In this quick rundown of the highest-paying nursing specialties, we don’t just provide the national salary average for each specialty – we’re also showing you the average salaries in both New York City and Kansas City, Missouri as quick benchmarks of what you’d earn in a big city vs a smaller one.
We’ve also organized everything by the level of education so you can see which specialties are actually within reach for you right now (and what it’ll take for any other ones you might want to work towards).
Table of Contents:
- Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
- Oncology Nurse
- Critical Care Registered Nurse
- Nursing Administrator
- Pain Management Nurse
- Flight Nurse
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (GNP)
- Nurse Educator
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)
Let’s dive in:
Education needed: ASN/BSN
1. Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
Neonatal intensive care nurses provide care for infants, the most vulnerable patients in healthcare. Whether sick or born prematurely, newborns often require the most delicate and intense support, including round-the-clock monitoring. It’s the job of a neonatal intensive care nurse to ensure these infants get the care they need.
What Does a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Do?
In this specialty, nurses perform numerous tasks, including:
- Monitoring vital signs
- Drawing blood from infants
- Communicating with parents
- Administering care like IVs, medication, and treatments
- Giving special food
- Providing oxygen therapy
How to Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
- First, you must complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, then become a registered nurse. To work as an RN you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
- There is no official experience requirement, but most employers prefer neonatal intensive care nurses to have at least three years of experience.
- You can also advance your career by becoming a certified neonatal nurse, which is a special nursing certification.
Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Average Salary
Only a bachelor’s or even an associate’s is required, but these nursing experts have strong salaries.
- National average: $73,681
- New York City: $86,575
- Kansas City, MO: $72,259
Where Can a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Work?
These nurses work in many settings, including:
- Medical evacuation and transportation
- Home-health services
- Neonatal intensive care units
2. Oncology Nurse
Oncology nurses specialize in treatment for cancer patients. This is a demanding, challenging, yet significantly rewarding specialty, especially when patients show signs of remission.
What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?
Oncology nurses perform a variety of tasks that include:
- Monitoring patient progress
- Updating medical records
- Administering prescribed treatments
- Educating patients on treatments and medications
- Helping with doctor-patient communication
- Providing care and support to cancer patients and their families
How to Become an Oncology Nurse
- To become an oncology nurse, you must first become a registered nurse by earning an associate’s degree or a bachelor of science in nursing. You’ll have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam before starting this position.
- You do not need experience to be an oncology nurse, but you may want to become an Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN).
Oncology Nurse Average Salary
Oncology nurses have special skills and are highly rewarded for their work.
- National average: $82,700
- New York City: $97,100
- Kansas City, MO: $81,100
Where Can an Oncology Nurse Work?
These specialized nurses work in settings such as:
- Cancer-treatment clinics
- Hospice-care facilities
- Physician practices
3. Critical Care Registered Nurse
If someone is seriously injured, they will likely meet a critical care registered nurse. These are highly-trained nurses that have special skills to help people recovering from major injuries and illnesses.
What Does a Critical Care Registered Nurse Do?
In this specialty, you’ll complete many tasks, including:
- Monitoring vital signs
- Checking life-support equipment
- Tending to a patient’s wounds
- Communicating with doctors
- Administering medical treatments
How to Become a Critical Care Registered Nurse:
To become a critical care registered nurse, you must follow these steps:
- First, you must become a registered nurse by completing a bachelor’s or associate’s nursing degree and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
- You will then earn your critical care nursing license by meeting all state requirements. (Requirements vary by state.)
- You can then be certified as a critical care nurse.
- There are additional certifications available, including specializations in cardiac patients, surgery patients, and geriatric patients.
Average Salary for Critical Care Registered Nurses
You can expect a strong salary when you work as a critical care registered nurse:
- National average: $82,400
- New York City: $96,800
- Kansas City, MO: $80,800
Where Can a Critical Care Registered Nurse Work?
