15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
Medically reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN on September 13, 2021
The highest paying nursing jobs are:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist - $183,580
- General Nurse Practitioner - $111,680
- Clinical Nurse Specialist - $109,437
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner - $111,496
- Certified Nurse Midwife - $111,130
- Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse - $101,727
- Pain Management Nurse - $100,647
- Nursing Administrator - $104,280
- Family Nurse Practitioner - $96,973
- Registered Nurse First Assist - $99,733
- Gerontological Nurse Practitioner - $90,128
- Nurse Educator - $84,060
- Informatics Nurse - $80,265
- ICU Nurse - $95,000
- Health Policy Nurse - $79,178
If you're considering becoming a nurse, you're likely wondering how much you can make and how you can earn the highest salary as a nurse. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $75,330 as of 2021. But that's just an average across all specialties, with some of the highest paying nursing careers paying over $183K annually!
To help you decide which career direction is right for you, take a look at some of the highest paying specialties for RNs. Keep in mind that salaries do vary greatly based on location and employer, so the earnings listed below are just a baseline to help with your research. The top 15 highest paying nursing jobs are:
Top Nursing Jobs by Salary
What is the highest-paid nurse? Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists! Earning $183,580 annually, CRNAs earn significantly more than any other type of nurse or nursing specialty. This highly skilled profession involves preparing and administering anesthesia to patients in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists, and other qualified healthcare professionals, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Salary
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn a mean average salary of $183,580 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it the top paying nursing specialty. CRNAs typically work 40 hours per week, making the hourly wage average out to approximately $88.26 per hour.
Career Outlook for CRNAs
According to the BLS, the expected growth for CRNAs is 45% from 2020 to 2030.
Requirements to Become a Nurse Anesthetist
Be prepared to hit the books in order to achieve a degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program, and upon completion, passing the National Certification Examination.
Although a doctoral degree is not yet required to become a CRNA, it will be required in the future as the Council on Accreditation has announced a doctoral degree as a requirement by 2025.
Employers include hospitals, clinics, free-standing surgical centers, ambulatory centers, pain management centers, and staffing agencies.
As a general nurse practitioner, you can choose to open an independent practice or work in a variety of primary care settings. You can also advance your skills and your earning potential along the way. General NPs can later specialize in a field, if they wish.
Nurse Practitioner Salary
General nurse practitioners earn a mean salary of $111,680 per year, according to the May 2020 BLS. General nurse practitioners typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $53.69.
Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners
Nurse Practitioner jobs (which include general) are expected to grow 45 percent through 2030, per the BLS. Add to that the option to work independently, and the outlook for this specialty is robust.
Requirements to Become a Nurse Practitioner
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum degree requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner, followed by earning Nurse Practitioner licensure as specified by your state.
Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Employers include hospitals, clinics, urgent care, outpatient clinics, private practice, and staffing agencies.
Those who wish to work in a specialized unit or clinic should consider the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) path. In addition to diagnosing and treating various conditions, you’ll be looked upon as an expert within your healthcare team. Clinical Nurse Specialists focus on improving the status of nursing at the hospital. They are involved in research and bettering the care provided in the healthcare setting.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Salary
According to Salary.com, the average salary for clinical nurse specialists in the United States is $109,437. However, there is a range of salaries for this specialty, typically between $99,123 and $120,083. Clinical nurse specialists typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $52.61.
Career Outlook for Clinical Nurse Specialists
Because Clinical Nurse Specialists can offer specialized care at a lower cost than a physician, more and more hospitals and institutions will be seeking to add these professionals to their teams.
Requirements to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist
A Clinical Nurse Specialist must earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing, with a specialization in clinical nursing.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Jobs
Employers include hospitals, clinics, private practices, and staffing agencies.
For nurses with an interest in mental health, working as a psychiatric nurse practitioner will give you the opportunity to work with psychiatric medical physicians and counsel patients regarding mental health disorders. Psychiatric nurse practitioners also work with patients that suffer from a combination of mental health disorders and substance abuse issues.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners earn, on average, $111,572 per year, as of September 2021 according to Payscale. Psychiatric nurse practitioners typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $53.60.
Career Outlook for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
As the need for improved mental healthcare gains national attention, and the demand for adolescent and child psychiatric services increases, PNPs will be highly sought after. Additionally, as substance abuse continues to rise throughout the country, PNPs will need to become well versed in both mental health and substance abuse issues.
Requirements to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum degree requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner, followed by earning Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner licensure as specified by your state.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Employers include hospitals, mental health units, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, and staffing agencies.
