Nursing’s Top Three Careers

June 17th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Working as a nurse is a gratifying career in terms of working with people and having a positive impact on the world around you. It is a job you can take with you everywhere in the world — there is always a need for what you do within dozens of industries. You can join the military, work in the corporate world or even set up shop on your own in some areas.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are over 2.5 million nurses practicing nationwide, and nurses are the largest single workforce in the healthcare industry. Many of the best nursing jobs require higher education, and there are so many areas to choose from that deciding which path to take may be overwhelming.

Over the years, nursing has become a more profitable occupation. The supply of nurses is down, and as the baby boomer population ages, demand for those nurses goes up. This demand drives nurses' compensation into a category that is lucrative, and you don't have to be in management to make a good living. Nursing is also a profession which offers job security.

Below are the top three nursing fields, based on annual salary and industry demand. Because they are the highest paid, these nursing roles also require the most education and training. All of the below are advanced practice nursing occupations that require graduate education.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Nurse Anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients in collaboration with anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists and other qualified health care professionals. As advanced practice registered nurses, CRNAs practice with a high degree of autonomy.

CRNAs are the primary providers of anesthesia care in rural America, enabling healthcare facilities in these medically underserved areas to offer obstetrical, surgical, and trauma stabilization services. In some states, CRNAs are the sole providers in nearly 100 percent of the rural hospitals. They have been the main providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military personnel on the front lines since WWI, including current conflicts in the Middle East.

To become a CRNA, you need to hold a bachelor’s degree in a science subject or nursing; be a licensed RN with one or more years of experience in an acute care setting; graduate from an accreditated anesthesia education program; and earn your certification from the National Boards of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

CRNA base salaries are among the highest in nursing, averaging $100,000 or more.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse Practitioners are registered nurses with advanced degrees and clinical training who provide preventive and acute health care services. NPs take health histories and provide complete physical examinations; diagnose and treat many common acute and chronic problems; interpret laboratory results and X-rays; and prescribe and manage medications and other therapies. NPs provide health teaching and supportive counseling with an emphasis on prevention of illness and health maintenance and refer patients to other health professionals as needed.

Nurse practitioners are also in very high demand in rural areas. Primary care providers of any kind are frequently scarce, and much of the rural U.S. has no primary care providers at all. In many states NPs practice independently and are legally allowed to prescribe medications. Laws regarding nurse practitioners vary widely and in some states NPs are required to practice under the supervision of a physician, and must have a licensed physician to sign off on their work.

NPs earn around $80,000 a year. A nurse practitioner must hold a master's of science (MSN) in nursing or higher degree in addition to being certified nationally in an area of specialty like acute care, family medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, or adult care and be licensed by their state nursing board.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice nurse who also assists with specialized research, education and advocacy. In addition to being Registered Nurses, Clinical Nurse Specialists also have earned an MSN and completed additional CNS certification for their respective area of expertise.

Clinical Nurse Specialists are, as the name implies, trained and educated in a particular medical specialty. For example, a CNS of psychiatry would be highly trained in the treatment of psychiatric patients. A CNS of psychiatry may assist with clinical trials, and hold informational or educational meetings for psych patients and their families or other psychiatric nurses. Additionally, the CNS for psychiatry may assist in developing nursing protocols or quality improvement methods within the psychiatric department of a hospital.

Clinical Nurse Specialists are found in areas as diverse as oncology, cardiology, infectious disease and many more. The average pay seems to fall between $70,000-$80,000 a year.

While the average salary for CNS roles is around $70,000 – 80,000, it’s difficult to quote an average salary across all CNS jobs, as pay varies according to the sub-specialty. Some positions pay up to $90,000 or more with experience.

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