The 20 Best Nursing Career Specialties

The nursing field has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years, and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Many specialty areas also suffer from severe nursing shortages, which stems from a rapidly aging U.S. population that requires more healthcare services.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% job growth rate for registered nurses through 2026. This demand could edge even higher for some specialities, the most popular of which are listed below.

1. Neonatal Nurse

These professionals assist patients as they give birth and directly afterward. Some of these nurses work on labor and delivery or postpartum units, and monitor both the mothers and the babies in their care. Other neonatal nurses work in neonatal intensive care units, where newborn babies who are premature or ill can receive continuous care.

How to Become One: Like many nursing specialties, neonatal nurses must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and their RN license. These nurses must also earn certifications in neonatal resuscitation, a qualification some employers provide to new hires.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $61,212


2. Nurse Midwife

These advanced practice nurses guide patients through pregnancy and delivery, and they are often the primary provider for such clients. Nurse midwife is also one of the most in-demand nursing jobs in the country; the high pay rates reflect this growth, as well as the additional education these professionals receive compared to other registered nurse specialties

How to Become One: Candidates should earn a BSN and gain at least one year of experience in clinical nursing. They must also earn a master’s degree in nurse-midwifery and pass state licensing requirements.

Job Growth Rate: 31%

Salary: $100,590


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3. Clinical Nurse

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) is an umbrella term for advanced practice nurses with many different specialties. They sometimes oversee clinical floors to ensure that all nurses use best practices. Unlike other nursing careers at this level, CNS professionals do not need prescription privileges in order to practice

How to Become One: CNS candidates must first earn a BSN, and then typically practice in their preferred specialties for a few years. These professionals then earn an MSN in those concentrations and obtain their state certifications.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $87,138


4. Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nursing is a nursing field that defines itself by the hospital units in which they work. Critical care nurses help patients on critical care floors, which sometimes includes intensive care units and trauma floors. Unlike other nursing specialties, critical care nurses see sharp rises in salary averages throughout their careers

How to Become One: Critical care nursing candidates must possess valid RN licenses. Some hospitals prefer applicants with BSNs, but nurses with associate degrees can also find work.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $66,503


5. Dialysis Nurse

Patients suffering from kidney failure require regular dialysis to clean their blood. This process requires the attention of specialized nurses. Dialysis nurses assess patients before each procedure, ensure safety during the process, and perform assessments when the dialysis is complete. They may work in hospitals or outpatient dialysis centers

How to Become One: Dialysis nurses need active RN licenses, and can be more competitive on the job market with a BSN. While the minimum educational requirement is usually an associate degree, employers often prefer several years of nursing experience.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $66,500


6. Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses with prescription writing privileges who can work in as many different specialties as physicians. They may concentrate on specific demographics, diseases, or departments within a hospital. Some serve as primary care practitioners for children or adults. As the need for medical providers grows, nurse practitioners remain in demand

How to Become One: After earning their BSN, nurse practitioner candidates must complete master’s programs in their chosen specialties. They must also apply for state licensure and prescription writing rights.

Job Growth Rate: 31%

Salary: $103,880


7. Health Policy Nurse

An experienced healthcare worker with a deep understanding of the medical system, these nurses provide insight into how healthcare policy proposals may affect patients. Unlike different nursing specialties, health policy nurses do not treat patients directly. Instead, they work for government organizations and nonprofits to advocate for patients

How to Become One: Health policy nurses must typically hold a BSN and several years of bedside experience. Some candidates earn master’s degrees in public policy or healthcare administration, which make them more competitive on the job market.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: N/A


8. Informatics Nurse

Informatics nurses work at the intersection of and technology. They leverage their knowledge of human health and experience in bedside nursing to determine how emerging technology can help patients. They advise hospitals, practitioners, and companies that develop new healthcare technology. These positions require excellent technical skills, including those that involve big data and networks

How to Become One: In addition to an RN license, informatics nurse candidates should have a few years of bedside nursing experience and formal training with healthcare informatics. This training can take the form of a graduate certificate, continuing education credits, or an additional degree.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $77,460


9. Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses who must hold master’s degrees in anesthesiology. They administer topical, regional, and general anesthesia as needed, and enjoy the same prescription rights as physicians. Nurse anesthesiology is one of the highest paying nursing specialties

How to Become One: These specialized nurses must earn a BSN in general nursing and an MSN in nurse anesthesiology. They must also seek licensing and prescription privileges in their states.

