nurse bedside smiling at patient
HealthJuly 16, 2018

22 of the best nursing jobs you can get after you graduate

Gone are the days where students graduating with nursing degrees are pigeonholed into wearing scrubs and working their entire careers in a hospital setting. Editor's Note: This article was originally published with 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and has been updated with 2021 data.

There's no arguing that technology has been the catalyst to the developmental boom of numerous industries, but few have evolved at the pace that medicine and patient care have. As a result, the availability of job opportunities in nursing now expands far beyond hospital walls, opening up new nursing career options for both recent graduates as well as experienced nurses seeking a new challenge.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of nurses to increase 9% by 2030, creating 276,800 additional nursing jobs. With job opportunities in nursing on the rise, aspiring and established nurses alike are left wondering the same questions: What are the best nursing jobs? What should I be looking at as far as nursing salaries? What are the best nursing jobs for moms? How about nursing jobs for men?

Registered nurses have an open road map in front of them, with each route leading them towards a unique specialty with its own requirements, benefits, challenges, and pay grades. Some nurses specialize by people group - like babies or elderly patients, or by body parts or conditions - like cardiovascular nurses or dialysis nurses. Moving outside the hospital, some nurses prefer working in a school setting, or consulting within corporations as an occupational nurse.

Identifying the best nursing jobs

As you research the “best nursing jobs", remember that what's best for someone else may not be what's best for you. This phrase is totally subjective, and people enter the nursing field for different reasons with different passions, lifestyles, and family life. What you may be thinking about when researching the best nursing jobs is actually the highest paying nursing jobs. That's another story...

To help you sort through, we've compiled this list of 22 nursing jobs that span the spectrum of career opportunities for people with nursing degrees. Read through them with an open mind; you'll be surprised at what's out there!

Highest paying nursing jobs

As of May 2021, there were close to 3 million registered nurses employed in the United States, racking up a mean hourly wage of $38.78, with annual wages around $82,500. In order to boost nursing salaries above the mean, most nurses seek additional certifications, advanced degrees, and hone their skill set around one area of expertise. Skill set aside, one of the major factors influencing nursing salaries is geography.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from May 2021, the highest paid nursing jobs are found in California ($124,000), Hawaii ($105,530), Oregon ($98,630), District of Columbia ($98,540), and Alaska ($97,230). On the opposite end of the spectrum, nurses in states like South Dakota, Alabama, and Mississippi are making under $30 an hour. If you're flexible about where you live and work, it can have a major impact on how much you're making each year. But remember, those salaries also often correlate to cost of living in those areas - it will cost you much more to live in California or Hawaii than it will for you to live in South Dakota or Mississippi.

The top 4 highest paying nursing jobs

1. Certified registered nurse anesthetist

Average: $195,610/year

Nurse anesthetists are in one of the most well-respected fields in nursing, and it requires years of education, training, and experience to become one. These nurses provide anesthesia to patients, typically in a surgical, dental, or ER/OR scenario.

2. Dean of nursing

Average: $188,778/year

Love nursing? Love teaching? This could be the perfect fit for you. Nurses in this role are working in a university setting executing the planning and leadership to keep the school's nursing program running smoothly. They're responsible for keeping up with advances and research in the medical field as well as implementing curriculum to best prepare nursing students for the workplace.

3. General nurse practitioner

Average: $120,680/year

A general nurse practitioner role offers nurses a variety of options. They can work in a variety of primary care setting like hospitals or clinics, or open an independent practice on their own. This is a growing field that typically requires a Master of Science in Nursing, plus a Nurse Practitioner license.

4. Certified nurse midwife

Average: $116,253/year

This is a unique nursing position, but if you have the experience, time, and care to give to expectant mothers, this can be a truly rewarding nursing career path. Oftentimes the role as nurse midwife doesn't end after the delivery, as many midwives continue a working relationship with the mother and newborn with follow-up care. Midwives can work independently or under the direction of a physician.

18 additional nursing jobs worth exploring

5. Gerontological nurse practitioner

A high percentage of patients in clinical settings are older, creating more demand for gerontological nurses who specialize in working with elderly patients. Registered nurses (RNs) must become a Certified Gerontological Nurse Practitioner in order to practice this specialty, but you get high earning potential and job security in return.

6. Family nurse practitioner

This type of nursing career is similar to the primary care physician that you and your family have been seeing growing up. A Family Nurse Practitioner works inside a medical office, hospital, clinic, or their own practice offering consultations, physicals, prescribing medications, and general treatments to the local community.

7. School nurse

If you love being a nurse but can't picture yourself enjoying a long-term career inside a clinical setting, consider becoming a school nurse. You get to work with children of various ages and administer care as needed, as well as tackling the important role of health education, dispensing medication, and providing preventative screening exams. A big-time benefit here is the traditional work hours (and summer vacations!). You'll need to earn your BSN and be a registered nurse in order to practice inside a school.

