5 high-paying nursing specialties
Developing your nursing career around your personal interests and passions can earn you a high salary.
You know you want to be a nurse, but you’re trying to narrow down your focus. How do you decide which of the many nursing specialties will make the long hours and extensive education feel worth it?
Naturally, you want to be passionate about your professional pursuit. Do you love working with kids? Or do you prefer geriatric patients? You also want to feel comfortable in your work environment. Would the ER give you an adrenaline rush or a panic attack?
Realistically, though, you also want to be compensated for your hard work. So once you’ve narrowed down the field by your top interests, be sure to consider salary. (Tip: Monster's Salary Guide can be a good place to start your research.) Salary will be determined not only by your specialty, but also by your years of experience and where in the country you are employed. For example, an operating room nurse salary in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is 12% higher than the national average; a nurse supervisor salary in Newton, Kansas, is 17% higher than the national average; and an ICU nurse salary in New York City is 6% higher than the national average.
Based on salary data from Burning Glass, we’ve compiled five lucrative nursing specialties to consider.
Operating room nurse
What you'd do: An operating room (OR) nurse is a good position for somebody who excels in a dynamic work environment and enjoys working with patients and their families, as well as with other health care professionals.
Generally, most OR nurses have excellent communications skills and an eye for detail. They work well as part of a team and can make critical decisions with confidence.
As an OR nurse, you may prep patients for surgery (known as a pre-op nurse), work as part of the surgical team during the procedure (an intra-OP nurse or “scrub nurse”), or care for patients after surgery (a post-op nurse). OR nurses work in hospitals as well as outpatient surgery clinics.
What you'd need: Beyond an RN license, OR nurses may require certification for their specific role. For example, pre-op nurses require the CNOR credential for perioperative registered nurses. RN nurses who assist surgeons (RNFAs) will need to complete a CRNFA certification program.
What you'd make: In 2020, the median salary for OR nurses is $76,000. Job openings for OR nurses are expected to increase by 14.8% in the next ten years.
Find OR nurse jobs on Monster.
Emergency room nurse
What you'd do: As an emergency room (ER) nurse, you are typically working with patients in crisis. It’s a high-stress and fast-paced job, and no two days are the same.
You must be able to assess, triage, and stabilize patients quickly. You’ll need to be calm under pressure and able to communicate effectively—with both team members and patients’ families. It also helps if you have a broad range of knowledge, which is why ER nurses tend to be more experienced nurses.
Most ER nurses will work in hospital emergency departments, but working for the military is another option. ER nurses also make great flight nurses, transporting critically ill patients.
What you'd need: RNs hoping to specialize in ER care should first gain as much experience as possible. Seek opportunities for internships or orientation programs geared to non-emergency nurses. Once you’ve spent a couple years in the ER, you should complete the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification.
There are also specialized ER nursing certifications available, which provide a smart way to further increase your focus—and, often, your salary. Certified flight registered nurse (CFRN) and certified pediatric emergency nurse (CPEN) are among the options.
What you'd make: The median salary for ER RNs is $76,000. The outlook is positive for this position—with job prospects expected to grow about 14.8% throughout the next decade.
Find ER nurse jobs on Monster.
What you'd need: RN supervisors—sometimes called charge nurses—manage a team of RNs. They assign patients and schedule hours. As a supervisor, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring smooth operations in your unit.
Beyond patient care skills, a nurse supervisor position requires a blend of management and organizational talents. Your duties will include administrative and clinical tasks in addition to supporting and overseeing staff. You may also be involved with hiring.
What you'd need: While you don’t need specialized certification beyond your RN license, many employers require candidates have a BSN.
What you'd make: As with most fields, it pays to be a supervisor. Today’s median salary for nurse supervisors falls at $73,000, but many will see an annual income of $90,000. A job growth of just under 15% is expected over the next 10 years.
Find nurse supervisor jobs on Monster.
What you'd do: Some endoscopy nurses specialize in the procedures used to diagnose and assess gastroenterological and respiratory disorders. Others may focus more on treating the disorders. (In fact, they are sometimes called “gastroenterology nurses.”)
Either way, an endoscopy RN must be skilled in working with patients who are facing potentially serious health conditions and uncomfortable procedures. Reflux, chronic diarrhea, colon and rectal cancer, Crohn’s disease, and cystic fibrosis are some of the many disorders endoscopy nurses work with.
Endoscopy nurses are found in hospitals as well as outpatient facilities. Depending on the employer, job responsibilities may include prepping patients before endoscopy, monitoring the patient and assisting the doctor during the procedure, cleaning and organizing medical instruments, and labeling specimens.
What you'd need: While not required, certification through the American Board of Certification for Gastroenterology Nurses (ABCGN) is recommended—and only available to RNs who have completed the equivalent of two years’ full time in the gastroenterology or endoscopy field.
What you'd make: The median annual income for endoscopy nurses is $72,000, and the job opportunities are expected to rise by 14.8% in the next decade.
Find endoscopy nurse jobs on Monster.
Intensive care registered nurse
What you'd need: If you have your sights set on being an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse, you’ll need superior technical skills, emotional resilience, as well as the ability to think and act quickly. As an ICU nurse, your job is caring for patients who are considered unstable. You are making decisions that are literally life or death.
ICU nurses may choose an additional specialty that narrows their focus to a specific population or condition. For example, pediatric ICU nurses care for children. Cardiac ICU nurses work with individuals who need cardiac surgery, and therefor may work in a hospital’s cardiac unit or cath lab. Other ICU specialties include neurological, burn, neonatal, trauma, and transplant.
What you'd need: The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers several options for certification within the specialty. Many employers will require certification in addition to your RN license.
What you'd make: In 2020, $72,000 is the median salary for ICU nurses. This nursing specialty is expected to grow by 14.8% in the next decade.
Find ICU nurse jobs on Monster.
Find all nursing jobs on Monster.
Having a specialty of any kind can make you more desirable to employers, but it'll do you little good if you're not getting noticed. Need some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of nursing specialties that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox so you can get a jump on the application process. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can begin putting that speciality to good use.