The majority of critical care nurses work in intensive care units (ICUs). However, they can also be found in step-down units, which are for patients who need less care but are not ready for a regular medical setting or to be sent home.
4. Nursing Administrator
Nursing is a complex profession with countless moving parts. It involves patients, doctors, specialists, surgeons, managers, and more. It falls on nursing administrators, who often have experience as registered nurses, to keep everything organized. More managers than nurses are the organizational experts who keep nursing care churning.
What Does a Nursing Administrator Do?
A nursing administrator is responsible for developing the overall goals and objectives for nursing teams. Specific tasks will include:
- Working with committees to create performance goals
- Reviewing staff performance
- Coordinating schedules and agendas with medical staff
- Developing policies and standards
- Managing budgets
- Hiring and scheduling staff members
How to Become a Nursing Administrator
Many nursing administrators are former registered nurses. Here’s the common path to this rewarding career:
- The first step is to become a registered nurse by completing your BSN. You will need to pass the NCLEX-RN as well.
- Begin logging nursing experience. You may need as many as five years for this career.
- To advance your career, consider specializations such as Nurse Executive Certification.
Nursing Administrator Average Salary
Although there are higher-paying nurse specialties, the pay for this career can be excellent!
- National average: $100,112
- New York City: $117,631
- Kansas City, MO: $98,180
Where Can Nurse Administrators Work?
Nurse administrators work in many settings, including:
- Physicians’ offices
- Care facilities
- Government organizations
5. Pain Management Nurse
You can help people overcome their pain and achieve greater comfort and happiness if you work as a pain management nurse. Reducing people’s pain? What could be more rewarding?
What Does a Pain Management Nurse Do?
You’ll have many different responsibilities in this nursing specialty, but they will all help relieve people’s pain. Your tasks may include:
- Giving pain medication and treatments
- Helping with a patient’s pain-management plan
- Assisting physicians during treatments
- Reviewing patient history
- Documenting and assessing a patient’s pain response
How to Become a Pain Management Nurse
The process starts with becoming a registered nurse, then moving into this specialization. These are the common steps:
- First, complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN). Before working as an RN you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Now you need experience. To work as a pain management nurse you will need two years of full-time work as an RN.
- Certification is not required but can boost your career. Consider the Pain Management Nursing Certification through the American Nursing Association.
Pain Management Nurse Average Salary
These skilled and experienced nurses can earn a high salary.
- National average: $135,111
- New York City: $158,756
- Kansas City, MO: $132,504
Where Can Pain Management Nurses Work?
Pain management nurses work in settings like:
- Doctors’ offices
- Nursing homes
- Physical rehab centers
- Oncology departments
- Sports clinics
6. Flight Nurse
When a medical patient is airlifted from one facility to another, it’s up to flight nurses to provide proper care. These professionals are trained to provide care while a patient travels by plane or helicopter to their final destination.
These specialized nurses provide comprehensive pre-hospital, emergency critical care, and hospital-level care. They support a patient either from the scene of an accident or while transporting from one hospital to another. They provide the same care as surgical nurses or emergency nurses but in confined, moving spaces.
What Does a Flight Nurse Do?
A flight nurse has many responsibilities in addition to caring for patients during a flight. Duties can include:
- Cleaning the on-call rooms
- Washing the aircraft
- Checking expiration dates on all medicines
- Checking equipment for quality
How to Become a Flight Nurse
- To become a flight nurse, you need at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
- You’ll need to gain experience in an ICU or ER for at least three years.
- You must become a Certified Flight Registered Nurse. (CFN)
Flight Nurse Average Salary
With specialized skills, these nursing experts can expect an outstanding salary.
- National average: $92,400
- New York City: $108,570
- Kansas City, MO: $90,620
Where Can Flight Nurses Work?
Flight nurses typically work at teaching or referral hospitals. They are also employed by aviation companies.
