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What Is the Highest Paid Registered Nurse Specialization?

by Beth Greenwood

Registered nurses can choose among more than 100 specialties, according to Discover Nursing. The specialty called advanced practice, however, is where the RN will see a definite jump in earning power. Advanced practice nurses include clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists. Of this group, CRNAs earn the most, but even among CRNAs, wages differ, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Advanced Practice Nurses

Although the BLS does not include clinical nurse specialist salaries in its data, it does include registered nurses, CNMs, CNSs and CRNAs. RNs earned $67,930 in 2012. CNMs -- the lowest earners in the advanced practice group -- earned $91,070. Nurse practitioners earned $91,450. Explore Health Careers reports the CNS salary range is $50,800 to $100,000. CRNAs, however, earned $154,390 in 2012, according to the BLS, much more than the other advanced practice nurses and nearly twice what the average RN earned.

Work Settings and Salaries

A number of variables affect the average salary of a CRNA. One of the most important is her work setting or the industry in which she works, according to the BLS. Although more than half of all CRNAS worked in physicians’ offices, the average salary in that work setting was $149,660. CRNAs in general medical hospitals -- the next largest group -- earned more, with an average annual salary of $163,220, and those in outpatient care centers earned $163,290. Those who worked in the offices of other health practitioners, however, earned $176,740. The top-paying work setting -- although for a very small group of CRNAs -- was dentists’ offices, where the average annual salary was $189,330.

Rural Salaries are Often High

CRNAs often work in rural states and rural areas. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists reports CRNAs are more likely to provide anesthesia in rural areas than any other medical specialty, and in some states, the only anesthesia providers in nearly all rural areas are CRNAS. Attracting a CRNA to a rural state may mean offering a higher salary, and three of the top-paying states are mostly rural. In Oregon, CRNAs earned $176,470, while in Connecticut they earned $181,650, according to the BLS. CRNAs in the District of Colombia earned $185,800, those in Nevada earned $208,700, and those in Wyoming topped the list at $215,720.

Earnings Within States

Even within a state, CRNA earnings can vary dramatically, according to the BLS. CRNAs in the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area of Texas earned $150,540 in 2012, but those in the Houston-Sugarland-Baytown area earned $173,800. In Richmond, Virginia, the average annual salary for a CRNA was $119,470. CRNAs in Charlottesville, Virginia, however, earned $176,230. Salaries also vary according to metropolitan or rural locations. Although the top-paying metropolitan areas all had salaries well above the average for a CRNA, Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown in North Carolina paid the most, at $202,660. In contrast, the top-paying nonmetropolitan area was west-central Illinois, with a salary of $218,530.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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