According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, the rate of growth for health care professions is set at 15% between 2019 and 2029. This figure is significantly higher than the 4% average rate of growth across the board and represents one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States.
A nursing career can be lucrative and rewarding, with excellent long-term prospects and job security. The shortage of nurses means they’re in high demand in most states, but especially the most densely populated metropolitan areas. The BLS predicts that 11 million more nurses are required to avoid a further shortage, and The American Nurses Association predicts that more nurses are required between 2020 and 2022 than any other profession.
The field of nursing has transformed in recent years, splitting into distinct specializations that let nurse professionals focus on a specific area of expertise. Not only does this improve care outcomes for patients, but it also means as a student, you can gain extensive knowledge of a specialist subject as opposed to taking the traditional generalized approach that doesn’t offer as much detail.
Read on to discover which nursing job is in highest demand, the nursing specialties that pay the most, the qualifications you need to become a nurse, and the outlook for top nursing roles across the nation.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world, so nurses who specialize in cardiovascular health are currently in the most demand. Most of these clinical nurse specialists work in hospitals, where they provide nursing care to patients with heart disease and liaise with their patient’s families.
To get into this job, you’ll need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a registered nurse license, and a Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification, which is available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Daily responsibilities might include:
The most lucrative aspect of most hospitals and physician’s offices is the operating room, where surgery takes place. As an OR nurse, you work as part of a team to deliver care before, after, and during surgical procedures. Professionals in this role have plenty of opportunities to think on their feet and make a significant contribution to the patients’ experience.
To get into the field, you’ll need to become an RN. As such, at least an associate degree is required, although some employers prefer a BSN. You’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination with a score of at least 75, a criminal background check, and a reference letter. Some of the main duties this role entails include:
Being an emergency room nurse is challenging, stressful, and governed by strict timeframes and protocols. As such, it takes highly-driven and motivated individuals to carry out the role. As an ER nurse, health care professionals are often the first point of contact when someone’s admitted into the emergency room. You’ll make rapid assessments, be responsible for making life-changing decisions, and carry out potentially life-saving procedures.
Becoming an ER nurse required RN licensure, which you can get with either an associate nursing degree in nursing or a bachelor’s nursing degree. After passing the NCLEX-RN, you can apply for a license and certification in pediatric advanced life support and cardiac advanced life support. After two years in the role, you have the option to apply for certified emergency nurse certification, which can give you a major advantage when applying for roles. Duties include:
Critical care nurses help patients who are recovering from life-threatening injuries and illnesses. You’ll be on the front line of patient care, working in places such as pediatric units, neonatal ICU, emergency departments, operating rooms, trauma centers, and burn centers. It’s a specialized role that requires professionals to make decisions that could save lives in a heartbeat. Patients are suffering with serious illnesses, and often specialist equipment, care, and assessments are necessary.
To get into this role, you need to study to become an RN, which can take between 18 months and four years. Once you’ve been working as a critical care nurse for more than two years, you’re eligible to apply for the optional Certified Critical Care Nurse certification, which is awarded by the American Association of Colleges for Nursing. Daily responsibilities include:
In 2020, the National Cancer Institute estimated that there would be almost 2 million new cases of cancer in the United States, and 606,520 people were expected to die from the disease. It’s also the second leading cause of death in the U.S., not far behind cardiovascular disease and more than double the third leading cause. In this role, oncology nurses offer expert support and care to cancer patients who are either critically or chronically ill.
To get into the role, you’ll need to follow the steps to become an RN. You also have the option of getting a certification as an Oncology Certified Nurse. Although it isn’t mandatory, it could improve your job prospects and further enhance your understanding of your specialization. Duties of an oncology nurse might include:
Specialized reproductive and gynecological health care is essential for women to live comfortably and confidently. Women have unique needs and bear the brunt of child birth, including menstruation, child birth, menopause, pap smear tests, and vaginal health. What’s more, women are more likely to experience domestic abuse and require specialty care. This is a relatively new area, but it’s experiencing extraordinary growth.
To enter the field, you’ll need to become an RN, and then earn a Master of Science in Nursing. In some states, a Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner certificate in required. It’s available through the National Certification Corporation. Some of the duties performed in this role are:
In America, youth mental illness is getting worse, incidence of mental health among adults is on the increase, and suicidal ideation is increasing. Luckily, the government is reacting in a robust manner, and provisions for mental health care are a priority at the state and federal level. Psychiatric nurses help patients with a broad array of behavioral health diagnoses. Trauma, abuse, substance misuse, eating disorders, and mental health conditions are some of the fields this type of nurse works in.
