Best Nursing Career Specialties Based on Salary, Demand and Job Satisfaction
When most people contemplate nursing as a career, they think of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). RN is the most common designation within the nursing profession, but there are hundreds of nursing career specialities to choose from–even within the sphere of being an RN. The label "Best" is subjective, and we don't believe their is one best nursing career field or specialty for everyone interested in nursing, but it is a good idea to become familiar with all your nursing career options–especially those with a favorable employment outlook, substantial earning potential and high job satisfaction.
Below you'll find our editors' choice of the best nursing career fields and specialities in the United States based on demand, employment outlook, earning potential and job satisfaction.
1. School NurseSchool nursing isn't among the top paying specialties in the industry, but this job has a few perks other nursing positions don't. For starters, school nurses only work about 9 months a year, they get their evenings and weekends off, and receive fall and spring vacation. In short, they work while school is in session–and when school is out, so are they! If you want to be a nurse, while maintaining a normal schedule and personal life, then school nursing may be the perfect career option for you. The main duty of a school nurse is to watch over and treat ill students, as well as administer medications from time to time. To become a school nurse requires a valid RN license and typically a few years of experience following graduation from an accredited nursing program.
School nursing is a fulfilling career option. You work with kids on a daily basis, assisting those who become ill or have special needs (both emotional and physical). School nurses are often on the front line in the fight against child abuse. School nursing also has its challenges. School nurses are required to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities, assist neglected children and deal with these effects of dysfunctional families and poverty. School nurses report to both a nursing coordinator for the school district as well as the school principal. This can become challenging when the nursing coordinator and school principal have conflicting goals for students.
Median Salary: $45,500
2. Certified Nurse MidwifeCertified nurse midwife is an advanced practice nursing specialty that requires an advanced nursing degree and certification. Nurses who pursue a career in this specialty typically obtain RN licensure and then get a few years of experience in general nursing before returning to school and completing the certified nurse midwife certification.
Certified nurse midwifes work with obstetricians preparing pregnant mothers for labor and delivering babies. In many states, certified nurse midwifes are not required to work under the supervision of a physician and can deliver babies on their own. Nurse midwifes often continue to work with new mothers after the birth of their child, providing routine exams and educating mothers how to care for their newborn infants.
The first step to becoming a certified nurse midwife is to become a licensed Registered Nursing (RN). You'll then need to gain a few years of experience working in obstetrics. Before you can practice as a nurse midwife you'll also need to complete a certified nurse midwife program and then apply for certification through the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), or a similar organization.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, growth in employment opportunities for certified nurse midwives is projected to increase by 22% through 2018.
Median Salary: $92,200
3. Clinical Nurse SpecialistClinical nurse specialists are trained to work with patients in clinical settings. Clinical nurse specialists diagnose and treat patients dealing with many of the same health conditions and illnesses traditionally treated by a physician. Like a physician, clinical nurse specialists can prescribe medications.
Clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice nursing specialty that requires a masters degree in nursing, with a concentration in clinical practice. Before you can become a clinical nurse specialists it's also necessary to earn a bachelors degree in nursing, become a licensed RN and obtain a few years of relevant experience.
As with other advanced practice specialties, it is possible to continue working as an RN while you complete the education requirements required to become a clinical nurse specialist.
Median Salary: $93,900
4. Critical Care NurseCritical care nurses provide direct patient care to seriously injured or sick people in the intensive care unit (ICU) of hospitals and medical centers. Critical care nurses may work in general ICU units or in ICUs that specialize in treating patients with specific health conditions or injuries such as burns, heart disease, neurological problems, etc.
Unlike advanced practice nurses, critical care nurses are not required to complete additional schooling beyond that required to obtain licensure as an RN. They may however be required to receive special training, complete continuing education courses on an ongoing basis to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, and pass a certification exam. Typically, an RN must work in a critical care unit (or ICU) for a minimum of two years before they can qualify for certification as a critical care nurse.
Job growth for critical care nurses is projected to increase by over 25% through 2020.
Median Salary: $75,000
5. Gerontological Nurse PractitionerGerontological nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who specialize in direct patient care for the elderly. Due to an aging population of baby boomers, the number of elderly in country as a percentage of the overall population is growing at an increasing rate. As our population ages, the services of gerontological nurse practitioners will be in high demand.
Gerontological nurse practitioners work wherever there are elderly; in homes, hospitals, nursing homes, retirement centers, and clinics. Gerontological nurse practitioners in some states have many of the same responsibilities as physicians. Many even have their own private practice where they diagnose and treat patients.
Like general practitioners, gerontological nurse practitioners diagnose illnesses and conditions, develop treatment programs, perform routine check-ups and prescribe medications. In order become a gerontological nurse, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree and master's degree in nursing, and then pursue certification in gerontological nursing.
