Pay should not be your only consideration when deciding on a specialty, but the list below of the highest paying nursing jobs is a good primer on which types of nurses have the greatest earning potential.
You worked hard to get where you are. Now you want to make the most of your career by obtaining the highest salary possible! Here are seven top-paying jobs in the profession, covering a range of positions and requiring various degrees and certifications, with salary data from the Salary Wizard:
> Clinical Nurse Specialist
Median Salary: $81,489
Typical Requirements: Master’s degree and at least five years of experience
If you like your nursing infused with some scholarly research, number crunching and data evaluation, the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) job might be for you. In addition to treating and diagnosing patients, CNSes also focus on assessing a hospital’s procedures, processes and personnel. The job of a CNS is often broken down into three spheres of influence as defined by the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: patient/family, nursing personnel/practice and system/network organization.
> Nurse Practitioner
Median Salary: $83,194
Typical Requirements: Master’s degree and certification as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP) in specialty area
Most states require nurse practitioners (NPs) to work collaboratively with physicians; however, roughly a dozen states allow NPs to open their own clinics, while a dozen or so others require NPs to work under the supervision of a physician. Regardless of the physician relationship, nurse practitioners provide a wide range of health services, usually specializing in areas such as family practice, women’s health or pediatrics in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and private practice. (Emergency room and pediatric NPs tend to earn the highest salaries.) Depending on the state, NPs often diagnose and treat acute illnesses, injuries and infections.
> Head Nurse
Median Salary: $87,322, higher in certain departments
Typical Requirements: RN with at least five years of direct experience
Whether it’s in an ICU, CCU, OR, ER or obstetrics department, if there’s more than one nurse, there’s usually a head nurse. While still dealing directly with patients, the head nurse is also responsible for patient records, performance reports, inventory levels and the day-to-day duties important to every nursing department.
> Certified Nurse Midwife
Median Salary: $89,975
Typical Requirements: RN program followed by midwifery program for either certification or a master’s degree
Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) attend an estimated 300,000 births per year in settings ranging from hospitals to homes, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But CNMs do more than deliver babies. They also provide a wide range of care to female patients, including family-planning education, gynecological exams, and prenatal and postnatal care. In hospitals, CNMs often work closely with OB/GYNs. While the educational requirements vary by state, all CNMs will be required to hold a master’s degree (such as a master of science in nursing) by 2010.
> Nursing Director
Median Salary: $109,669
Typical Requirements: RN, advanced degree in nursing
From budgeting to policy setting to scheduling, the nursing director oversees all aspects of a department’s nursing staff and often serves as a liaison between the staff and hospital administrators. Like any direct supervisory role, the nursing director — also called the nursing supervisor in some organizations — usually rises through the ranks with people skills, project-management ability and leadership aspirations. The nursing director often serves as the nursing program administrator, setting policies and performance standards and directly supervising nursing staff.
> Nurse Anesthetist
Median Salary: $146,349
Typical Requirements: Master’s degree plus certification
The highest paid of all nursing specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) also require the most education and training. In addition to a four-year nursing or science degree, CRNAs must be licensed RNs with at least a year of experience in an acute-care setting. Then it’s another two-plus years in an anesthesia education program before passing the certification exam. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the nation’s 39,000 CRNAs administer 30 million anesthetics to patients annually. And they practice everywhere anesthesia is administered, such as surgical suites, dentist offices and plastic surgery centers. Chief nurse anesthetists, who are also responsible for managing, scheduling and training staff anesthetists, earn an additional $10,000 to $20,000 annually.
> Head of Nursing
Median Salary: $178,884
Typical Requirements: Master’s degree in area of specialty and at least 15 years of experience
Combining strong nursing experience with the overall planning, personnel oversight and policy-making duties of a top executive, one of nursing’s top big-picture positions is also one that brings home the biggest bucks. While the position leans strongly toward the executive end (most hospitals require a master’s degree in nursing and many are hoping for an MBA as well), hands-on nursing experience is also important for conveying the nursing staff’s needs to top management. The head of nursing — also called chief nursing officer or chief nursing executive — reflects the senior nurse management position in an organization.