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Most Popular Types of Nurses in 2020

Most Popular Types of Nurses in 2020

There has never been a better time to be a nurse in the United States of America. Salaries are going up, working conditions are improving, nurses are gaining more independence, job security is high, and, generally, nurses enjoy great employment opportunities right after graduation. 

So, naturally, a career in nursing sure sounds appealing, especially if you have a soft spot for the wellbeing of others. Hence, you decide it might just be the path for you to follow, only to discover the nursing field is one of the most diversified out there. Which naturally props some questions. What nursing specialties are most in-demand? Which are better paid? What level of education do you need to complete to start working in your desired field?

Lucky for you, we compiled a list of the most popular types of nurses. These are the specialties that are sought after by most hospitals, especially in the conditions of the nursing shortage looming ever so intense over the United States. 

To make the process of choosing a career path more manageable for you, we also touched upon the academic requirements each career imposes – that is, what level of nursing you ought to accomplish to pursue a particular profession.

Levels of Nursing

what type of nurse can I become

Before we dive into what are the best and the most popular career choices for nurses, we must take a moment to highlight the fact that different career opportunities require different levels of nursing education.

Every different level of nursing comes with its own opportunities. You just have to choose the academic track that falls most in line with your career aspirations. Is being a registered nurse enough for you, or do you want to climb higher and higher up the professional ladder? The choice is yours. We are simply here to help you navigate the confusing waters of nursing, credentials, degrees, and careers. 

Thus, let’s start by examining the main levels of nursing. 

  • Nursing aid or assistant: This position doesn’t technically make you a nurse since you do not hold a nursing license, but it is an excellent opportunity to gain insight into what a nursing career can bring. 
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): The CNA must hold a certification to be able to work in this position. Their duties typically revolve around helping patients with daily living, such as cleaning and bathing patients, helping them eat, or taking their vitals. Because of the limited training, their work mostly unfolds under the supervision of an RN.
  • Licensed Professional Nurse or Licenced Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN): LPNs usually serve as the link between the patient and the medical staff. Their duties may include basic tasks, such as collecting patient records, administering injections, and preparing surgical procedures. Depending on state regulations, LPNs can even commence small procedures, like starting an intravenous drip or administering medication. LPNs or LVNs work under the supervision of an RN or a doctor.
  • Registered Nurse (RN): Registered nurses are what most people envision when thinking of “nurses” in general. Their education is more advanced compared to the other categories, and they have passed a nursing exam and have received licensure. They provide and coordinate direct patient care, they can also consult and make recommendations to doctors and offer training to CNAs and LPNs. Most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists. You can become a registered nurse in one of two ways: by getting an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or by completing a BSN program.
  • Registered Nurse with a BSN: In addition to having gained the RN licensure, an RN with a BSN has also completed a Bachelor of Science in nursing. This allows them to take on more responsibilities and increases their chances of getting management positions. Also, most hospitals make it a requirement that RNs hold a Bachelor’s degree, so more nurses choose to go back to school and receive their BSN, typically through an online RN-to-BSN program
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): Obtaining a Master’s degree in nursing (MSN) changes your job description from RN to APRN. APRNs undergo additional training and specific clinical practice and can choose from an even wider variety of roles compared to BSN prepared nurses.  
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): A doctorate is as high as you can go on the levels of nursing scale. The DNP degree offers nurses the skills to make diagnoses in certain situations and even to set up a course of treatment.

Hopefully, having a clearer idea of the different levels of nursing can get you closer to deciding which career track is right for you. And because there is more to nursing than meets the eye, we have put together a list to help you choose between the most popular and in-demand nursing specialties. 

Most Popular Career Tracks for Nurses: 

Nursing is a field that offers a plethora of options as far as career choices go. Each job comes with its distinct set of responsibilities and has particular attributes: some pay better, others are less stressful, while some have the highest growth potential. To make the most out of your nursing career, you must decide which aspects are more relevant to you and pursue the position that best fits your aspirations. One thing is for sure – regardless of the direction in which you choose to take your career, nursing is always going to be one of the most meaningful fields to work in. 

To give you a comprehensive list of viable options we made an in-depth analysis of the nursing landscape, and we scoured several job sites in order to get a feel for the most in-demand nursing positions, as well as their respective average salaries.*

1. Registered Nurse

Required education: ADN or BSN(preferred)

Best For: High demand

Income: $71,730 per year

Job Postings: 189,271

Description: RNs already make up the largest category of nurses, yet the job outlook for this profession is excellent. According to the BLS, the need for RNs is expected to grow by 12% by 2028. So, now might be the best time to join the RN club. You will work closely with physicians and other healthcare specialists, and some of your main duties will include assessing and observing the patients, performing diagnostic tests, operating and monitoring medical equipment, and administering patients’ medicine and treatments. (If you’re an RN looking for either a career change or a more in-depth specialization, rest assured, you’ll find something that makes you tick in this list we’ve put together.) 

