Nursing education is unusual compared to that of other professions in that there are three possible paths for a nurse to become licensed. These paths include the associate degree, a nursing diploma or a bachelor’s degree. From that point, some nurses choose to go on for graduate education at the master’s level. A registered nurse with a master’s degree has a number of career options, many of which pay above-average wages.
Clinical Nurse Specialists
Clinical nurse specialists hold a minimum of a master’s degree. A CNS might provide direct patient care, act as an expert consultant for other nurses or focus on improving healthcare delivery systems. Most CNSs specialize in a patient population, such as pediatrics; a work setting, such as the emergency room or critical care; or a disease, such as diabetes. Other specialty areas include a type of care, such as rehabilitation, or a type of health problem, such as pain management. Annual salaries range from $50,000 to more than $100,000, according to Explore Health Careers, a program of the American Dental Education Association.
Nurse practitioners, or NPs, perform many of the functions of a physician. They may diagnose illness; prescribe treatments or medications; and order diagnostic tests, such as X-rays or blood work. They often collaborate closely with physicians but also manage a group of patients in the same way that a physician would. NPs might treat patients of any age or specialize in an area, such as family practice, orthopedics or cardiology. The average annual salary of an NP in 2011 was $94,050, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
Certified Nurse Midwives
Certified nurse midwives, or CNMs, are advanced practice nurses who specialize in gynecological and pregnancy care. A CNM is authorized to perform pelvic exams; prescribe oral contraceptives or insert intrauterine devices; manage low-risk pregnancies; and deliver babies. CNMs often work in birthing centers or perform home deliveries. A CNM cannot, however, perform a cesarean section. CNMs also treat women during menopause. The American College of Nurse Midwives reports the average annual salary of CNMs who worked full-time in 2010 was $114,152.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists
CRNAs -- certified registered nurse anesthetists -- are another group of advanced practice nurses. These RNs are trained in critical care and anesthesia administration. CRNAs administer almost 65 percent of all anesthetics in the United States and are the only anesthesia providers in more than 70 percent of rural hospitals, according to the Ohio Association of Advanced Practice Nurses. In addition to giving anesthesia, they may manage acute and chronic pain. CRNAs are the best-compensated of all advanced practice nurses, with an average annual salary in 2011 near $169,000, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
Two other possibilities for nurses with master’s degrees are nursing informatics and nursing education. Nurse informaticists combine computers, information science and nursing to help nurses and other healthcare professionals collect, store and manage patient data. More than half are master’s prepared, and the average annual salary in 2011 was $98,703, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Nurse educators teach in colleges and universities to prepare the next generation of nurses or to teach RNs who want to advance their careers. The average annual salary of master’s-prepared nursing faculty was $72,028 in 2011, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.