Education needed: MSN
7. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 1 in 5 of all American adults suffer from mental illness of some kind. That’s about 57.8 million adults, and this figure does not include teenagers and children.
To overcome these challenges, many people seek help from mental-health professionals, including psychiatric nurse practitioners. Because so many people are struggling with mental health, this is one of the most important specialties you can choose!
What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?
To improve mental health, a psychiatric nurse practitioner performs many duties, including:
- Diagnosing mental health conditions
- Providing individual or group therapy
- Coordinating multidisciplinary services
- Monitoring common mental healthcare problems
- Promoting wellness and self-care
How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Because a master’s degree is needed, the path to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is longer and a bit more complex:
- Become a registered nurse by completing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing.
- Pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.
- Complete 500 hours of clinical work.
- Pass the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner exam, which is administered through the American Nursing Credentialing Center.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Average Salary
Because this profession requires a master’s degree, it also brings even higher salaries:
- National average: $115,800
- New York City: $136,060
- Kansas City, MO: $113,560
Where Can Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Work?
Nurse practitioners work in many different settings:
- Mental health centers
- Private practices
- Correctional facilities
- Social service organizations
8. Family Nurse Practitioner
If you love working with patients of all ages, if you value families of all kinds and want to support their physical and mental health, or if you want to fill a critical role in healthcare, working as a family nurse practitioner may be perfect for you!
What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?
These specialists deliver family-focused care. From infants to the elderly, they provide comprehensive support for numerous people. Specific duties may include:
- Diagnosing health issues
- Conducting physicals
- Developing treatment plans
- Prescribing medications
- Making referrals when appropriate
How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner
A master’s degree and specialization are needed, so you’ll need to follow these steps to become a family nurse practitioner:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
- Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to work as a registered nurse (RN).
- Complete the required experience to enroll in a master’s program. Most require one or two years of RN experience.
- Complete a family nurse practitioner’s (FNP) degree.
- Complete required clinical hours and graduate.
- Pass FNP certification through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurse Credentialing Center.
Family Nurse Practitioner Average Salary
This is a fulfilling nurse specialty, but it’s also a lucrative option for your career.
- National average: $112,831
- New York City: $132,576
- Kansas City, MO: $110,653
Where Can Family Nurse Practitioners Work?
These caring, versatile specialists are found in locations and organizations that include:
- Community health centers
- Home health services
- Urgent-care centers
- Correctional facilities
9. Certified Nurse Midwife
When it comes to healthcare, pregnancy, and birth are two of the most delicate and critical aspects of the medical profession. It takes deep caring and a wealth of knowledge to help women and families through these phases.
Often, it’s a certified nurse midwife who ensures a pregnant woman and her baby make it safely from conception to birth and beyond.
What Does a Certified Midwife Do?
The responsibilities of a certified midwife include:
- Provide prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care
- Assess the mother’s condition throughout a birth
- Assess the baby’s condition and health
- Provide guidance for a healthy and happy pregnancy and birth
How to Become a Certified Nurse Midwife
To become a certified nurse midwife, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Become a registered nurse by completing a bachelor’s degree and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Work enough hours to enroll in a midwifery program. Usually one or two years of experience as an RN is required.
- Complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.
- Complete certification through the American Midwifery Certification Board.
Average Salary For a Certified Nurse Midwife
Caring for pregnant women and babies is rewarding enough, but these professionals also enjoy an excellent salary.
- National average: $119,390
- New York City: $140,283
- Kansas City, MO: $117,086
Where Can a Certified Nurse Midwife Work?
Certified nurse midwives work in various settings:
- Birthing centers
- Public-health facilities
10. Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (GNP)
Gerontology is the study of aging and the aging process. Gerontological nurse practitioners, therefore, are nursing experts who specialize in working with older adults and the elderly. They understand the biological aspects of aging, and help people deal with challenges that include, but are certainly not limited to, decreased respiratory health, less bone density, and a higher likelihood of infection. They help the elderly age with grace and dignity, which is one of the highest callings in the medical profession!
