What’s the Average Salary for a Registered Nurse?

In the United States, registered nurses are in high demand in almost every location. Because of this nursing shortage, with just an associate’s degree, you can make a fairly high salary. However, someone with a bachelor’s degree or above is likely to earn a better wage, and moving up the educational ranks provides more opportunities for career growth. Going from LPN to RN to advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), and beyond almost always comes with commensurate increases in pay.

National Average Salary for Registered Nurses

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a registered nurse as of May 2013 was $68,910 annually. The top 75 percent of nurses made an average of $80,190 annually, while the top 90 percent averaged over $96,320 every year. Even the bottom 25 percent of registered nurses earned an average salary of $54,180 – not too shabby considering that registered nurses only need an associate’s degree to start working!

Registered Nurse Salary By Location

As is true with all industries, nursing in some locations pays better than nurses in other locations. The main factor here is need – the greater the need for nurses, the more facilities are willing to pay for quality employees. According to BLS reports, the top-paying states for nurses in May 2013 were as follows:

  • California: $96,980 (Annual Mean Wage)
  • Hawaii: $85,380 (Annual Mean Wage)
  • Massachusetts: $83,720 (Annual Mean Wage)
  • Alaska: $83,640 (Annual Mean Wage)
  • Oregon: $80,440 (Annual Mean Wage)

In all of these states, the average annual salary for registered nurses is well above the national median salary for other occupations. All of the top-paying metropolitan areas for nurses are located in California, and in cities like San Jose and Visalia, registered nurses can earn six figures. Travel nursing is also an option if you want to make more money as a nurse. Traveling nurses move every three to six months, going where the need is greatest until new nurses can be hired. As a traveling nurse, you’ll have “home base” hospital (or other medical facility) but may work in facilities across the United States before settling in a specific hospital. This is ideal for nurses who are open to frequent relocation’s.

Earn More Money as a Registered Nurse

If you’re currently a registered nurse and want to earn more money, the best way to do so is to go back to school for more education. Many employers will actually finance an advanced education, and in just an additional one to two years, you could have a bachelor of science in nursing, making you eligible for leadership roles and management positions, which all come attached to higher salaries. With nursing, the sky is the limit – you can also go on to get your master’s degree to become an advanced practice nurse or even your doctorate degree in nursing if you’re interested in teaching or research.

Continuing Education Paths for RNs

After finishing an LPN to RN program, there are still a lot of educational opportunities for RNs. Maintaining a nursing license requires taking a few courses every few years anyway. Taking the opportunity to pick up new skills and expertise regularly can positively impact a nurse’s earning power in the long run. Some nursing specialties that are in high demand and command a better salary are:

  • Neonatal Nursing: All newborns require a great deal of attention and care, and neonatal nurses work with babies who are born sick or prematurely to provide the extra treatment that is necessary to give these infants a chance at life.
  • Geriatric Nursing: These nurses work with patients who are experiencing the difficulties and disabilities that come with age. It takes a combination of technical/medical proficiency and interpersonal skills to work with older patients, and nurses with proven experience in the field are in high demand.
  • Anesthesiology: Becoming a certified nurse anesthetist requires a master’s degree or doctorate in some cases, but the bump in pay that comes with this title is almost certainly worth the extra effort.

Becoming a nurse practitioner in any of the above fields will require a master’s degree, but even an RN with some training in those specialties will be in more demand, and likely able to ask for better pay.

Salary Increase from LPN to RN

One of the biggest motivators for people who make the jump from LPN to RN is the salary increase. Though a general an RN may do much of the same work as an LPN, their added education and capability to perform more advanced nursing tasks warrant a significantly higher salary. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for RNs is nearly 50 percent higher than that for LPNs. This can be attributed to a few factors, not just education, but the plain truth is that RNs are in higher demand, and employment is growing faster in that field, stretching thin the supply of qualified RNs, and making it easier for new ones to get well-paid jobs. The graph below visually demonstrates the striking difference between the salaries of LPNs and RNs.

Figure 1: Mean annual wages for licensed practical nurses versus those for registered nurses as of May 2008, from The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Other Info for Aspiring Nurses

Looking at wage and employment statistics for a career you’re in or thinking about entering can be exciting and motivating, but there’s a wealth of other information you’ll also need to make good career choices and keep yourself on track and making progress. Here are some resources for nurses who want to get more education, or anyone who is thinking about going to school for the first time to become a nurse:

  • Nursing World: The American Nurses Association’s website is a treasure trove of information for nurses at all points in their career or education. From information about how to get jobs to tips on how to be a better nurse in any role, this organization has compiled a wealth of resources any nurse can tap into.
  • Nurse.org: This website has a comprehensive list of nursing organizations and associations that nurses in various specialties can become members of. This is a good way for nurses to build community and learn how to improve their craft and make social and business connections in their field.
  • National Institute of Nursing Research: A branch of the National Institutes of Health, this governmentally funded organization is dedicated to innovation the field of nursing through social and scientific research of the highest caliber. This would be a good place for a research-minded nurse to look for employment, and the site is also a full of great information for nurses and aspiring nurses.
  • Medscape: This site features links to all of the State Boards of Nursing in the United States. Since these boards award nursing licensure at every level within the state of their jurisdiction, it is important for nurses to be able to contact them easily.

Other Benefits of Working in the Medical Field

Good salaries, travel opportunities, and the knowledge that you are helping sick people in their time of need are some of the major perks of becoming a nurse. High demand and growing employment can also contribute to your peace of mind, knowing that you’ll likely be able to find a job at any time of your life once you are a registered nurse. Some of the other common benefits of this line of work include:

  • Flexible Hours: Though you’ll probably have to work some undesirable shifts when you first start out as a nurse, many nurses have the option of working long days of 10-14 hours, just three days per week, and having a four day weekend. Working normal 8 hour days is also an option though.
  • Benefits Packages: Workers in health care facilities typically have access to good group insurance plans for health, dental, and vision, which can also be applied to the workers’ spouses and dependents.

Investing in a Nursing Education

Even those with the steeliest resolve can be swayed from their commitment to go back to school when they see how much it costs. Think of the money you spend on an LPN to RN bridge program not as a cost to be paid, but an investment that will grow with time. The huge salary increase and coinciding ability to live more comfortably and invest more liberally will bring more wealth and joy into your life than many other things you could spend money on. Investing the time and money now to become a better qualified medical professional will have positive consequences throughout your lifetime, and it is hard to overestimate the value of those rewards.

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