Discover the sroty of a Nightingale College graduate who shares her experience of becoming a Registered Nurse as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.

2. Pediatric Nurse

Required Education: ADN or BSN (preferred)

Best For: High demand

Income: $60,814

Job postings: 40,814

Description: If you love children and find working with them gratifying, a career in pediatric nursing may be just what the doctor ordered. This job spans from working with toddlers to treating teenagers. However, caring for young patients and assisting in curing their diseases and illnesses is only part of the job. Another significant chunk of it consists of educating the parents on how to provide the best care for their children and how to make sure they grow healthy and unharmed.

types of nurses

3. Nurse Practitioner

Required Education: MSN

Best For: High Pay

Income: $110,030 per year

Job Postings: 18,574

Description: This is one of the most popular career choices for nurses who get a Master’s degree in Nursing. Some of the NPs duties include examining patients, prescribing certain drugs, diagnosing diseases, and recommending courses of treatment. In some states, as a nurse practitioner, you can even open your own practice and provide care independently without physician oversight. The demand for nurse practitioners is also huge. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 26% growth in the demand for NPs by 2028, much higher compared to other jobs. 

4. Oncology Nurse

Required Education: ADN/BSN

Best For: High Demand

Income:  $71,489

Job postings: 16,895

Description: Caring for people diagnosed with cancer is definitely a sensitive area of practice. Oncology nurses stand by the patients and help them face the cruelness of the disease. Helping people through their cancer journey might prove a difficult task, but helping cancer patients become cancer survivors is a powerful push for nurses who choose this career.

5. Emergency Room Nurse

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Best For: High demand

Income: $67,097

Job postings: 16,737

Description: ER nurses are in charge of treating patients who come to the emergency department of a hospital. Their job is always unpredictable, and they never know what to expect from the people coming through the Emergency Room doors. It could be people who’ve experienced a heart attack, who’ve been shot or who were in a car accident. So, if you are quick to think on your feet, if you don’t mind the pressure and the unpredictability, this career path might be right for you. One thing is sure. You will not get bored on a shift-to-shift basis. 

6. Clinical Nurse Specialist

Required Education: MSN

Income: $89,676

Job Postings: 16,339

Description: Clinical nurse specialists usually work in specialized units, and typically they focus in particular areas of medicine. Clinical nurse specialists are viewed as experts in their field, so if you think you would enjoy a more focused approach to one particular area of nursing, this career will grant you the possibility to specialize in what you find most helpful. Often, your focus would fall on education, research, and consulting.  

7. Nurse Case Manager

Required Education: BSN or MSN (preferred)

Income: $71,772

Job Postings: 14,538

Description: This is the perfect job for nurses who want to nurture long-term relationships with patients and offer continuing support. Nurse case managers usually work with people who require ongoing medical support, such as HIV or cancer patients. Your job as a nurse case manager will imply creating and applying long term care plans and making sure the patient gets the best medical support they need throughout their illness/treatment.

8. Intensive Care Unit Nurse (ICU Nurse)

Required Education: ADN or BSN (preferred)

Income: $65,142

Job listings: 11,006

Description: If your attention to detail is off the charts, if you thrive in a planned and organized environment, then the ICU nurse’s life might be for you. ICU nurses care for patients who are usually in critical conditions and demand incredibly structured and regulated settings. Their patients might be intubated, ventilated, or could require potentially saving medication drips that need to be administered with clockwork regularity. ICU nurses also work more structured shifts and enjoy a more disciplined work life. Therefore, if meticulousness and rigor are some of the qualities you possess, then an intensive care unit might be a suitable work environment for you.

9. Nurse Educator

Required education: MSN

Best For: Least stressful, Most searched for

Income: $81,350 per year

Job Postings: 11,004

Description: Nurse educators are in charge of educating future generations of nurses. They are in charge of creating educational programs for students. They teach, advise, mentor, and support learners in their clinical practice. If the idea of leaving your mark on the healthcare system and shaping the nursing professionals of tomorrow has crossed your mind, you should give nurse education a shot. Especially now, as the need for nurse educators is more acute than ever, given the severe nursing faculty shortage the US is going through. 

