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Published May 10, 2011

Nursing may be a labor of love, but it is also a profession in which some additional education and training can go a long way toward taking your job title - and salary - to the next level. Here are seven top-paying jobs in the profession, covering a range of positions and requiring various degrees and certifications, with salary data from the Salary Wizard.

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Head of Nursing

Median salary: $176,475

Typical requirements: master's degree in area of specialty and at least 15 years of experience

Combining strong nursing experience with the overall planning, personnel oversight and policymaking duties of a top executive, one of nursing's top big-picture positions is also one that brings home the biggest bucks. While the position leans strongly toward the executive end (many hospitals are hoping for an MBA in addition to a master's degree), hands-on nursing experience is important for conveying the nursing staff's needs to top management. The head of nursing, also called chief nursing officer or executive, reflects the senior nurse management position in an organization.

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Nurse anesthetist

Median salary: $153,436

Typical requirements: master's degree plus certification

The highest-paid of all nursing specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists also require the most education and training. In addition to a four-year nursing or science degree, CRNAs must be licensed RNs with at least a year of experience in an acute-care setting. Then it's another two-plus years in an anesthesia education program before passing the certification exam. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the nation's 39,000 CRNAs administer 30 million anesthetics to patients annually in surgical suites, dentist offices and plastic surgery centers. Chief nurse anesthetists, who also manage, schedule and train staff anesthetists, earn an additional $10,000 to $20,000 annually.

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Nursing director

Median salary: $116,942

Typical requirements: RN, advanced degree in nursing

From budgeting to policy-setting to scheduling, the nursing director oversees all aspects of a department's nursing staff and often serves as a liaison between the staff and hospital administrators. Like any direct supervisory role, the nursing director - sometimes called the nursing supervisor - usually rises through the ranks with people skills, project-management ability and leadership.

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Certified nurse midwife

Median salary: $89,567

Typical requirements: RN program followed by midwifery program and a master's degree

Certified nurse midwives attend an estimated 300,000 births a year in settings from hospitals to homes, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But CNMs do more than deliver babies. They also provide a wide range of care to women, including family-planning education, gynecological exams, and prenatal and postnatal care. In hospitals, CNMs often work closely with OB/GYNs.

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Head nurse

Median salary: $87,168, higher in certain departments

Typical requirements: RN with at least five years of direct experience

Whether it's in an ICU, CCU, OR, ER or obstetrics department, if there's more than one nurse, there's usually a head nurse. Besides dealing with patients, the head nurse is responsible for patient records, performance reports, inventory levels and the day-to-day duties important to every nursing department.

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Nurse practitioner

Median salary: $87,081

Typical requirements: master's degree and certification as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner in specialty area

Most states require nurse practitioners to work collaboratively with physicians; however, roughly a dozen states allow NPs to open their own clinics, while a dozen or so others require NPs to work under the supervision of a physician. Regardless of the physician relationship, nurse practitioners provide a wide range of health services, usually specializing in areas such as family practice, women's health or pediatrics. (Emergency room and pediatric NPs tend to earn the highest salaries.) Depending on the state, NPs often diagnose and treat acute illnesses, injuries and infections.

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Clinical nurse specialist

Median salary: $85,227

Typical requirements: master's degree and at least five years' experience

If you like nursing infused with scholarly research, number-crunching and data evaluation, the clinical nurse specialist job might be for you. In addition to treating and diagnosing patients, a CNSfocuses on assessing a hospital's procedures, processes and personnel. The job is often broken down into three spheres of influence as defined by the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: patient/family, nursing personnel/practice and system/network organization.

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