The big bucks: 7 highest-paid nursing specialties in America

It doesn't matter if your lender assumes all nurses make squat or your friends seem to think you're made of money when it's time to pick up the tab at lunch. The only factors that really increases or decreases a nursing paycheck are experience, location and specialty. Could you be one of the lucky ones drawn to the highest-paid nursing specialties in America?

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Here are seven of the best, for salary at least. To really place a value on a nursing niche, you'll have to weigh all your own preferences.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

National mean annual salary: $169,450

Assisting anesthesiologists, surgeons, physicians or even dentists, these top-paid nurses administer anesthesia and follow up by monitoring vital signs and recovery. Only registered nurses with specialized graduate education are qualified to work as CRNAs. In the top-paying workplace for CRNAs - outpatient care centers - the national mean hourly wage is $93.48.

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Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Median national salary $101,577

Nurses with this specialty counsel patients with mental health disorders working under a psychiatric physician. Ordinarily, they break in only after earning a master's degree with a specialty in psychiatric nursing. Possible annual bonuses, according to Payscale, range from $991-$17,328.

Nurse Practitioner

National mean annual salary: $107,480

Working on their own or as part of a team, these registered nurses with specialized graduate education diagnose and treat illnesses. Some also incorporate disease prevention as part of their work. One thing that sets an NP apart from other nurses is the ability to prescribe meds and order, perform or analyze lab work and X-rays. The top-paying industry for NPs is personal care services, where the national mean hourly wage is $67.05.

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Nurse Midwives

National mean annual salary: $103,640

Midwives have the all-important duties of diagnosing and coordinating birthing throughout pregnancy and delivery. They may work independently or with a healthcare team, but they always have specialized, graduate nursing education. Local government (excluding schools and hospitals) pay the most for nurse midwives - a national mean hourly wage of $61.26.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Median national salary: $91,718

FNPs work in medical offices, hospitals and nursing facilities, consulting patients, prescribing meds, treatments and assessments, for which an FNP must earn the Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified designation and usually a master's degree in addition. According to Payscale, profit-sharing can add an additional $1,002-$19,663 to an FNP's earnings.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Median national salary: $87,242

Those who wish to work in a specialized unit or clinic should consider the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) path. In addition to diagnosing and treating various conditions, you'll be looked to as an expert within your healthcare team. You might also specialize in a specific illness. A Clinical Nurse Specialist must earn a Master of Science in Nursing, with a specialization in clinical nursing. According to Payscale, the average CNS bonus is $2,011.

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Informatics Nurse

Median national salary: $93,000

These nurses are high-tech, promoting public health with a combination of nursing know-how and IT. Employers usually expect informatics nurses to have a Master of Science in Nursing or a graduate degree in Information or Computer Science.

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