For RNs who love obstetrics, labor and delivery, and prenatal care, becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife is the perfect career path. CNMs mostly work in OB/GYN offices, clinics, or hospital settings, but many open their own practices depending on their state of practice.
Certified Nurse Midwife Salary
Certified nurse-midwives can expect to earn a mean average salary of $111,130 per the BLS. CNMs typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $53.43.
Career Outlook for Certified Nurse Midwives
The job outlook for midwives is beyond good, with expectations that openings will grow 45 percent during the 2020 to 2030 decade.
Requirements to Become a Certified Nurse Midwife
To practice certified nurse midwifery, nurses can go through the American Midwifery Certification Board to earn the Certified Nurse-Midwife and Certified Midwife designations. Learn more about Certified Nurse Midwives.
Certified Nurse Midwife Jobs
Employers include hospitals, freestanding birthing clinics, private practice clinics, and staffing agencies.
If you love caring babies, consider the neonatal nurse career track. This specialty commands a strong salary, especially for advanced practice nurses.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse Salary
The average annual NICU nurse salary is $101,727, according to ZipRecruiter. Those with a BSN, more experience, and advanced certifications have higher earning potential. NICU nurses typically work 36 hours per week, giving them an average hourly rate of $54.34.
Career Outlook for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurses
Both advances in technology and the frequency of premature births have contributed to a strong job outlook for neonatal nurses.
Requirements to Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse
While you can get neonatal unit experience as a staff RN, earning either a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) or neonatal clinical nurse specialist (CNS) designation is how the real advancement takes place. An advancement in degree comes with a salary bump as well. Nurses who wish to earn certification without an advanced practice degree can earn their RNC-NIC.
NICU Nurse Jobs
Employers include hospitals, private practice, birth centers, neonatal intensive care units, well-baby units, newborn nursery, private consultant, private duty baby nurse, pediatric outpatient clinics, and staffing agencies.
Pain Management Nurses help manage a patient’s pain post-surgery or work with patients who have chronic pain issues. They work within a healthcare team to help determine the cause of the pain and the proper course of treatment, while also educating patients about pain management and avoiding addiction or dependence on prescribed medication.
Pain Management Nurse Salary
The average yearly salary for pain management nurses is $101,665 per year according to Indeed.com. Pain management nurses typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $48.39.
Career Outlook for Pain Management Nurses
Because pain management nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings -- hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes -- the demand for this skill is strong. As the population continues to age, the need for experienced pain management nurses will only continue to rise.
Pain Management Nurse Requirements
While an advanced degree isn’t necessary to become a pain management nurse, sufficient experience as an RN is required to vie for the Nurse Practitioner certification for Pain Management Specialists.
Pain Management Nurse Jobs
Employers include hospitals, drug counseling centers, drug dependency clinics, rehabilitation centers, oncology clinics, sports rehabilitation facilities, long-term care facilities, fitness centers, and staffing agencies.
A nursing administrator deals with the backstage operations of nursing, from budgeting and staff management to HR functions.
Nurse Administrator Salary
Nursing administrators earn an average salary of $104,280 per year, as of May 2020, according to the BLS. Nurse administrators typically work a minimum of 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $50.13.
Career Outlook for Nurse Administrators
Employment of medical and health services managers (of which nursing administrators are a part of) is projected to grow 32% from 2020 to 2030, according to the BLS.
Requirements to Become a Nurse Administrator
Usually a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration is required, as is state licensing. Some Nursing Administrators will also have a Masters in Business Administration.
Nurse Administrator Jobs
Employers include hospitals, private practice, healthcare companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
The position of Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is the career closest to functioning like a primary care physician. FNPs typically perform many of the same functions as an MD -- working in a medical office, hospital, clinic, or nursing facility. Their responsibilities include patient consultations, assessments, prescribing medications and treatment, and more.
Family Nurse Practitioner Salary
Family nurse practitioners earn an average of $97,011 per year, as of September 2021, according to Payscale.com. FNPs typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $46.62.
Career Outlook for Family Nurse Practitioners
As stated above, nurse practitioner jobs are expected to grow 45 percent through 2029, according to the BLS. Those who focus on family practice will always be in demand since there are a variety of healthcare institutions where they can work. Fully autonomous practice is possible in almost half the states in the U.S., as well as within the Veterans Administration (VA) system.
Requirements to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner
FNPs must earn the Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) designation.
Family Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Employers include hospitals, clinics, freestanding ambulatory centers, urgent cares, and staffing agencies.
