Top 10 RN Specialties

Most nurses go into the healthcare field with a dream of helping others.  You may not have realized what you wanted to do with a nursing degree, you just knew that it must involve direct patient care and your work must benefit patients in some way, whether it is helping the patient heal on a Med-Surg unit, being the friendly face prior to a surgery, caring for sick children or neonates, or helping our fellow nurses through a difficult shift.  Luckily for nurses, there are many different RN specialties.  All offer a lucrative salary, all provide job satisfaction, and most importantly, all benefit our patients in some way.

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After you’ve put in a certain amount of time at your first RN jobs, gaining valuable experience and sharpening nursing skills, you’ll be eligible for specialized RN jobs. While healthcare seeks nurses who are a “jack-of-all-trades”, it is also seeking nurses who have skills in one certain area. The face of healthcare is changing and there is much opportunity for nurses to specialize in an area that is interesting to them.

Below are 10 RN specialties that are valuable in today’s healthcare system. The order is of no importance – they are not ranked in any certain way. However, these specialties take into consideration RN specialties that have a high salary and also abundant job opportunities. We’ve compiled this list so that you can explore different nursing specialties.  Keep in mind that, according to Payscale, the average RN makes about $26 per hour.

Top RN Specialties

  1. Emergency Room RN: the average RN employed in an ER can expect to make about $28 per hour, which is slightly more than the average RN. These RNs will always be in demand – an emergency room is a staple in most hospitals. These RNs take care of patients who have suffered a trauma, injury, experiencing a heart attack or stroke, and other medical emergencies. These RNs must be quick-thinking – they are responsible for triaging patients based on condition so that the most critical patients receive care first. These nurses work side-by-side with other RNs and emergency room physicians to ensure that their patients receive the right care, quickly and safely. In addition, they must be able to work well under pressure, so this type of work environment may not be for everyone.
  2. Operating Room RN: the average RN employed in an OR can expect to make about $30 per hour. These RNs will always be in demand – surgery is required in many situations and RNs will always have a place in the OR. There are many RNs working in an OR unit, from the preoperative nurse, to the surgical nurse, to the postoperative nurse. There are also typically three RNs present during the surgery – circulating RN, scrub RN and the first assistant. OR RNs typically work Monday through Friday for scheduled surgeries. There is also generally a rotation for on-call RNs for unscheduled, emergent surgeries. RNs have the opportunity to make much more if they are called in for surgery during the evening or weekend.
  3. Charge Nurse: the average RN employed as a Charge Nurse can expect to make about $29 per hour. These RNs typically work in hospitals and long-term-care facilities. A charge nurse is the supervisor during the shift they are working. They are responsible for ensuring that the unit runs smoothly and that patients are satisfied. They monitor admissions and discharges and also monitor the care provided by other RNs and staff on the unit. During the scheduled shift, they will work directly under the unit manager. Typically, an RN is eligible to be a charge nurse if they hold an ADN degree, although certain hospitals may require that the nurse hold a BSN degree.
  4. Critical Care RN: the average RN employed in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) can expect to make about $28 per hour. These RNs will work with the critically ill and patients that have a rapidly deteriorating condition. Typically, RNs must have at least a year of experience prior to employment in an ICU. However, many hospitals are offering critical care internships, which prepare new graduates for work in an ICU. For example, UP Health System – Marquette offers a program that is 12-16 weeks and offers both classroom and clinical education. The RNs working in these programs typically have to promise employment to the hospital after completion; for example, UPHS – Marquette requires its interns to commit 6,240 hours post-completion.
  5. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) RN: the average RN employed in the NICU can expect to make about $30 per hour. The NICU RN is highly specialized; these RNs take care of critically ill newborns, from premature babies to babies born with illnesses that require intensive care. In addition to the skills necessary for caring for a critically ill newborn, they must also be compassionate and have the social skills to deal with scared and grieving parents and other family members. NICU RNs may require a BSN degree, although many hospitals will allow RNs with an ADN degree to become a NICU RN. For the RN student who seeks to become an NICU RN, joining the National Association of Neonatal Nurses may be the first step in obtaining this job. While many NICUs require at least a year of experience in a related field, such as pediatrics or Labor and Delivery, holding membership with this group and having a strong passion for NICU nursing may actually get the RN the job right out of nursing school.
  6. Oncology RN: the average RN employed as an oncology nurse can expect to make about $28 per hour. These RNs work primarily with cancer patients. These RNs will administer chemotherapy to patients. They must also have strong social skills so that they can effectively interact with the chronically and terminally ill. These nurses not only care for their patients, but their grieving families as well.
  7. Wound care RN: the average RN employed in a wound care setting can expect to make about $27 per hour. These RNs may work in a wound care clinic, in the hospital setting or in a long-term-care facility. These RNs have extra education in wound care and provide this care directly to patients. While often an ADN degree is enough for this type of RN, additional certification may be required for employment. Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNB) provides the necessary certification for wound care RNs.
  8. Pediatrics RN: the average RN employed on a pediatric unit can expect to make about $25 per hour. While this specialty is actually a bit less than the average RN salary, this is a nursing specialty that will not go away; there will always be sick children at clinics and hospitals that need a nurse with this knowledge base. In addition, specializing in pediatrics opens doorways to further specialties, such as NICU nursing. For the nurse that begins with a pediatric nursing specialty, this can also be further specialized, such as pediatric oncology.
  9. Labor and Delivery (L&D) RN: the average RN employed on an L&D unit can expect to make about $27 per hour. Rate of pay can increase for L&D nurses if they also are capable of working in the operating room; many L&D units have operating rooms in the event a cesarean section is needed. L&D RNs assist with childbirth, from antepartum to delivery to postpartum care. They are also responsible for the newborn in the initially after childbirth. An RN working on a L&D unit may also eventually work as a NICU RN, potentially earning more money.
  10. Credentialed RNs: Regardless of the specialty, a credentialed RN will most likely have a higher rate of pay. Even an entry level nurse can make more money if they choose to obtain credentials. According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the purpose of earning a nursing credentials is to, “…promote excellence in nursing and health care globally through credentialing programs… it recognized healthcare organizations that promote nursing excellence and quality patient outcomes, while providing safe, positive work environments.” There are a variety of certifications to select. The entry level nurse that often works on a Med-Surg unit can select the Medical-Surgical Nursing credential. In addition, there are credentials for psychiatric nursing, cardiovascular nursing, home health nursing, and pain management nursing, to name a few.

While one goal when entering nursing school may be to earn a good salary right off the block, this may not be the case. An entry level RN will still make an excellent salary at $26 per hour. However, salary can increase incrementally as more nursing experience is obtained. There are so RN specialties available to nurses.

Reference: salary figures come from PayScale


Emergency Room RN
Operating Room RN
Charge Nurse
Critical Care RN
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) RN
Oncology RN
Pediatrics RN
Labor and Delivery (L&D) RN
Credentialed RNs

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