anesthesia. Though these patients may only see the nurse anesthetist at the beginning of a procedure, this highly trained medical professional must continue to provide care once the patient is asleep or the anesthesia has been administered. They are responsible for monitoring the patient’s vital signs during the surgery, and they may also need to adjust the amount of anesthesia being administered as necessary.
To become a nurse anesthetist, nursing students must embark on a highly specialized course of study culminating in a minimum of a master’s degree. Certain licenses and certifications may also be required, depending on the state in which they practice.
Another factor to consider when evaluating the best nursing jobs is the employment outlook. According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for advanced practice nurses such as nurse anesthetists are in high demand with a projected increase of up 14% over the next eight years.
Nursing is a vast field full of numerous and varied opportunities. From bedside care to behind-the-scenes management roles, there is truly something for everyone interested in a healthcare position. Perhaps the one thing all of the jobs featured in this ranking have in common is that they are considered some of the highest paying nursing jobs one can pursue. Average salaries for the high-paying RN jobs featured in this ranking range from just under $68,000 to well over $100,000 per year. Still, many nurses who fill these roles report that the highest reward is the satisfaction of improving the health and quality of life of those patients in their care. The only question that remains is: Which of these best nursing jobs will fulfill you, both financially and intrinsically?
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