A Registered Nurse First Assistant, or RNFA, is a perioperative registered nurse that functions as a first assistant during surgical operations. The role and responsibilities of an RNFA will vary greatly based on the institution. Large academic teaching hospitals might not employ as many RNFA due to residents and fellows.
Registered Nurse First Assist Salary
The average salary for a Registered Nurse First Assist is $99,910, as of September 2021, according to Salary.com. But the range typically falls between $90,232 and $111,108. The salary range varies based on years of experience and location of the position. RNFAs typically work 36 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $53.28.
Career Outlook for Registered Nurse First Assists
With the overwhelming number of outpatient surgical centers opening across the country, the need for well trained Registered Nurse First Assistants is rapidly growing.
Requirements to Become a Registered Nurse First Assist
To become an RNFA, the nurse first must have substantial perioperative experience, as this advanced training builds upon the basic fundamentals and focuses on surgical anatomy, procedures, and techniques. To become a certified RNFA, the nurse must have a CNOR certification, active and unencumbered RN license, a bachelor’s degree, as well as 2,000 hours of experience working as an RNFA.
Registered Nurse First Assist Jobs
RNFAs can work in ambulatory surgical centers, hospitals, outpatient same-day surgery centers, private offices, research, staffing agencies, and product development.
Older patients have a unique set of health issues requiring specialized care. RNs who prefer working with elderly patients should look no further than the gerontological nurse practitioner track.
Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Salary
Payscale.com reports the median annual salary for this specialty to be $90,128 as of August 2021. Gerontological nurse practitioners typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $43.33.
Career Outlook for Gerontological Nurse Practitioners
The aging population, longer life spans, and more access to long-term care options means there will be a greater need for nurses who specialize in caring for older patients. With a dramatic rise in the Baby Boomer population, there has become a sudden surge in the need for this specialty.
Requirements to Become a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
To practice this specialty, RNs must become Certified Gerontological Nurse Practitioners (CGNP) after obtaining their Master’s degree in Nursing.
Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Employers include hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, urgent care, nursing homes, retirement communities, and staffing agencies.
At some point, you may wish to transition from patient care to nurse education. If working directly with other nurses to train them or facilitate continuing education sounds appealing, becoming a nurse educator could be a good fit.
Nurse Educator Salary
Nurse educators can earn an average yearly salary of $84,060, as reported by the BLS in 2019. Nurse educators typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $40.41.
Career Outlook for Nurse Educators
There is a shortage of nurse educators (a trend that is expected to continue) making this a smart choice if you wish to get off the hospital floor and go to the head of the class. Currently, there are thousands of open nurse educator positions at the undergraduate and graduate levels that are waiting to be filled.
Requirements to Become a Nurse Educator
Nurse educators must hold a master’s degree at minimum, although many do earn a doctoral degree as well. Nurse educators can also earn national certification in their field.
Nurse Educator Jobs
Employers include hospitals, private practices, hospital-based nursing programs, universities and colleges, healthcare companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
Nursing, meet technology. This is one of the most in-demand nursing fields with unlimited growth thanks to the ongoing implementation of electronic medical records. According to the American Medical Informatics Association, informatics nursing integrates nursing with the management of information and communication technologies to promote public health.
Informatics Nurse Salary
An Informatics Nurse has an average salary of $80,265 according to Payscale.com. Informatics nurses typically work 40 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $38.59.
Career Outlook for Informatics Nurses
The AMIA estimates that up to 70,000 nursing informatics specialists/analysts may be needed in the next five years.
Requirements to Become an Informatics Nurse
To get into nursing informatics, expect to earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing, or a Master’s in Information or Computer Science.
Informatics Nurse Jobs
Employers include hospitals, healthcare technology companies, medical record companies, clinics, and staffing agencies.
ICU nurses require a specialized set of skills since they literally deal with life-and-death matters on a daily basis. They often work in hospital ICUs but also can work in other areas of nursing. Becoming a critical care nurse is seen as one of the most coveted positions in nursing, as these nurses possess a very high level of critical thinking and nursing skills.
ICU Nurse Salary
The average annual salary for ICU Nurses was $95,000 as of August 2021, according to ZipRecruiter. While the range typically falls between $52,000 and $173,000, critical care nurses often make well over $100,000 based on their shift, hospital, and location. New nurses generally start at the lower end of the pay scale before quickly moving up. Critical care nurses typically work 36 hours per week, making their hourly wage approximately $50.75 on average.
