Being a registered nurse is a rewarding career path with a median annual salary of $68.45. And, travel nurses generally make even more. However, if you're looking to advance your career and thrive, consider earning additional certifications, obtaining advanced degrees and developing skills within a specialized area of nursing. Not only can advancing your skillsets potentially help you increase your earnings but it can also help you qualify for positions within prestigious healthcare organizations down the road.
Factors That Affect Nurses’ Salaries
There are a variety of factors that can affect the salary of a nurse. If you are interested in a career as a nurse or are a nurse looking to advance your career, it’s important to know how you can potentially increase your earnings.
- Education: This should come as no surprise, but the more advanced your education is, the more qualified you'll be for high-paying nursing specialties.
- Work experience: The more nursing experience you have, the more value you have to offer to an employer.
- Location: When it comes to pay rate, your location matters. If you take an assignment in area with a higher cost of living, your pay rate (or MLA) may be higher to compensate.
- Shifts: Nurses who work the less ideal shifts like the night shift will typically make more than those on the day-shift. In addition, working holidays or filling in to earn overtime will also increase your pay.
- Employer: The salary of nurses also varies based on your employer. For example, nurses employed at hospital typically get paid more than nurses at doctors’ offices.
- Specialty: Perhaps the single biggest impact on earning potential for a nurse is your area of specialization. As you can see below, education, experience and market demand combine to increase pay dramatically for key specialties.
High Paying Nursing Specialties
Note: All salaries mentioned below are average earnings to be used a baseline to help with your research. Actual salaries will vary.
- Medical-Surgical Nurse
Medical-surgical nurses are seen as the front lines of the nursing profession. These nurses work directly with patients of all ages and conditions before and after medical procedures. Due to the varying demands, medical surgical nurses must remain diverse and sharp in all realms of nursing.
Requirements: After two years of field experience as a RN, nurses can take the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse exam.
Average salary: $77,492
Job outlook: The projected growth outlook for medical-surgical nurses is 16% by 2022.
- Critical Care Nurse
Critical care nurses typically work within hospitals’ intensive care units dealing with life-and-death situations on a daily basis.
Requirements: While there are no specific requirements beyond a bachelor’s degree to work in critical care, you should consider taking the CCRN certification exam.
Average salary: $76,563 per year
Job outlook: The projected growth outlook for critical care nurses is 16% by 2022.
- Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurse
NICU nurses care for and monitor sick and/or premature newborn babies. They also provide education and comfort to scared moms and dads.
Requirements: A BSN in nursing is required to be a NICU nurse. A certification is not required, but there are several you can earn to advance in the field.
Average salary: $72,180
Job outlook: The projected growth for NICU nurses is 16% by 2024.
- Cardiac Catheterization Lab Nurse
Cath lab nurses assist doctors with procedures including cardiac catheterizations and angioplasties.
Requirements: These nurses must have an associate’s or bachelor’s in nursing. After working as an RN, cath lab nurses must pass the Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification test (RN-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Average salary: $68,000
Job outlook: The projected growth for cath lab nurses is 16% by 2024.
- Labor and Delivery Nurse
Labor and delivery nurses help deliver babies and assist the mother through the childbirth process from start to finish. This specialty often brings joy to the nurse and will always be in demand.
Requirements: These nurses must have a bachelor’s degree. To make yourself more marketable, consider completing the Inpatient Obstetric Nursing (RNC-OB) certification program through the National Certification Corporation to become a Certified Labor and Delivery Nurse.
Average salary: $67,490
Job outlook: The projected growth for L&D nurses is 16% by 2024.
- Telemetry Nurse
Telemetry nurses use technology to dispense medicine, measure life signs and connect with patients. Most nurses in this specialty work with acute disorders including diabetes, heart failure and neurological issues.
Requirements: Job requirements include a BSN, a Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) designation, and the ability to work with advanced technology.
Average salary: $65,470
Job outlook: The projected growth for telemetry nurses is 19% by 2022.
- Trauma Nurse
Trauma, or ER, nurses are the first to treat a patient in an emergency situation. Nurses in this specialty are high demand, but deal with high-stress situations. It is normal to see traumatic or gruesome injuries fresh off an ambulance on a daily basis.
Requirements: ER nurses must have a BSN and an emergency nursing certification.
Average salary: $65,000
Job outlook: The projected growth for trauma nurses is 20% by 2022.