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4 Nursing Specializations to Transform and Level Up Your Career!

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By Sheena Maireen Saavedra, BSN, R.N.

There are other specialized roles out there for nurses to choose from where they are getting paid higher than the normal rate, plus the demand is extremely high. These roles are often categorized as advanced practice registered nursing (APRN), and this level would demand a graduate level of education and clinical training. As of this time, the umbrella encompassing the nursing career has a lot of specialization and levels that it becomes difficult to choose which of these specialties the stable ones are or in demand.

So let’s just take a look at the top four nursing careers that are higher than that of a regular nurse: a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), a nurse practitioner (NP), a clinical nurse specialist (CNS), and a travelling nurse. They are like playing the role of a physician, and certain certifications and further education must be met in order to practice under that criteria.

This article will just give an overview on their average salary range, the requirements that need to be accomplished, as well as the variety of patients that they will encounter in these roles.

1. Certified Registered Nursing Anesthetist (CRNA)

These types of nurses are masters of pain control. They assess the pain levels and vital functions of the patients during a medical and surgical procedure. They act as a more or less, replacement of an anaesthesiologist, minus the PhD. So basically, if you have a fondness for surgery and you are good at the technical medical skills, or if you hate bedside continuity of care, or if you prefer your patient to be unconscious most of the time (no pun intended), then this job is for you. You work side by side with the surgical team as you are required to deliver the anesthesia during the procedure. It might sound overwhelming and scary, but if anaesthesiologists can do it, so can you.

Qualification: If you are already a licensed registered nurse, all you have to do is graduate with a master’s degree from an accredited nurse anesthetist program, and then pass the national certification examination after graduation. It would take at about two to two and a half years to complete the course.

Annual Salary Range: The average annual salary as of 2013 of being a CRNA is accounted at 150,000 USD or more, making this baby the biggest income generating nurse specialty ever.

Growth Outlook: Job growth for nurse anesthetists is expected to increase by 22% through 2018.

2. Nurse Practitioner (NP)

The state laws have different abiding rules for this particular field, but nevertheless, all NP’s function with the same variety of duties as that of a physician. Ever heard of stories where a nurse is giving minor procedures without any physician around, or giving medication orders in a hospital? Yep, those are NP’s. Some are still governed by a licensed physician though, while some are allowed to practice independently, but it really depends on what state you are in. NP’s are earning as much as that of a CRNA but they differ from the kind of experience that they acquire. NP’s are like a nurse and a physician all rolled into one, meaning, they give primary care, continuity of care, and they work closely with the patient from admission to discharge. Plus they can diagnose medical conditions and perform minor procedures as a physician would.

Qualification: Anyone who has a BSN degree, had passed the NCLEX examination, and had acquired a sufficient graduate record examination (GRE) score is welcome to be an NP. Some of the nurses, however, would first obtain a master’s level of education in nursing or MSN before signing up for an NP program in an accredited NP nursing school, which would take at about one to three years of education. And just like a physician, you can also choose your medical specialty, disease area, and target population before acquiring a license to practice in a specific state.

Annual Salary Range: From a survey in 2011, the average salary of an NP lands on 92,000 USD, although salary is greater for NP’s with a master’s degree. Although this could trigger trust issues as people would prefer the expertise of a physician knowing that the physician had more years of training with their residency phase than that of an NP, the boom of demands for NP’s all across the country is actually a good resolution for the rising problem of physician shortage.

Growth Outlook: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), that the demand for nurse practitioners in general is expected to rise by 34% from 2012 to 2022.

3. Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Sometimes called an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), a CNS is more focused on one particular medical specialty, to name a few, oncology, orthopaedics, paediatrics, etc. The scope of the CNS is wide, varying from educating their department staffs and patient, participating in research, maintaining and improving the quality of care provided by the staff, investigating clinical errors, formulating an action plan to encourage efficiency and hospital protocol implementation, go out on an outreach program in the community to improve the health of the population by providing health education and evaluation of the patient’s health, and function as a nurse manager.

Qualification: To give CNS a certain distinction, this is a registered nurse who has completed a master’s level or doctorate level of education (or also called as MSN) plus a national certification examination of their respective area of expertise.

Annual Salary Range: A certification for CNS is not available for all CNS specialties as per the certifying board. The average salary of a CNS is around 70,000 to 80,000 USD, but the pay varies according to the specialty, ranging up to 90,000 USD or more.

Growth Outlook: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for nurses are expected to grow 19% from 2012 to 2022, which is a higher rate than the average for all professions.

4. Travel Nurse

Travel nurses are, well, nurses who are required to travel and work on assignments that can be as short as a few days or as long as four months, depending on their availability and demand. They are in general, relievers whenever a shortage of nurses happens in a specific facility brought about by maternity leaves, illnesses, attrition, absences, or during peak season. Some would see this as an opportunity to be more flexible, gain constant change of environment, or just be in different locations for the heck of it.

Qualification: A travel nurse must have an RN degree. While this may be difficult for married nurses, this type of nursing career is more ideal for nurses without obligations tying them to their homes. This can be a great way to experiment and seek as to where you would want to settle in for the long-term. Travel nurses should be detail oriented and skilled in analysis. Knowledge in the local language would be useful as well if they travel internationally.

Annual Salary: The pay for a travel nurse is more or less, similar as that of a regular nurse, but they may be paid on a higher hourly rate depending on the agency or employer. Plus accommodation, food, transportation, and other expenses are generally covered by the employer, which makes this the perfect job for nurses who are wanderlusts but can’t afford to be one. Because travel nurses are often hired for critical needs, a travel nurse often earns significantly more than the median salary of 96,320 USD.

Growth Outlook: The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job growth outlook for registered nurses will be around 19% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average. Travel nurses can expect a comparable rate of growth.

Among the medical professions all over America, nurses constitutes the greatest population in the hospitals and clinics, mainly because of the flexibility of its scope. We can be at par with the doctors and at the same time, we can still be regarded as equals with patients, thus we are more approachable. Nurses are real-life superheroes and there is nothing in this world that they can never do.


Sheena Maireen Saavedra is a registered nurse since 2007. She is working as a general nurse in Ireland since 2016 but was a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit and Coronary Care Unit when she was in the Philippines. As a person who continually challenges herself to expand her skill set, she ventured into different fields of the medical world, which includes working as a Product Performance Analyst and Quality Analyst in Boston Scientifics Inc, a medical company that manufactures Class III implantable devices such as pacemakers, ICDs, and CRTs. In general, she enjoyed being a nurse as it helped her meet all kinds of people – which impacted her life the most as she listened to their stories of triumph and tribulations. The profession has created avenues for her to make a difference to somebody’s life. This inspired her to write materials, guides and stories that served as sources of inspiration and help to the world around her, in particular to her fellow sisters and brothers of the industry.

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