Top 5 Highest Paying RN Salaries

Top 5 Highest Paying RN Salaries

As a registered nurse, you have almost unlimited options for specialization. Some nurses go on to become advanced practice providers, while others choose to specialize in critical care, neonatal intensive care, or other disciplines.

Your choice of specialty affects many things about your employment, including your job duties and continuing education requirements. When it comes to different RN specialties, salaries vary widely. Here’s a guide to the top five highest-paying RN specialties of 2023 to help you make a decision.

top 5 highest paying rn salaries

1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) – $195,603

Certified registered nurse anesthetists top the list of highest-paying RN specialties for 2023. A CRNA is an advanced practice provider who gives anesthesia to patients undergoing medical procedures. Before the procedure, a CRNA educates patients about the risks of anesthesia and obtains consent to administer anesthetics as needed. Once the surgery begins, the CRNA administers anesthetics and monitors the patient’s vital signs. CRNAs also help manage each patient’s recovery once a procedure is over and the anesthesia begins to wear off.

  • Weekly Travel Rate: $6,799
  • Hourly Rate: $94.04
  • Education Requirements: BSN and graduate degree required
  • Certifications: NBCRNA certification required
  • Career Outlook: 40% increase between 2021 and 2031

2. General Nurse Practitioner – $123,780

Nurse practitioners collaborate with physicians and other healthcare providers to help patients in need of preventive care, acute care, or care for chronic medical conditions. Common job duties include ordering lab tests and X-rays, performing physical examinations, diagnosing health conditions, and educating patients on how to prevent chronic disease.

  • Weekly Travel Rate: $2,765
  • Hourly Rate: $59.51
  • Education Requirements: BSN and master’s or doctoral degree required
  • Certifications: National NP board certification required
  • Career Outlook: 40% increase between 2021 and 2031

3. Neonatal Nurse – $101,920

Neonatal nurses take care of newborn babies, ensuring they’re as healthy as possible before they leave the hospital. Many of these babies have acute health conditions or birth defects requiring special care. It’s the neonatal nurse’s job to conduct assessments, perform examinations, and let the physician or nurse practitioner know if a baby is experiencing any complications. Level I neonatal nurses care for healthy newborns, while Level II neonatal nurses care for babies born as much as 8 weeks early, leaving them in need of specialized care. Level III neonatal nursing jobs involve working in neonatal intensive care units, providing care for extremely premature newborns and newborns with serious medical problems.

  • Weekly Travel Rate: $2,932
  • Hourly Rate: $49
  • Education Requirements: ADN or BSN in nursing required
  • Certifications: Neonatal Resuscitation Program certification required; CCRN desirable
  • Career Outlook: 6% between 2021 and 2031

4. ICU Nurse – $118,560

An ICU nurse works in an intensive care unit, which is reserved for critically ill patients. These units have lower nurse-to-patient ratios, so nurses typically spend their shifts caring for just one or two patients. In the ICU, nursing professionals take patient vital signs, perform wound care, and respond to emergencies, among other responsibilities. Since patients in an intensive care unit are critically ill, they often have chest tubes, ventilators, surgical drains, and multiple intravenous lines. This is one of the highest-paying RN specialties due to the extensive amount of knowledge required to operate ICU equipment and manage patients who have life-threatening illnesses and injuries.

  • Weekly Travel Rate: $2,422
  • Hourly Rate: $57
  • Education Requirements: ADN or BSN required
  • Certifications: CCRN desirable
  • Career Outlook: 6% between 2021 and 2031

5. Certified Nurse Midwife – $111,842

Nurse midwives focus on female reproductive health, including childbirth and postpartum care. This is one of the highest-paying RN specialties due to the additional education required to attend births, provide prenatal care, and diagnose disorders of the female reproductive tract. Certified nurse midwives are responsible for confirming pregnancy, monitoring pregnant women during labor, managing labor complications, performing physical exams, and screening patients for reproductive health conditions. Nurse midwives also perform preventive screenings and educate patients about their bodies.

  • Weekly Travel Rate: N/A
  • Hourly Rate: $53.77
  • Education Requirements: BSN and master’s in midwifery required
  • Certifications: AMCB certification required
  • Career Outlook: 40% between 2021 and 2031


When Should You Choose a Nursing Specialty?

You don’t have to choose a specialty right away. If you’re not sure what type of nursing work you want to do, consider completing an externship, internship, or nursing residency. These programs typically allow nurses to rotate through several departments, providing insight into what each type of nurse does.

If working as a nurse practitioner appeals to you, shadow a current NP to learn more about what they do and determine whether the profession is a good fit for your skills and interests. Rotating through several departments can also help you develop additional skills, making you better qualified for some of the top-paying nursing specialties.

What Should I Consider When Choosing a Nursing Specialty?

Pay isn’t the only consideration when you’re choosing a nursing specialty. You also need to think about these factors:

  • Do you want to work with children or adults?
  • If you work with adults, would you rather they be younger or older?
  • Are you interested in any particular health issues?
  • Does the specialty require additional education or certifications?
  • Would you prefer to work at the bedside or in an administrative capacity? 

Which Nursing Specialties Are Low-Stress?

No nursing specialty is completely stress-free, as nurses have the important responsibility of caring for sick patients and helping people improve their health. If you’re concerned about managing stress, you may want to choose a specialty that allows you to work in a doctor’s office or clinic, rather than a busy hospital that’s always handling emergencies.

Will I Need Additional Education or Training for an RN Specialty?

For many specialties, you’ll need to complete an advanced degree or obtain a professional certification to practice. Examples include midwifery, nurse anesthesia, and neonatal nursing. Keep these requirements in mind as you decide which of the top-paying nursing jobs to choose.