What Does a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Do?
Duties will vary depending on the position and employer, but gerontological nurse practitioners have responsibilities that include:
- Completing physical examinations
- Completing diagnostic tests
- Diagnosing patient illnesses and conditions
- Prescribing medications
How to Become a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
The steps to becoming a gerontological nurse practitioner include an RN education and experience, a master’s degree, and certification;
- The first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. This will require passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Next, you will need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Most schools require one to two years of RN experience before enrollment.
- You can then complete certification as an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner through the ANCC.
Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Average Salary
With a growing need for gerontological experts, these nursing specialists are highly compensated.
- National average: $113,111
- New York City: $122,338
- Kansas City, MO: $102,087
Where Can Gerontological Nurse Practitioners Work?
Gerontological nurse practitioners can be found in numerous settings that include:
- Long-term care facilities
- Private clinics
11. Nurse Educator
Nurses who want to educate the next generation of medical professionals should consider becoming a nurse educator. This is a challenging role, but it can also be the most rewarding because you get to watch your students become elite nursing experts!
What Does a Nurse Educator Do?
While your background may be in nursing, this profession is closer to a teaching career. You won’t deliver care, but use your experience to educate aspiring caregivers. Duties include:
- Creating a learning plan for upcoming semesters
- Delivering educational materials and lectures to students
- Assessing students and evaluating performance
- Using your experience to provide real-world examples and mentorship
How to Become a Nurse Educator
The path to this nurse specialization is different, as you need to learn classic teaching methods. However, you will start this rewarding career with direct work as an RN.
- To begin, you must work as a registered nurse, which requires an associate’s degree or bachelor of science in nursing (BNS). You will also pass the NCLEX-RN exam before working in this profession.
- You’ll now need experience. The best nurse educators are people who have “been there, done that” in the nursing profession. Many are professionals with decades of experience.
- To teach, you’ll need a master of science in nursing with a specialization in nursing education, which usually requires at least a single year of experience.
Nurse Educator Average Salary
While there are higher-paying nurse specialties, many nurse educators can expect salaries over $100,000.
- National average: $107,196
- New York City: $125,956
- Kansas City, MO: $105,127
Where Can Nurse Educators Work?
These teachers, guides, and mentors are mostly employed by education organizations such as:
- Community colleges
- Medical centers and hospitals
Education needed: DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
12. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)
Working in all types of medical settings, a CRNA provides anesthetics to patients for various procedures and surgeries. They may also provide anesthesia to members of the U.S. Armed Forces. In rural hospitals they are the sole anesthesia provider, making them critically important for these underserved areas.
What Does a Certified Nurse Anesthetist Do?
- In this specialty, you will educate patients about anesthesia both before and after the procedure.
- Your main responsibility will be injecting a precise amount of anesthesia into patients.
- After administering anesthesia, CRNAs monitor a patient’s physical response to the drug.
- You will also perform various risk assessments, which are completed on a case-by-case basis. You will especially need to be aware of allergies, diabetes, and asthma.
How to Become a Certified Nurse Anesthetist
- The first step is to become an RN. You’ll need a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing (BSN), and you’ll have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Before starting this position, you need at least one year of full-time experience. If working part-time, you’ll need total hours equal to a complete year of full-time work. (Roughly 20,000 hours.) Most have roughly three years of RN experience.
- You must also acquire a nurse anesthesia master’s degree from a program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA).
Certified Nurse Anesthetist Average Salary
If you are looking for big pay from your next nursing specialty, this is the best option!
- National average: $208,222
- New York City: $244,660
- Kansas City, MO: $204,203
Where Can Nurse Anesthetists Work?
These nurses work in many settings, including:
- Dental clinics
- Surgery clinics,
- Emergency rooms
- Outpatient care settings