"The nurse anesthesia [specialty] is the biggest bang for the buck," says Coyle-Rogers. "They make $125[,000] to $150,000 the moment they walk out the door."
The six-figure salary comes with some trade-offs, though. Certified Nurse Anesthetists must carry professional liability insurance and are often on call at all hours, Coyle-Rogers says.
Nurse anesthesia programs are also fiercely competitive. Clarkson is one of slightly more than 100 schools that offers a nurse anesthesia program. Out of more than 100 applicants from across the United States, only 12 were admitted to Clarkson's nurse anesthesia program in 2011, Damewood says.
[See which schools have the Top Online Graduate Nursing Programs.]
Still, even with the highest-paid nursing positions, Damewood insists money is a minor motivation.
For Subramanian, who finished her bachelor's in nursing in 1975, then earned her master's nearly 20 years later, it was about achieving a goal and earning respect, she says.
"The intrinsic value plays a big role, which is different than other types of programs," Clarkson's Damewood says. "I think it goes back to nursing as a profession, and what a profession means as opposed to employment."
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