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The Highest-Paid Nurse Practitioner Specialties

A career in nursing can help you ignite your passion for helping those in need by raising the standard of healthcare for individuals in and around your community. But it can also be financially rewarding, especially if you pursue a career in one of the highest-paid nurse practitioner specialties.

Nurses have always provided a lifeline to society, but as COVID-19 infections continue to increase, their contribution as essential of workers is front and center. According to CNN, more than 29 million cases have been reported in the United States after 12 months of the pandemic, resulting in 530,000 deaths. These are unprecedented times, and the nursing profession must evolve to meet the challenges that await in a brave new era.

Furthering your education by pursuing an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can help you build the skills needed to provide the best care as you thrive in one of the field’s highest-paid nurse specialties.

According to Nurse.org, which gathered much of its data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest-paying nurse specialties are:

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist
  • General nurse practitioner
  • Gerontology nurse practitioner
  • Pain management nurse
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner
  • Certified nurse midwife

Let’s take a deeper look at these career paths, what they pay, and how professionals in these roles can maximize their earning potential.

nurse standing in a patient room with gloves and a mask on

Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), who work alongside surgeons and other doctors to provide anesthesia for patients, earn a mean salary of over $174,790 per year, according to the BLS.

In some states, however, the mean wage for this occupation is significantly higher. In Montana, which offers the highest pay for CRNAs, the salary hovers around $252,000. Wyoming, California, and Oregon are other states in which CRNAs frequently earn more than $200,000 per year.

Beyond the advanced technical skills required to perform the job, strong interpersonal communication skills are another important requirement of this specialty. In a Business Insider article about why nurse anesthetists earn a higher pay rate, one nurse anesthetist said, “You need to be highly motivated, highly educated, and extremely detail-oriented — and on top of that, you need to be extremely personable.”

You can build your technical nursing skills alongside your interpersonal skills through earning the proper nursing certifications, pursuing your MSN, or gaining real-world experience that gives you the chance to work alongside patients and other nurses.

General nurse practitioner

BLS statistics indicate that general nurse practitioners, who strive to help patients achieve overall wellness, earn a median salary of around $115,800 per year.

As is the case with other nurse specialties, however, the pay can vary widely from state to state and often depends on how much education or experience a nurse has in that field. The highest-paying state is California, where the mean wage is over $126,000.

In addition to these factors, another element that can influence how much you earn as an NP is whether your state allows you to practice without physician oversight. With a continued shortage of doctors and primary care physicians, nurse practitioners are assuming more responsibility and providing care that once was the exclusive domain of doctors.

But if you’re looking for a nursing specialty that is both professionally and financially rewarding, the general practitioner track is a good choice. With their varied skill set and versatility, general nurse practitioners are some of the highest-paid nurses.

Gerontology nurse practitioner

Adult-gerontology nurses typically earn salaries between $74,000 and $110,000, according to PayScale.com. Salary can be impacted by location, the medical environment, and years of professional experience.

The pay for gerontology nurses may continue to increase as the demand for elderly healthcare rises. Scrubs Mag notes, “By 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be at least 83 million, more than double the number of senior citizens in 2012. This ongoing growth of the population of people over 65 has led to concerns about a gerontology nursing shortage.”

Pain management nurse

Based on data from PayScale.com, the average salary for certified pain management nurses is $109,000, making this career field one of the top-paying nurse practitioner specialties. Part of the reason behind the high rate of pay is that these nurses are often versatile. They can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities.

Roughly 100 million Americans have chronic pain, according to PainMed.org. That is nearly four times the number of people with diabetes and almost 10 times the number of people with cancer. Because of the growing population with medical issues regarding or related to chronic pain, it makes sense that pain management nurses are in such high demand and can garner high salaries.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner

According to PayScale, the median wage for psychiatric nurse practitioners is nearly $108,570, with the highest-paid nursing practitioners in the psychiatric field earning more than $141,000.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association states, “At times, the role of a [psychiatric nurse] with a master’s degree may overlap with that of a psychologist, social worker, and psychiatrist.” This can mean that the duties and responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse practitioner are always changing and that professionals in this role need to have a growing set of skills and experience to meet the needs of their job and to stay competitive in the field.