8. Nurse educator

As the demand for nurses continues to increase, so does the need for qualified educators. It can be a nice change of pace for nurses to work in colleges and universities teaching clinical and classroom knowledge to students. Off campus, nurse educators could work in medical device manufacturing companies, textbook publishing companies, research facilities, and more.

9. Nurse life-care planner

Life-care planners work with doctors and nurse practitioners to develop long-term care plans for patients with terminal illnesses or long-term medical needs. After two years of long-term care experience, nurses have the option to become a certified nurse life-care planner. Once certified, life-care planners coordinate with families, insurance companies, lawyers, and anyone else involved in the decision making and payment plans of the patient.

10. Home health nurse

As technology continues to fuel the medical industry and the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the way care is delivered, patient care has become increasingly mobile, leading to a rise in home health nurses assisting patients in their home after leaving a clinical setting. This could be short-term or long-term care, and daily responsibilities are similar to those of a nurse in a hospital setting.

11. Telemedicine nurse

The telemedicine nursing field is growing, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine nurses use video technology to connect with patients regardless of location for monitoring, check-ups, consultations, and more. With the increased use of telemedicine tools among healthcare providers to connect with patients, nurses with a passion for technology could find a niche they love.

12. Nursing informatics

Nursing informatics is really the future of nursing, and allow nurses to use health information systems to collaborate and analyze patient data. Nurses interested in the IT/analytics side of nursing should get their BSN and a few years of field experience under their belts before receiving their informatics nursing certification. Advances in this field lead to more streamlined processes and provide nurses with more time with their patients.

13. Clinical social worker

Working inside schools, mental health clinics, or government agencies can be a smooth transition for a career-nurse looking for a new path. With a master's degree and clinical experience in your arsenal, you could help diagnose and treat people while having a more personal and impactful experience.

14. Nurse health coach

This is a really cool nursing position offering a variety of opportunities. Once you're a registered nurse, you can “coach" others and offer health services within your knowledge base and expertise. You could collaborate with insurance companies who offer health incentives, go the corporate route and work within large businesses coaching employees, or start your own businesses.

15. Legal nurse consultant

This position may require you to relocate to bigger cities with a higher demand for nurse consultants regarding legal matters, but attorneys hire legal nurses all the time to help interpret medical records and be questioned as experts on a subject. You'll need to receive certification through the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants, but if you like the idea of being in a courtroom and establishing yourself as an expert on a subject, this could be a good way of putting your skills to use.

16. Forensic nurse consultant

Similar to a Legal Nurse Consultant, a Forensic Nurse Consultant works with law enforcement agencies, attorneys, and prosecutors as experts in the nursing field. This is a really unique way to put your nursing education and experience to use, and can often include traveling for cases. On top of RN requirements, you'll need certification through the International Association of Forensic Nurses to be a credible Forensic Nurse.

17. Public health nurse

Public Health Nurses work in a county or state health department, correctional facility, or businesses to help ensure health and safety measures are met. Their focus is on the health of the larger communities in schools, organizations, and community clinics to educate around topics of health and well-being. Education requirements vary for Public Health Nurses, but a Nursing Diploma or BSN is a great start.

18. Occupational nurse

This type of opportunity can be a component of a few nursing jobs listed here, but a true occupational nurse works inside a business promoting healthy living to employees. This is often done within larger corporations with health and wellness programs and work incentives for participation in workplace activities and healthy eating.

19. Medical writer

This one can be tough for entry level nurses, but for those looking for a career change might find Medical Writing a good fit. If you enjoy writing and have a deep understanding of medical subject matter, there's a growing industry of medical writers and bloggers creating articles medical outlets on a variety of topics. This nursing career choice is right up there with the average, with most writers making somewhere around $70,000 per year.

20. Physical therapist

Being a physical therapist requires a similar skillset to that of a practicing nurse. With average earning potential of around $91,000 per year, physical therapists work with patients who've suffered injury or illness to improve overall health and mobility, depending on each patient. This is a great way to continue “being a nurse" with direct contact with patients, outside the normal surroundings of a hospital setting.

21. Psychiatric nurse practitioner

Working as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner can be both challenging and rewarding for those with a passion for mental health. In most cases, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners work with physicians and help patients understand and deal with mental health disorders. This is often a highly paid position, and as mental health receives more attention and funding, demand for qualified nurses increases, too. Nurses in this field need tend to specialize in mental healthcare earning a Master's Degree with a focus on psychiatric nursing.

22. Medical or pharmaceutical sales

You wouldn't typically associate nurses and salespeople, but nurses often make a great fit for making connections with potential customers and answering questions about products and uses in the workplace. It's important for companies to have salespeople with clinical experience to effectively sell their products. This role also has one of the lower barriers to entry as far as education goes, with most technical sales roles requiring a bachelor's degree to get started.

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