Top 5 Most In-Demand Nursing Specialties of 2022

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Whether you’re a new nursing student or a veteran nurse, you are probably curious what the most in-demand specializations are now with all the changes that the nursing profession has been going through these past few (chaotic) years. Let’s find out.

Introduction: The toll of the pandemic on Nursing

It can be safely said that out of all professions, nursing is the hardest hit by these 3 years of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether you’re a Covid-19 nurse or not, any nurse who has had to work in a hospital or healthcare setting would have had to carry the brunt of the resulting pressure and demands of Covid-19 on the medical profession.

Even before the pandemic, nurses were already struggling with a nursing shortage, burnout, bad staffing ratios, and poor retention. At the time, the global shortage of nurses was estimated at a staggering 5.9 million nurses. As if these challenges weren’t enough, the pandemic exacerbated these issues and further drove up the demand for nurses even as the number of nurses further declined from death, infection, increased absence, and increased leaving rates.

A pandemic-related survey of 20,665 healthcare workers at 124 institutions in 2020 revealed these findings:

  • Burnout was reported in 63% of nurses, and 56% of nurses also reported work overload.
  • About 2 in 5 nurses intend to leave their practice altogether due to burnout, workload, and COVID-19–associated stresses.

A further study in 2021 of 400 frontline nurses revealed more findings:

  • 22% indicated they may leave their current positions
  • 60% said they were more likely to leave since the pandemic began, with insufficient staffing, workload, and emotional toll being the most reported factors

Most In-Demand Nursing Specialties of 2022

With the pandemic changing the landscape of healthcare services, let’s take a look at the nurse specialties with the highest demand this year.

Travel nurse

Before the pandemic, travel nursing was seen as an option for nurses who simply want a change of pace and scenery. In an Ask-A-Nurse podcast, two nurses talk about travel nursing for those who want a high-intensity job in, say, a dream destination like Hawaii.

This outlook shifted at the height of the pandemic. Due to staffing shortages and a rise in patient hospitalizations and admissions, travel nurses were contracted for short-term roles in healthcare facilities. At the height of Covid-19 surges, national wages for travel nurses rose by as much as 25% and they were being paid between $5000-10,000 per week. With the surge in demand, travel nurses were making double or triple what staff nurses were making. As hospitalization rates stabilized, contracts dropped off. Still, travel nurses will continue to be in demand due to persistent staffing shortages and the rise of hospital admissions from new variants.

Operating room nurse

An operating room nurse or an OR nurse is a registered nurse who works in the operating room. They care for patients before, during, and after a surgical procedure. They may also assist in operative procedures like C-sections, breast biopsies, or tonsillectomies.

According to the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses or AORN, a 2018 survey found an overall increase in surgical procedures thus resulting in 33% of operating room managers increasing their staff to meet the demand.

The median salary for OR nurses ranges from $73,000-89,000.

Critical care nurse

A critical care nurse works with doctors and specialists in taking care of critically ill patients. They are also called ICU nurses. During the pandemic, there was a 36% increase in ICU beds compared to 2019. This uptick in critically ill patients also resulted in an increased demand for critical care nurse.

Critical nurses work in fast-paced environments such as intensive care units, pediatric ICU’s, cardiac care units and other emergency departments. The high-pressure and fast-paced nature of the work has given rise to the ICU Burnout Syndrome.

The median salary for ICU nurses ranges from $71,000-85,000.

Certified dialysis nurse

A dialysis nurse or a nephrology nurse specializes in caring for patients with kidney problems. They typically work in dialysis clinics or departments and assist patients who undergo dialysis treatments.

This specialization has promising job growth due to an ageing population. Also, a 2021 report by the Center for Disease Control stated that 1 in 7 US adults suffer from chronic kidney disease. Thus, the demand for renal nurses is expected to grow.

The median salary for dialysis nurses ranges from $75,000-96,000.

Nurse care manager

A nurse care manager works together with an interdisciplinary team. This team assists patients diagnosed with complex illnesses or patients recovering from a major clinical event. They develop long-term care plans for the patients. Typically, nurse case managers work within a specialty like oncology or pediatrics.

Nowadays, there is a rising demand for care managers as healthcare facilities try to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes through nurse care managers.

The median salary for nurse care managers ranges from $71,000-75,000.

Nurse Specialties with the Highest Satisfaction Ratings

It comes as no surprise that many nurses want to leave bedside care if workplace conditions are not improved. So where do we find happier nurses? Nurse.org conducted a survey and gathered the below results:

SpecializationJob Satisfaction
Nurse Educators33%
Home Health24%
Nurse Managers18%
OR-Perioperative18%
Pediatric18%

Nurse Specialties with the Lowest Satisfaction Ratings

Based on the same survey, the following specializations rated the lowest for job satisfaction.

SpecializationJob Satisfaction
Telemetry0%
Emergency Room2%
Progressive Care3%
Med-Surg6%
Labor and Delivery11%

Nurse.org notes that some of these specialties used to be the most popular amongst nursing students. Nowadays, however, nurses in these departments are feeling dissatisfaction stemming from short-staffing, absence of hazard pay or satisfactory back-up, and disproportionate compensation and benefits.

Highest Paid Nursing Specialties for 2022

Setting aside the issue of job satisfaction, what are currently the highest paid nursing specializations for the year?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual wage for registered nurses in the US is around $82,000 per year, or $39.78 per hour. Using that as a baseline, consider these specializations and salary ranges.

1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – $181,000
2. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner – $125,000
3. Cardiac Nurse Practitioner – $114,000
4. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner – $113,000
5. Oncology Nurse Practitioner – $113,000

So what do you think? Which factors will affect your choice of nursing specialty? Which of these do you find yourself interested in?

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