Find out more information about how to become a nurse educator

10. Travel Nurse

Required Education: ADN or BSN (preferred) + 1-year experience

Income: >$71,730 per year, depending on assignment

Job Postings: 8,765 

Description: Travel nurses generally have the same duties as a regular RN, with the one significant difference: they provide medical assistance on (usually) short-term assignments which can occur all over the country. They can choose the location and the specialty they’d like to pursue during the assignment. Typically, an agency helps them find the perfect job opportunity based on their preferences. So, if your passion for travel is as strong as your love for nursing combining the two might be the dream solution for you. 

11. Certified Dialysis Nurse

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Income:  $65,870

Job Postings: 7,718

Description: Dialysis nurses (also known as nephrology nurses) work in clinics and are in charge of treating patients who suffer from kidney failure. They are responsible for the entire dialysis process, which entails removing waste products from the body as the kidneys no longer work properly due to the disease. If you’re looking for a rewarding and convenient nursing job, you’ve found it! This job is both: dialysis actually prolongs the patient’s life, so you’ll have a sense of fulfillment, but the position also offers regular working hours, which is a plus if you don’t enjoy the hectic life of an RN. 

12. Operating Room Nurse (Perioperative Nurse)

what types of nurses get paid the most

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Income: $71,077

Job listings: 4,548

Description: OR nurses work with patients right before they undergo surgery. They can also manage communication with the patient’s families. As a part of the surgery team, perioperative nurses assist the surgeon and make sure the procedure is happening in a secure, sterile, ready-to-go environment. Nurses who enjoy direct patient care will feel right at home in this specialization. 

13. Surgical Nurse Practitioner

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Income:  $67,779

Job Postings: 2,817

Description: Surgical Nurse Practitioners are one of the most demanding career paths for a nurse. They provide medication, assess healing, consult patients before and after operations, and help them set recovery steps. SNPs are the largest body in the nurse practitioner group. Should you decide to follow this career path, you may choose to specialize in a certain field, such as cardiology, orthopedics, pediatrics, or many others. Depending on your chosen specialization, your nursing experience will vary greatly, as surgical nurse practitioners may be involved in something as dangerous as removing tumors or something as trivial as a rhinoplasty. Overall, this a field as rewarding as it is demanding, for, customarily, SNPs assist with life-saving operations.

14. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Required Education: MSN

Income: $99,238

Job postings: 2,652

Description: If a blend of psychology, psychiatry, and nursing is something that interests you, becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner might be the way to go. The core of the job is treating patients diagnosed with mental illness. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners work closely with psychiatrists and other physicians. Providing counseling, helping patients with everyday tasks, and prescribing medication are some of the responsibilities that come with this career. 

15. Cardiac Nurse

Required Education: BSN or MSN

Income: $98,935

Job postings: 1,963

Description: Cardiac (or cardiovascular) nurses work side by side with cardiologists and other healthcare specialists to assure the best possible care for patients with a vast array of heart maladies. They are directly involved in diagnosing, treating, and controlling conditions that affect the complex cardiac system. If you want a career in tackling the problems of the heart (quite literally), it helps to know some of the cardiovascular nurses’ duties. They oversee and care for ill patients, but they can also concentrate on cardiac rehabilitation (guiding patients on a path of a lifestyle change that would hinder the aggravation of the disease.)

16. Nurse Researcher

types of registered nurses

Required education: MSN

Income: $81,500

Job Postings: 1,722

Description: Nurse researchers conduct research at the nursing level. They design and implement scientific studies that are further published in medical journals and nursing publications. As a nurse researcher, your main goal is improving the healthcare system, the processes, and the outcomes of patient care, so conducting studies is the means towards accomplishing this goal.

17. Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Nurse (PACU Nurse)

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Income: $77,000

Job listings: 1,496

Description: The job description is rather straightforward: PACU nurses provide care to patients who have undergone procedures/operations requiring anesthesia. Main responsibilities include examining and treating postoperative patients, so monitoring vital signs and level of consciousness is a big part of the job. PACU nurses work in the recovery room and are the first person patients see after the operation. They must make sure patients don’t experience side effects from anesthesia and are regaining consciousness at an appropriate speed. 

18. Home Health Nurse

Required Education: ADN

Income: $62,086

Job listings: 1,488

Description: Home health nurses provide care for patients in their homes. They can administer medication, care for wounds, perform physical assessments, help with everyday tasks, and develop and implement a care plan (under a physician’s supervision). Home health nursing allows you to provide very individualized, family-centric care. So, if you want to stay as far away from the hospital environment as possible, this might be a satisfactory job for you.

19. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Required education: MSN

Best For: Paid the most

Income: $174,790 per year

Job Postings: 1,413

Description:  Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) is a top choice for many APRNs because of the sizable paychecks and high job security. As a CRNA, you will work side by side with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, and other specialized healthcare specialists. Prescribing and administering anesthesia to patients during medical procedures, providing pain management, and overseeing patient recovery will be some of the tasks you come across daily if you follow the certified registered nurse anesthetist path.

20. Certified Nurse Midwife

Required education: MSN

Best For: High Pay

Income: $106,910 

Job postings: 819

Description: If you think babies are the miracle of life and bringing them into the world is the most rewarding career path you can think of, then becoming a nurse-midwife is the way for you to go. Your main job will be delivering babies and providing pre- and post-natal care to mothers. However, you can also perform medical exams, give counseling, and write prescriptions. It is a career that is perfect for sensitive nurses displaying a high interest in women’s reproductive health and childbirth.

21. Gerontological Nurse

different types of nurses

Required Education: MSN

Best For: More likely to grow

Income: $94,831

Job Postings: 532

Description: Gerontological nurses turn their focus to the older patients, as aging brings with itself the need for more specialized care. Nurses who choose this career path have extended choices over their work environments because they can find employment in nursing homes, patient’s homes, private practices, hospitals, or they can even open their own practice. If a greater level of independence is something you treasure, you might contemplate this choice.

Some of your duties will include prescribing drugs, ordering diagnostic tests, and developing and implementing treatment plans for patients.

22. Public Health Nurse

Required Education: ADN or BSN (preferred)

Best For: Least stressful

Income: $58,977

Job listings: 646

Description: Public health nurses work with communities rather than just individuals, and they play a big role in preventing, educating, advocating, and assessing public health issues. They educate communities on how to prevent diseases and how to generally improve the health of larger groups of people. As a public health nurse, you will not be confined to hospital care. Instead, you will be able to work in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, community health centers, and other organizations. 

23. Nurse Informatics Specialist

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Best For: More likely to grow

Income: $88,740

Job listings: 251

Description: RNs who are interested in technology, in addition to nursing, may consider a path in nursing informatics. As a nurse informaticist, you would analyze data to improve patient care, and to reduce the number of errors, you would evaluate and support healthcare technology, both software, and hardware. In this position, you are basically the bridge between the hospital staff and the IT staff. All in all, the use of technology is critical for any health institution, so interest in this position is growing. 

24. Radiology Nurse

Required Education: ADN or BSN

Income: $65,002 

Job listings: 189

Description: A radiology nurse focuses on patients who are getting ready for imaging and diagnostic procedures, such as x rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs. These nurses have an essential task of making sure the patient is comfortable during the procedures. Also, they must ensure that accurate images are being taken in order to diagnose illness or potential injuries. 

25. Orthopedic Nurse

Required Education: LPN or ADN

Income: $63,840

Job listings: 79

Description: Orthopedic nurses assist in treating muscle and skeletal diseases and disorders, such as arthritis, broken bones, joint replacements, and so on. They are familiar with casts, mobility devices, and painful experiences. Orthopedic nurses help with a patient’s recovery, ensuring minimum complications occur in the process while also helping them gain/increase mobility. If empathetic towards other people’s pain, encouraging, and a good communicator are adjectives that describe you, you might want to consider specializing in this area.

*We used to determine the number of job listings as of February 2020 and to find out the average salaries per each occupation (unless there was available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. )

Closing Thoughts

types of nurses

Nursing is a very vast field, and it’s got a little something for everyone. If you’re at the very beginning of the road – rejoice – there are plenty of options for you to choose from as you embark on this wonderful, people-helping journey.

If you’ve been an RN for a while now and you’re wondering what’s next in store for you – rest assured, in nursing, you can always make a career change and still end up with a meaningful and rewarding career.  

Nursing doesn’t have to mean only hospital beds and catheters if you don’t want it to. You can be a nurse and choose to focus on something close to your heart, be it babies, education, travel, or older people. 

But keep in mind, the easiest way to advance in your career is to move further your education. By earning a BSN or an MSN degree, you increase your chances of securing that dream job exponentially. Not only will you become a better specialist in your field, but you will also notice an increase in salary and in the number of job opportunities to choose from. Put in the effort today so that you can reap the fruits of your success tomorrow.

Ready to take your career further? Enroll in our BSN program!

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