Median Salary: $92,200
6. Health Policy NurseUnlike the majority of registered nurses, health policy nurse do not typically work at the clinical level in a direct patient care environment. Health policy nurses work with communities and the public to develop public policies aimed at producing healthier populations.
In addition to working with community and civic leaders to develop policy, health policy nurses analyze current policy, laws and reguations and work to change public opinion and attitudes about important health issues. Health policy nurses are employed by the federal government, public agencies, universities and state legislatures.
The first step to becoming a health policy nurse is to get your RN license. This in turn will require earning your bachelor's degree in nursing. To become a health policy nurse you'll also need to earn a master's degree in nursing and complete an approved 10-week health policy residency program. While a doctorate degree in nursing is not required to become a health policy nurse, it is highly recommended. Earning doctorate degree will provide you more credibility and greater earning potential.
Due to new mandates set forth in the Affordable Care Act, job opportunities for health policy nurses are expected to be strong.
Median Salary: $92,000
7. Diabetes NurseDiabetes nurses are nurse specialist who provide direct patient care to diabetics. Diabetics are individuals whose bodies are unable to produce the insulin required to process the sugars found in most foods. Consequently, their bodies can quickly become depleted of vital nutrients and unable to produce the energy required for proper metabolism and bodily function. Patients with diabetes suffer from a variety of health problems and ailments.
Diabetes nurses assist diabetics through the treatment process by providing them education, nutritional information, proper exercise routines and emotional support. Diabetes nurses often work with or under the supervision of an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in conditions such as diabetes.
The first step to becoming a diabetes nurses is to obtain licensure as a registered nurse and then gain a few years (500 hours) of experience working in a hospital or medical facility that specializes in treating patients with diabetes. Diabetes nurses must also complete a master's degree in nursing and the Advanced Diabetes Management Certification sponsored by the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).
Due to increasingly poor diet, and an epidemic of obesity in the United States, diabetes is one of the fastest-growing health conditions in the country. As such, the demand for diabetes nurses is strong and will continue to grow for many years to come. The rate of growth for diabetes nurses is currently estimated at a whopping 39%!.
Median Salary: $75,000
8. Family Nurse PractionerFamily nurse practitioners work under the supervision of licensed physician. They examine patients, diagnose illnesses, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications. Nurse practitioners provide essentially the same services as a family practice doctor. In some states, nurse practitioners are allowed to setup and run their own private practice–without the supervision of a physician.
To become a certified family nurse practitioner requires a bachelor's degree and master's degree in nursing. You must also obtain licensure as a registered nurse. After completing your master's degree, you must apply for family practitioner certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
Demand for nurse practitioners is estimated to grow at about 26% through 2020. Demand for certified family nurse practitioners is expected to increase at about the same rate.
Median Salary: $94,500
9. Gerontological Nurse PractitionerGerontological nurse practioners, ike geriatricians (geriatric doctors), work exclusively with elderly patients, conducting examines, diagnosing illness and disease, developing treatment plans, prescribing medication and performing routine check-ups. Due to a growing elderly population in the United States, demand for gerontological nurses is expected to be high for many years to come.
Gerontological nurse practitioners work in a variety of healthcare settings including clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, home healthcare services and in hospice facilities. Some gerontological nurse practitioners even run their own private practices.
Like other nurse practitioners and advanced practice specialists, gerontological nurse practitioners are required to be licensed as an RN, complete a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing and pass a certification exam. The certification required to practice as a gerontological nurse practitioner is provided through the American Nurses Credentially Center of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
Employment growth for all nurse practitioners is estimated at about 26% through 2020. Demand for certified gerontological nurse practitioners is expected to increase at about the same rate.
Median Salary: $92,200
10. Medical-Surgical NurseMedical-surgical nurses are RNs that provided specialized care to patients in hospitals and surgical settings. They often work directly with patients providing pre- and post-operative care. With over 17% of nurses working in this specialty, medical-surgical nursing is the largest specialized field of practice in nursing.
Medical-surgical nurses have a wide array of duties, including assisting with surgeries, providing pre- and post-operative care, monitoring recovery, developing recovery plans, providing post-operative check-ups and monitoring medications prescribed by physicians.
The first step to becoming a medical-surgical nurse is to obtain licensure as a registered nurse. If you know you want to become a medical-surgical nurse before you've become an RN, it's recommended that you take medical-surgical nursing electives while completing your RN program. In addition to licensure as an RN, medical-surgical nursing candidates are required to pass the medical-surgical credentialing exam through the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board and obtain 2000 hours of on-the-job experience in medical-surgical nursing.
Employment growth for medical-surgical nurses is estimated to increase by 30% through 2020.
Median Salary: $75,000
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