It’s possible to enter the career through the traditional route of getting an associate’s degree or BSN and getting licensed as an RN. However, many nurses elect to obtain an MSN or Doctor of Nursing Practice, which qualifies them to become a certified nurse practitioner. Advanced certifications let you practice in the widest range of clinical settings, pursue research and leadership positions, and in some states, you can prescribe medications and open a private practice.
The responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse include:
The population of adults aged over 65 has rapidly increased in recent years, as individuals from the baby boomer generation reach their golden years. A result of this increase is an increased demand for health care workers who specialize in helping elderly patients. Home health care is often one of the most affordable options for senior care, and it’s popular because many people prefer to remain in their own home. As such, nursing in this field is in high-demand and growing fast.
The requirements to become a home health nurse are less demanding than the other roles on this list. Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses with a certificate or diploma are eligible to apply for this role. Some of the ways you’ll help patients in your care include:
When most people consider working as a nurse, their aim is to help people, offering care and support to those who are most in-need. However, the skillset required for nursing is broad and demanding, and a nurse can earn an excellent salary as a result.
Not only are you expected to show the utmost sensitivity to other people’s feelings under pressure, you also need to perform highly-skilled procedures using specialty equipment, and have exceptional problem-solving and organizational skills. There are numerous specializations — well over 100 — and each one comes with its own perks and benefits.
While the nursing salary is an important consideration, don’t forget that the highest-paying nursing jobs are extremely demanding. For many, it’s better to follow your preferences and skills as opposed to solely focusing on remuneration. Still, compensation is a major driving force in decision-making, and it’s good to know what you could earn. Read on to find out which nursing jobs offer the best salaries.
CRNAs are the highest earning nurses in the U.S., commanding a median annual wage of $189,190. In the top paying states for nurse anesthetists, the average mean wage exceeds $200,000 per year. The skills needed for this role are advanced and require extensive training and clinical practice — plus a CRNA is in an especially vulnerable position for lawsuits.
In this role, you’re the pain management nurse who’s responsible for anesthesia during surgical and aftercare procedures. You might work with anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists, and any other health care professional who requires anesthesia.
The mean annual wage for a nurse midwife in the U.S. is $115,540, which is significantly higher than the national average annual wage of $47,472. Midwives meet with women and couples who are expecting children and get to know them as the pregnancy progresses and birth comes around. When it’s time to give birth, a midwife oversees the entire procedure and helps mom and pop get to grips with in the initial period following from birth.
You’ll need at least a master’s degree that’s accredited by the Accreditation for Midwifery Education. Along with nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, the job growth for a nurse midwife is set at a staggering 45% between 2019 and 2029.
A career as a nurse practitioner is one of the most skilled and versatile roles you can enter within the nursing profession, and as a result, a nurse practitioner salary stands at around $114,510 per year, on average. As an NP, you can diagnose patients, prescribe medication, and develop and recommend treatment plans.
While some individuals in this role work under a doctor’s supervision, many work independently and perform many of the duties traditionally performed by a physician. Due to the demanding nature of this role, applicants must demonstrate an MSN and potentially seek certification as an advanced practice registered nurse.
Clinical care nurses work in the intensive care units in health care facilities, diagnosing and treating injuries, illnesses, and diseases. The main skills required on top of the usual expectations of an RN are exceptional problem-solving abilities and the ability to work well under the pressure of situations that are literally life or death. You’ll need a master’s degree level education and specialize in clinical nursing to prepare for this role, which can commands earnings upwards of $115,000.
Neonatal nurse practitioners can earn upwards of $110,000 per year, and work in some of the most challenging health care settings. The demanding nature of this role means applicants must have a very broad skill set — and it also means the role is always in high-demand and can attract hefty salaries.
In this role, you’re working with new-born babies until they’re 28 days old and you must be trained to administer medication and oxygen, perform NICU procedures, and support premature babies. While it’s possible to get into this role as an RN, having a neonatal nurse practitioner certification can give you a career advantage.
A family nurse practitioner is an APRN with a nursing specialty education that includes specific clinical training within a family practice setting. This type of nurse has the knowledge necessary to work with adults and children, and an MSN is required to enter the field. The average wage is around $110,000 per year. You’ll also need to get certification as a family NP, which prepares you for the unique challenges and expectations of a job in this role.
One of the most astounding outcomes of modern medical advancements is that people are enjoying longer lives than ever before. In turn, this increase in older adults among the population means there are more individuals who require elder care. Also known as gerontological nurse practitioners, this type of nurse must hold an advanced degree and have training in the treatment of debilitating and long-term illnesses.
You’ll need to get qualified as an RN and then seek certification from the Gerontological Nursing Certification Commission. Salaries for this role are in the top 10th percentile, and regularly exceed $110,000.
Nurse administrators are highly educated coordinators who oversee nursing teams and develop procedures and policies to improve the industry. Other responsibilities include recruitment and training of nursing professionals, and coordinating nurses in different departments within large health care facilities. In this role, you can expect to earn upwards of $110,000.
