As rewarding is it is to put a smile on the face of a patient who is struggling, there’s no denying that a career as a nurse can be challenging. You want to make sure that the sometimes stressful job is worthwhile. With the right education and training, you can make your way into one of the highest paying jobs in nursing. Many of the highest paying nursing jobs require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, but you can also earn a great living with just your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

Nurse Anesthetist

The highest paying nurse role that involves direct patient care is that of a nurse anesthetist. These nurses are a type of specialized advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) whose primary job is to administer medications called anesthetics. These drugs are used to relieve pain, numb an area of the body or put a patient to sleep during a surgery or painful medical procedure.

Because it is so important to administer these medications correctly and at the correct dosage, there is a lot of pressure on a nurse anesthetist to do the job perfectly. This role is not for the faint of heart, but it does offer a lucrative $165,120 median salary, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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Career opportunities for nurse anesthetists are expected to rise by 16 percent over a decade – more than double the job growth expected for all occupations.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are perhaps the most widely recognized type of APRN. They are also highly paid, with a median salary of $103,880 per year.

The exact job duties of a nurse practitioner vary from one state to another. However, in many states, they are authorized to perform services usually reserved for physicians. A nurse practitioner may be an independent provider of primary or specialty care, performing tasks such as ordering tests, diagnosing patients’ medical conditions and prescribing treatment, including medications.  Nurse practitioners work in specialties such as psychiatry and mental health, family medicine and geriatrics.

Nurse practitioners are in particularly high demand, with the BLS expecting job opportunities to increase by 36 percent over just a decade.

Certified Nurse Midwife

If you’re interested in women’s health and maternal care, you can earn a six-figure salary delivering babies as a certified nurse midwife. Like nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, nurse midwives are highly educated APRNs. They complete advanced studies in providing prenatal care, assisting in childbirth in both home and hospital settings, caring for women postpartum and even performing gynecological well-woman exams for women who are not pregnant.

Certified nurse midwives earn a median wage of $100,590, according to the BLS. The job outlook for this advanced, specialized career is positive, with an expected 21 percent increase in opportunities over a decade.

There are currently just 6,500 nurse midwives working in the United States, but the BLS expects that number to rise to 7,800 by 2026.

The Highest Paying Specialties for Registered Nurses

To become any kind of APRN, including a nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner and nurse midwife, you need to earn an advanced degree. At a minimum, you need to attain the MSN degree, but due to recommendations from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing that all APRNs have a doctoral education, a DNP could be a better route to pursue.

You don’t have to be an APRN to make a good living as a nurse. As it is, registered nurses (RNs) earn a median wage of $70,000, well above the $37,690 median salary for all occupations the BLS reported. Choosing the right specialization and work environment can help you maximize your income potential, as can moving into a leadership role with the help of a BSN degree.

Developing specialized knowledge and experience in an in-demand specialty is one way to boost your wages as an RN. Among the highest paying nursing specialties are pediatric nurse, surgical nurse and critical care nurse.

Pediatric nurses earn a median wage of $89,000 working with children. A surgical first assistant nurse, who works as the senior nurse in an operating room, earns an average salary of $85,490. Critical care nurses work in intensive care units (ICUs) and make a median salary of $80,000.

Where you work also affects your salary potential. Registered nurses who work for the government earn the highest salaries, with a median wage of $75,900. Hospitals, which employ more than 60 percent of RNs, pay the next highest salary, with a median of $72,070.

Nurses who work in educational services typically earn the lowest salaries, with a median of $60,300.

There are plenty of high paying jobs in nursing, from administering anesthetics to assisting in the operating room. If you are more interested in another area besides patient care, you should know that there are also a number of high paying jobs with a nursing degree in alternative fields such as nursing leadership, education and research.