The Fastest-Growing Role In US Is Paying Nurses $120K+


By Sam Becker

Over the past few years, one thing has become abundantly clear to most Americans: The United States needs more nurses. While the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how dire the situation is, there was already a shortage of nurses and health care workers, especially in certain parts of the country.

Nurse practitioners walk the line between doctors and registered nurses, and they’re assuming more prominent roles in many communities that lack adequate access to doctors or medical facilities. Nurse practitioners can and do provide a variety of services and care in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices nationwide. As a type of advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN, nurse practitioners typically have a specialized skill set or area of expertise—and they have earned a master’s degree and been certified by their respective state to practice

Given the need for more health care workers and particularly nurses, job prospects for nurse practitioners have skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, this role is projected to be the fastest-growing occupation between 2021 and 2031. More job opportunities will also help to push salaries higher—which should help attract more people to address the nursing shortage.

Job growth for nurse practitioners

The number of nurse practitioner positions is projected to surge 46% between 2021 and 2031, faster than any other occupation in the U.S., according to the most-recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And BLS data shows that nearly 113,000 new positions are expected to be created for nurse practitioners by 2031.

The need for more nurse practitioners stems from the unique nature of this role versus others in the broader nursing pool. “Nurse practitioners are a different group from registered nurses, as they can practice independently in many states,” says Bianca Frogner, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies. “They have a different slate of work and slate of training,” she says, adding that the role of nurse practitioner has become “a more appealing profession” because people can run their own clinics.

This level of autonomy allows many nurse practitioners to set up shop in rural or underserved communities, which are desperate for access to health care services and professionals. “It can be an attractive set of work factors that would be appealing to young people trying to decide on their career path,” says Frogner.

Nurse practitioners can easily fetch six-figure salaries

Along with increased job opportunities for nurse practitioners come higher salaries. In 2021, the median pay for nurse practitioners was $120,680, according to data from the BLS, and it’s likely that salary prospects for nurse practitioners will increase in the years to come.

But not all nurse practitioners have the same earning potential. Certain types of nurse practitioners—meaning their specialties or areas of focus—tend to earn more than others, and a big factor in how much someone earns comes down to where they work. A nurse practitioner in, say, Los Angeles is likely to earn a higher salary than one working in Grand Rapids.

As for the specific specialties that pay the most, nurse practitioners working in psychiatric fields may earn median salaries close to $140,000, while adult-gerontology nurse practitioners may earn closer to $108,000. Other types of nurse practitioners may earn even less, though their salaries are still relatively when compared with the median household income in the U.S., which was roughly $71,000 in 2021.

While nurse practitioner salaries may immediately attract someone looking for a well-paying and in-demand occupation, it’s worth noting that some significant investment is required in order to pursue this career path.

“Becoming a nurse practitioner requires a master’s degree—there’s an additional educational requirement,” says Mary Molloy, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at the School of Nursing and Allied Health at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “Nurse practitioners also need certifications, depending on the population that they’re interested in working with,” she adds.

In all, some nurse practitioners may be looking at seven or eight years of educational requirements—which can add up in terms of tuition and fees, as well as the total time commitment. That said, some of the most affordable nursing programs have a total tuition price tag of less than $20,000.

Still, most nurse practitioners probably consider the costs worthwhile in the end, Molloy says. Given the ever-increasing cost of health care in the U.S., nurse practitioners may be able to help communities curb the costs to a degree—all while earning a relatively high salary, working in a recession-proof field, and being able to serve a community in need.

Nurse practitioners “take care of the health of the U.S. population at a more reasonable cost with better health outcomes,” Molloy says, adding that these roles often carry job satisfaction because people are “preventing disease, promoting and maintaining community health,” among other wide-ranging aims.


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