Job Growth Rate: 31%

Salary: $165,120


10. Nurse Educator

Nurse educators use their first-hand experience and knowledge of medicine to train up-and-coming nurses. They work with hospitals and universities to design effective educational programs. Some focus on clinical hours for BSN students, while others teach courses at universities or create continuing education programs for practicing professionals

How to Become One: Students who want these positions should earn a BSN, gain several years of bedside nursing experience, and earn a master’s degree in nurse education.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $73,710


11. Nurse Advocate

These nurses communicate between patients and medical teams. They ensure high levels of care and intervene on behalf of patients whenever a problem arises. While all nurses advocate for patients, these specialized professionals exclusively do this work. These nurses typically work in hospitals and outpatient surgery centers

How to Become One: To become a nurse advocate individuals must earn an RN license, but do not need additional formal education. Applicants often have many years of bedside nursing experience and excel in patient relations.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $61,619


12. Nurse Researcher

Nurse researchers conduct studies and analyze data to innovate in healthcare. They can work for hospitals, research laboratories, clinics, or pharmaceutical companies. These nurses typically research topics that may affect nursing — such as ways to make it safer — but they do not carry out bedside nursing tasks

How to Become One: Nurse researchers must have a BSN and an advanced degree in nursing-related fields. Their master’s degree should be research-intensive, and some employers prefer candidates with bedside nursing experience.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $81,500


13. Pain Management Nurse

A pain management nurse assists and treats patients suffering from chronic or acute pain. With an estimated 50 million Americans living with some form of chronic pain, this is one of the most in-demand nursing jobs in the country

How to Become One: Candidates should earn an RN license either at the BSN or associate level. To make their applications more competitive, they should earn certifications through the American Society for Pain Management Nursing.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $61,619


14. Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses assist patients with mental illnesses. They work in hospitals and in-patient care facilities to ensure that patients take their medications, stay safe from harm, and attend counseling sessions. They can also work with patients who have Alzheimer’s or dementia either through in-home care or skilled nursing facilities

How to Become One: Psychiatric nurses must hold a valid RN license, ideally at the BSN level. Candidates can also earn a master’s degree and certification from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration to become advanced practice nurses in this specialty.

Job Growth Rate: 26%

Salary: $60,239


15. Trauma Nurse

These specialized nurses work on the trauma units in hospitals. Their patients recover from physical traumas, including serious injuries from accidents. Some trauma nurses become advanced practice nurses or nurse practitioners within the specialty. These professionals can prescribe medications and earn more than many of their RN colleagues

How to Become One: Trauma nurses must earn an RN license and certification from the Society of Trauma Nurses to remain competitive. Advanced practice nurses must earn master’s degrees and prescription licenses from their states.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $61,866


16. Travel Nurse

As the title implies, travel nurses go from one facility to another, depending on the need. They travel between hospitals, clinics, private practices, and outpatient centers to fill staffing needs. These nurses can specialize in a specific type of practice, or be available to work in any role

How to Become One: Travel nurses can work at any level, from ADN to BSN, but many hospitals prefer BSN candidates. Some travel nursing agencies require applicants to have three or more years of experience.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $65,995


17. Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses help children in a variety of settings. They can work anywhere that children receive medical treatment, including pediatric hospitals, pediatric wings in traditional hospitals, and private practices

How to Become One: Although organizations can hire pediatric nurses at any education level, candidates should earn a BSN to be competitive in the field. Applicants can also earn certifications from organizations such as the American Nurse Credentialing Center.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $58,726


18. Geriatric Nurse

As baby boomers age and require more medical attention, geriatric nursing is one of the most in-demand nursing jobs. Geriatric nurses work in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to care for patients in the golden years of their lives. They are skilled in areas such as memory care and end-of-life nursing

How to Become One: ADN and LVN degrees often suffice for these positions. However, candidates with a BSN or additional credentials — such as the Gerontological Nursing Certification — tend to earn more than their associate-level peers.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $57,500


19. Public Health Nurse

While professionals in most nursing fields care for a few patients per shift, public health nurses look after whole communities. These professionals are employed by government agencies and hospitals to design and implement health campaigns that impact the surrounding areas or specific populations. Some public health nurses earn master’s degrees and work in management-level positions

How to Become One: Public health nurses must earn an RN license, preferably with a BSN. The National Board of Public Health Examiners offers a certification that can make candidates competitive.

Job Growth Rate: N/A

Salary: $57,167


20. Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses work exclusively with patients who receive cancer treatments. These professionals assist with in-patient care for those who stay in hospitals or outpatient treatments, such as chemotherapy. They tend to work for hospitals, but can also find employment at private oncology practices. In addition to medication administration, oncology nurses educate patients about their illnesses

How to Become One: Oncology nurses must earn an RN license in their state either with a BSN or associate degree. They can also earn certifications from qualified organizations, such as the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.

Job Growth Rate: 19%

Salary: $68,160