While a two-year associate’s degree is enough to satisfy the eligibility requirements of getting an RN license, a four-year bachelor’s degree puts you at an advantage when it comes to the job market. For highly-specialized fields such as anesthesia and psychiatry, you’ll need an MSN. You can choose from a vast array of certifications that pertain to specific nursing specializations.
Students can get an ADN from many universities, colleges, technical schools, and community colleges. This nursing program takes two to three years to complete, depending on if you study part-time or full-time. You gain all the knowledge necessary to pursue a career as an LVN, LPN, or RN. If you’re working as a nurse assistant, this could be the perfect qualification to take your career to the next level.
Some of the basic skills you’ll learn include checking blood pressure, administering medication, and dressing wounds. When you combine an associate’s degree with state licensure, you can begin working as a nurse almost immediately. However, it also puts you in a position to pursue further education to improve your earning potential and job prospects.
The precise coursework topics you study vary according to which school you go to, but you’ll usually take classes in general education before getting into specifics. Introductory courses might include psychology, chemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology. Coursework topics you can expect to see might include:
If you want to go through a comprehensive education before you apply to become an RN, you should study a BSN. While an ADN is the lowest level of education required for RN licensure, getting a BSN can open doors to more opportunities that have better salaries and long-term prospects. If you plan on getting into a career in management later on in your career, it’s strongly recommended that you get a BSN.
Like most bachelor’s degrees, it takes four years to complete, although accelerated BSN programs are available at some schools.
In your course, you’ll study a mixture of coursework and practical skills to fully prepare you for life on a medical ward. Some of the key duties nursing professionals carry out on a daily basis include administering IVs, drawing blood and taking vital signs. After studying generic courses, you’ll move into nursing-specific topics, such as:
Many nurses are highly ambitious. As they progress through their career and discover their strength and weaknesses, they often develop a strong urge to impact the health care system and work in roles where they have more autonomy to save lives. An MSN is an advanced degree that prepares learners for work in a specialized field, such as psychiatrics, midwifery, and women’s health.
Many people who achieve this level of study seek licensure as an APRN, whether it’s to work as a nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, or nurse midwife. This certification puts you in a position to earn more than an RN, but you’re also faced with more responsibility and higher expectations from your employer.
In most cases, you need RN certification and many schools prefer to admit those who have a BSN over those with an ADN. Coursework you might be expected to complete includes:
If you want to earn some of the highest salaries available to nurses and manage the administration, quality, and training of nursing professionals, a Doctor of Nursing Practice might be the perfect qualification. It’s the highest level of education in the industry, and it can help CRNs, CNSs, NPs, and CMNs stand out in the job market.
A DNP usually takes around three years to complete, and provides students with the education necessary to take on leadership roles in a clinical setting. If your ambition is to become a nurse researcher, you’ll need to get a Ph.D. in nursing.
The sort of coursework subjects you might study on a DNP would be:
There are few career ambitions as commendable as the desire to go into nursing, so the fact the salaries can exceed what you might expect is a wonderful thing. It’s not just earnings that make this job attractive though — the potential for job growth and flexibility are two major benefits. For instance, as a travel nurse, you can move around the country taking 6-month contracts at your whim.
When it comes to choosing a specialization, think about the demographic who inspires the strongest feelings in you, whether it’s families, children, the elderly, or people with a cancer diagnosis. Of course, some people are driven by more practical reasons, and as long as you’re driven and hard-working, you can excel as a nurse.
Let’s take a look at the best states to work in for various types of nursing roles.
Nurse anesthetists are the most in-demand nurses, as well as the highest paid. If you’re wondering about where the best places in America to work for a CRNA, there are a few figures to pay attention to. The highest employment levels for this job role are in California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania. If you’re interested in maximizing your earnings, the highest salaries are in Oregon, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Nevada, and Connecticut.
Nurse midwifes deliver babies and provide neo-natal care, which is a field that is set to continue growing as the population grows. As such, there are many states that desperately need more certified midwives, with top employment levels in California, New York, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The top paying states for nurse midwives are California, Utah, Mississippi, New York, and Minnesota.
If you want to become a certified nurse practitioner, there are several options for certifications that can see you further specialize and become an orthopedic nurse practitioner, gerontological nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, or any other specialization.
The top paying state are California, New Jersey, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts, while you can find the highest employment levels in California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Ohio,
Studying to become an RN is the most popular route for nurses, and although it doesn’t pay as well as the above fields, it’s still a job with excellent prospects. The best paying states for registered nurses are: California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Alaska. You’ll find the highest employment levels in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania.
RNs can work in a range of fields, including as a forensic nurse, flight nurse, informatics nurse, and public health nurse.