As is the case with all nursing professions, this may be a challenging career. But if your interests as a nurse lie in psychiatry or related fields, this role can offer significant personal and financial benefits.

Certified nurse midwife

Certified nurse midwives do more than help deliver babies. They often provide a full range of primary care for women.

According to the BLS, nurse midwives take in a mean salary of $96,511. California, West Virginia, and Massachusetts are the highest-paying states for this profession. Nurse midwives might work in hospitals or private clinics. Some choose to open their own practices, which can impact their earning potential.

The job outlook for all types of nurses is promising, but it’s especially so for nurse midwives. The BLS expects 45% growth between 2019 and 2029 in the employment of nurse midwives, much faster than the average for all occupations.

In contrast, the BLS projects the employment of registered nurses to increase by only 7% in that same period — still a booming career by any measure, but growing more slowly than the field for nurse midwives.

While it’s difficult to determine the exact salary or earning potential of a nurse midwife in the future, this role will likely remain one of the highest-paid nurse practitioner specialties in the years to come.

Other high-paying nurse specialties

In addition to the aforementioned roles, there are other nurse specialties that may offer a substantial paycheck to determined and experienced nursing professionals. Some of those listed on Nurse.org, along with their average salaries, include:

  • Family nurse practitioners, who focus on primary care for families — $84,240
  • Informatics nurses, who manage healthcare data and technology — $83,000
  • Clinical nurse specialists, who may provide direct care within a number of different specialties — between $75,000 and $85,000
  • Nurse administrators, who serve as nurse leaders — $79,064

Nurses who focus on caring for children are also well compensated. For example, pediatric endocrinology nurses earn an average of $81,000, according to Scrubs Mag.

It’s important to keep in mind that the pay for any nurse may depend on several factors, not just the nurse’s specific title. Experience, location, the employer, state regulations, and the nurse’s certifications may all come into play when determining compensation. When first pursuing one of the highest-paid nurse specialties, nurses may find that their salaries are below the average for their field until they gain more experience.

Conversely, nurse practitioners who have an advanced education like an MSN, work in an in-demand field in a state that historically has paid well, and possess more experience than their peers might find their salaries are above average.

How do I choose the nursing specialty that’s right for me?

If you’re a nurse who is thinking about furthering your education to enhance your career and earnings potential, it might be wise to consider what your career passions are and what role would best suit your strengths.

For example, while gerontology nurses are well paid, they might face emotional challenges that can often be overwhelming. Although nursing requires a certain degree of emotional detachment, we’re only human, and witnessing the daily struggles of patients can create a subconscious personal connection that can be difficult.

Being able to understand your professional interests, strengths, and weaknesses can be an important first step in deciding which of the highest-paid nurse practitioner specialties you want to pursue.

Once you’ve decided to earn an advanced nursing degree, you can also pursue an education that complements your goals. At Maryville University, our online Master of Science in Nursing allows students to pursue five specialties in the nursing field: adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, psychiatric mental health, pediatric primary care, and family nurse practitioner. That way, you can discover your nursing passion — and grow it into a rewarding career.

Sources

The American Academy of Pain Medicine, “AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain”

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, “Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses”

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Anesthetists” 

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners” 

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Midwives”

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Practitioners”

Business Insider, “Here’s Why Nurse Anesthetists Earn Over $150,000 a Year”

CNN, “One year after the pandemic was declared, 1 in 10 Americans have been fully vaccinated”

PayScale, “Salary for Certification: Pain Management (FAAPM)”

Payscale, “Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary”

Scrubs Mag, “Caring for an Aging Population: A Growing Need for Gerontological Nurses”

Payscale, “Average Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Salary”

Payscale, “Average Pain Management Nurse Hourly Pay”