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The 12 Best Nursing Specialties 

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We completely understand if you’re considering entering the nursing field but don’t know which way to turn. There are so many nursing specialties that you could spend days just reading up on the hundreds of ways to personalize your career. 

We’ve compiled some of the highest-rated nursing careers to steer you in the right direction. If you feel lost in the wealth of options and are asking yourself, “What nursing specialty should I do?” you can start to unpack this question by getting a better understanding of some of the popular nursing roles and nurse specialties salary projections. 

No matter how overwhelmed you feel right now, we know you’ll make the right choice, and we’re here to help you the whole way. So take a deep breath, and let’s get started.

What are the best nursing specialties?

Since “best” is a subjective term, we’ll let you decide which kind of nursing specialty is right for you by breaking up roles into two rewarding categories: high-paying and high-demand. We’ll also share some options for work outside of the hospital for those who feel they’re better suited to another setting. 

Highest-paid nursing specialties 

We all have to make a buck. As rewarding as your work is as a nurse, no level of job satisfaction takes the place of getting paid fairly for your hard work. Here are some of the highest-paying nursing specialties: 

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1. Nurse anesthetist: The Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) role is the créme de la créme when it comes to a paycheck. These nurses administer anesthesia, which requires great responsibility. The current average annual salary of a nurse anesthetist in the US is $171,000.

2. Neonatal nurse practitioner: As if making bank at work weren’t enough, this role will also allow you to nurse newborns to better health. This job is rewarding, but it also requires strength and compassion since you’ll be working with babies who are ill or premature. The current  average US annual salary of a neonatal nurse practitioner is $110,000.

3. Psychiatric nurse practitioner: Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) work with patients who suffer from mental illness through support and medical treatment plans. This is another high-responsibility, high-empathy role, and the pay acknowledges the difficulty of this work. Currently, the average US annual salary of a psychiatric nurse practitioner is $135,000.

4. Oncology nurse practitioner: Are you noticing a pattern? High-stakes roles that require great empathy and responsibility pay well in the nursing field. Oncology nursing isn’t easy work, to say the least, as you’ll provide care to cancer patients, some of whom have received difficult diagnoses. Currently, the US average annual salary of an oncology nurse practitioner is $117,000.

Fastest-growing nursing specialties 

Healthcare roles generally offer great job security, given that human beings will always require care. While your job outlook is positive no matter how you specialize as a nurse, here are some of the fastest-growing roles: 

1. Cardiac nurse: Cardiac nurses take care of patients with heart disease and even help with surgeries. Since heart disease is one of the top causes of death, the need for this type of nurse is high. Currently, the average US salary of a cardiac nurse is $67,000 annually.

2. Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA): It should be no surprise that this role also lands a spot on the list of in-demand specialties. After all, CRNAs will always be required in surgical settings. Currently, the average US salary of a CRNA is $153,000 annually.

3. Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): Professionals in this advanced practice nursing role work to improve patient care on a systemic level, making CNSs some of the most esteemed leaders in healthcare. We all need direction—even medical professionals. Currently, the average US salary of a CNS is $86,000 annually.

4. Critical care nurse: Critical care nurses work in emergency settings, so they must be able to think and act quickly. As a critical care nurse, you’ll see patients with potentially life-threatening conditions and injuries, so you must also be able to work well under pressure. Currently, the average US salary of a critical care nurse is $72,000 annually.

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Non-hospital nursing jobs

If you work in a hospital and need a change of pace (a slower one, perhaps?) or if you’re simply interested in working at other types of healthcare facilities, check out some of these popular non-hospital roles for nurses. 

  1. Health coach: If you have a passion for fitness, consider using your skills to help clients reach their wellness goals. This work can also take you out of the hospital and into new environments like insurance companies. Currently, in the United States, the average salary of a health coach is $49,000 annually.
  1. Academic nurse writer: Stop scribbling your great ideas in the margins of the pages of your day planner and get to work as a writer. You’ll generate content for the web and even academic sources like manuals and textbooks. Currently, in the United States, the average salary of an academic nurse writer is $74,000 annually.
  1. Legal nurse consultant: This is the perfect career path if you feel torn between going into law or medicine. Legal nurse consultants perform research and prepare legal documents that, in turn, affect investigations and legal cases. Currently, in the United States, the average salary of a legal nurse consultant is $80,000 annually.
  1. Hospice nurse: As a hospice nurse, you’ll work with geriatric patients and/or patients who are terminally ill and living in nursing homes, assisted care facilities or their homes. This work allows you to care for, accompany and often even befriend patients who have entered their final chapter of life. Currently, in the United States, the average salary of a hospice nurse is $70,000 annually.

Nursing specialties FAQs

How long does it take to complete a nursing specialty?

The length of nursing programs varies, but becoming a registered nurse (RN) generally takes around four years. During this time, you’ll earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and receive your certification. From there, you’ll continue to add on years for any additional study required for specialized or advanced roles. You may even need to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or doctoral degree, like a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). 

How can I get a nursing specialization?

Start your education off on a traditional route (nursing school + RN certification), and then pass the certification exam corresponding to your specialty. Depending on the nursing certification, you may need to prove that you’ve completed a certain amount of clinical hours in a related field. 

Ultimately, the best nursing speciality is the one you love. And, as you do what you love, we’re here to keep you looking and feeling good on the job with premium scrubs

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