Career Outlook for ICU Nurses
When you hear about nursing shortages, the biggest areas in need include adult critical care units, pediatric and neonatal ICUs, and emergency departments. That’s why ICU nurses should generally have no problem finding work.
Requirements to Become an ICU Nurse
While no specific credentials are needed to begin working in critical care, in order to advance, you should consider the CCRN certification exam. Most hospitals will have specific training for intensive care nurses to ensure they are confident in their skills and abilities.
ICU Nurse Jobs
Employers include hospitals, managed care facilities, outpatient surgical centers, administration, research committees, cardiac catheter labs, post-anesthesia care units, emergency departments, cardiac centers, urgent care clinics, short-term stay hospitals, and staffing agencies. Critical care nurses can specialize in adult critical care, pediatric critical care, or geriatric critical care.
If you are passionate about health and public policy, becoming a health policy nurse will let you take on the tasks of advocacy, research, analysis, policy development, implementation, and evaluation.
Health Policy Nurse Salary
ZipRecruiter.com states the average national salary for health policy nurses is $79,178 as of September 2021. Nurses that work in this field often work as consultants, which makes the salary potential endless. Individuals will have the ability to work as much or as little as they wish. Health policy nurses typically work 40 hours per week, making their average hourly wage approximately $38.07, but this can vary widely.
Career Outlook for Health Policy Nurses
With so much attention on healthcare policy, there is no better time to take this career route.
Requirements to Become a Health Policy Nurse
After earning your MSN, you’ll have to complete a 10-week health policy residency program in government offices, advocacy organizations, or community groups. Learn more about how specializing in Health Policy can advance your nursing career.
Health Policy Nurse Jobs
Employers include hospitals, occupational health, case management office, infection control, international health organizations, research, private practice, government offices, law practices, and staffing agencies.
BONUS! 5 More High Paying Nursing Careers
In case you didn't find what you were looking for in the list above, here are five more high paying nursing jobs to consider.
- Medical-Surgical Nurse: Medical-Surgical Nurses are on the front lines of the nursing profession. Because so much is required of them, those who excel and decide to advance are considered to have entered a specialty area. According to Glassdoor.com, the average annual salary is $71,429.
- Legal Nurse Consultant: Legal nurse consultants work with different law professionals and perform a variety of different services for them. They will often assist in medical malpractice cases, toxic torts, insurance fraud cases, personal injury cases, worker's compensation cases, and criminal cases, among others. Legal nurse consultants have the ability to charge upwards of $150 per hour.
- Nurse Researcher: Nurse Researchers are in charge of designing and implementing research studies, writing grants for federal and private funding, observing patient treatments and procedures, collecting data, and reporting the data to the nursing community and public. Glassdoor lists an average salary of $79,617 for clinical research nurses.
- Strike Travel Nurse: Travel nursing is one of the hottest and most in-demand careers for nurses that want to explore the country, help save lives, and earn premium pay. The average salary for a strike nurse according to ZipRecruiter.com is $85,355. However, strike nurses can earn over $150,000.
- Per Diem Registered Nurse: Per diem nurses are Registered Nurses that work on an as-needed basis. These nurses are employees of a hospital or healthcare system and are paid a premium for working hard-to-staff shifts such as evenings, nights, and weekends. They may also be compensated for on-call pay and paid at a higher rate if they are called in to work. According to Payscale.com, per diem nurses can earn over $60 an hour with some earning $120/hr.
Not interested in nursing? Check out the 10 highest-paying healthcare jobs in 2021!
Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, a NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, WomansDay.com, Parents, CreditCards.com, and more.
Updated October 26, 2020, with May 2019 BLS data.
The salaries listed are highly generalized. Nurses can expect to see major variances based on geography, experience, and a number of other factors.
When calculating hourly wages for nurse salaries, we used the following formula: For a nurse working 40 hours a week, we estimated 52 of those would be working weeks. 40 hours/week multiplied by 52 weeks/year = 2,080 hours per year. The hourly wage is equivalent to Annual Salary / 2,080 for a position with a 40-hour workweek. The same formula was applied for careers with a 36-hour workweek.
Nurse.org's Popular Guides and Resources
Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
Read about the top student loan forgiveness programs for nurses and find out if you qualify.
15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
You know all nursing jobs aren’t created (or paid!) equally, but do you know which nurses are making the most money in 2020?
Earn CEUs Online!
Need to renew your license soon? Check out our favorite free online CEU courses.
2021’s Best Nursing Schools
We’ve looked at programs nationwide and determined these are our top nursing schools.