A career in nursing is an excellent choice if you are looking for a high-paying job with a strong future. Nursing careers will always be necessary and the demand is expected to continue growing. This type of job security makes nursing an attractive option whether you are considering a career change or are just starting your career after high school. 

If you are just starting your search, it is important to consider all of your nursing options. There are many different specialties to choose from and the job requirements vary, so it is usually helpful to have a grasp on your goals before starting your education and training. Below, learn about the highest-paying nursing specialties and find out how to launch your career. 

1. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)

This broad category includes several of the highest-paying nursing specialties in today’s workforce. The APRN field encompasses the following career paths: 

  • Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are nurses who provide anesthesia to patients in surgical, therapeutic and emergency situations.   
  • Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) are nurses who conduct gynecological exams, provide family planning counseling and perform advanced procedures for women in labor or giving birth. 
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPS) are nurses who work directly with patients as primary care providers. An NP usually works with specific types of patients, such as pediatric, geriatric or mental health patients. 

Becoming an APRN requires that you get a master’s degree. While completing a master’s program can be expensive, it pays off once you land a job in this field. As of 2018, APRNs make an average of $113,930 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, salaries vary depending on the specific line of work you are in as well as the work environment. 

2. Critical Care Nurse 

In an intensive care unit (ICU), most nurses you see are considered critical care nurses. These professionals provide care for patients with dire medical needs, such as cardiac issues, severe burns and acute injuries. An ICU nurse works directly with patients to treat medical problems and monitor changes in conditions. 

If you are on your way to completing a registered nurse (RN) program, the good news is that you will not generally need to have any additional schooling in a formal setting. However, depending on the facility or specific career path you take, you may be required to complete an educational program tailored to that field. 

Once you have completed your RN program and any programs required for your specific career, you will generally need to complete two years of training in an ICU environment before you are eligible to take an exam for your critical care nursing certification. 

Upon being certified as a critical care nurse, you can expect an average salary of $75,000 per year. Job growth in this field is expected to grow significantly through 2020 as well, making it a sound choice for your future. 

3. Registered Nurses (RNs) 

Registered nurses can have a wide range of responsibilities depending on the specific career that they choose. The duties of an RN can include any of the following: 

  • Administering medications or treatments
  • Observing and recording patients’ symptoms or medical histories
  • Providing an assessment of patients’ conditions
  • Assisting doctors with medical tests, diagnoses, treatments and other procedures 
  • Educating patients on symptom management, prescriptions and what to do at home after receiving medical treatment 

While a majority of RNs work in hospitals or clinical settings, some RN careers are found in different sectors. A public health nurse, for example, is someone who focuses on spreading awareness of various medical conditions or providing outreach for certain health issues. Public health nurses may do any of the following: 

  • Run public health screenings for common medical issues 
  • Operate a community outreach program to help underserved populations
  • Manage blood drives, immunization clinics or other similar services

If you choose an RN career, you must undergo the appropriate education program. Most RNs will obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Other options include getting an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma from another approved program. Each of these programs requires a different time commitment, with BSNs taking the longest to complete and most diploma programs taking the least amount of time. 

Did you know? No matter what educational program you choose, you must pass a licensing exam before you can work as an RN.

Your educational choices will ultimately affect your salary once you begin your career. However, your work environment affects your wages as well. On average, the median salary for RNs as of 2018 is $71,730 per year, but nurses in a government work environment tend to make more than average. 

4. Nurse Advocate 

While nursing advocates may not make up as much of the workforce as RNs or other nursing professionals, they play a very important role. Nurse advocates act as liaisons between doctors and patients to ensure that patients understand their medical conditions and can make the best life choices for managing their health. 

Being a nurse advocate requires that you meet all of the schooling and licensing requirements for becoming an RN first. As a nurse advocate, you need to have a solid grasp on more than just medicine, which means that you will usually need to further your education beyond that required for being an RN. For example, having experience with the following topics will make you more successful as a nurse advocate: 

  • Social work
  • Research 
  • Health insurance issues 

There is no specific educational path or degree for being a nurse advocate, which means the work is usually left up to you. However, there are a variety of courses and programs that you can complete to get the educational background you need to excel in this job. Once you snag a job as a nurse advocate, you can expect a salary of anywhere from $68,000 to $90,000 per year. 

5. Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Vocational Nurses (LVNs)

Many nursing professions require a lot of formal education, which can be cost-prohibitive. While the salary for RNs, APRNs and other professionals makes it worth it in the end, not everyone can afford to get the bachelor’s or master’s degree required for one of these careers. 

As an LPN or LVN, you can make a respectable salary of about $46,240 per year as of 2018, which is well above the median average salary of $38,640. Considering that most certificate and diploma programs for LVNs and LPNs can be completed in as little as one year, you may find that this is the perfect career for you if educational costs have kept you from seeking a job in a higher-paying health care field.