Nurse Salaries

What are the salary expectations for nurses?

There are a number of factors that influence the actual salary a registered nurse (RN) can expect. Different professional levels of nursing have different income brackets. Additional factors also determine where in each income bracket a particular nurse will land. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for registered nurses in the U.S. was $69,790 as of May 2014. It is important to note that this was significantly higher than the mean annual wage of $47,230 for all occupations combined in the U.S., according to the BLS, showing just how lucrative this career could be.

The states with the highest mean annual wages for registered nurses, as of May 2014 BLS data, were the following:

  • California: $98,400
  • Hawaii: $88,230
  • Massachusetts: $85,770
  • Alaska: $85,740
  • Oregon: $82,940

Many other factors, such as time on the job, experience and specific credentials, come into play. As a result, pay varies significantly. The BLS reports that the median wages for those earning the lowest 10 percent is $45,880 while the median wages for those earning the upper 10 percent is $98,800 as of May 2014.

Registered nurse education

RN status can be attained through either an associate's degree program or a Bachelor of Science in nursing. RNs with their bachelor's degree typically will be able to negotiate higher salaries than those with an associate's level degree. RNs are able to provide more types of care and perform more procedures than a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), and they do not need to work directly under the supervision of a more senior nurse although in hospitals all treatments happen at the direction of the attending physician. RNs cannot prescribe medication, and diagnosing conditions or making complex assessments is deferred to an advanced practice nurse or a doctor.

Is there room for advancement as a registered nurse?

Nurses can distinguish themselves through experience and time on the job, but seeking certification can be another way to become more competitive. In fact, the BLS reports that professional associations offer RN certification in fields as varied as ambulatory care, gerontology, pediatric and more. This certification can demonstrate that RNs have received specialized skills in a specific area or have spent some time in the field.

As mentioned earlier, another consideration for pay is experience. Medical care is complex, and treatments and procedures change quickly. Even the best nursing education is only a starting point for the skills and abilities developed during time spent as a hands-on practitioner. Nurses who have refined their practices over the years bring a wonderful depth of knowledge and real-world understanding of health care to their practices. Employers understand the value of having a seasoned professional available to care for their patients. For this reason, nurses who have spent time in the field typically earn more than their colleagues who have graduated more recently from nursing programs.

Finally, RNs can advance in their career by becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). The APRN occupation allows for several areas of training, including nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner and nurse midwife. A master's degree is required for each of these fields, and a nurse will gain more in-depth skills, including knowledge of pharmacology and pathophysiology, at the graduate level. APRNs earn even more pay on the job than RNs -- the BLS reports that the mean annual wages for nurse practitioners, as of May 2014, is $97,990, for example. Often these nurses are given more responsibilities and, in some states, may be able to work independently, or collaboratively, with physicians.

Is the RN field in high demand?

According to the BLS, job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to grow by 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. This job growth is considered much faster than average and could result in 526,800 new positions becoming available during this time. One contributor to this growth should be an aging baby boomer population in need of more health care services, particularly those related to arthritis, dementia, diabetes and other chronic conditions, according to the BLS.

Also, federal law has provided more health care coverage to individuals across the country, putting more pressure on health care providers to provide services. This will increase the need for registered nurses, who help record patient information and history, perform diagnostic testing and consult with health care professionals on a number of topics. Additionally, the need to decrease health care costs means that more patients are being released from hospitals to long-term or residential care facilities where many services can be provided by RNs and other educated health care providers.

In fact, many nursing programs across the U.S. are looking for ways to expand the amount of students they can train. This is in response to both growing interest from students and financial incentives from the government to encourage increased enrollment in these high-need areas. This means that a student who successfully completes a nursing program might be confident of employment in the industry for a long period of time. Also, salaries that are supported by high demand tend to be secure and increase over time.


  1. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
  2. Nurse Practitioners, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm
  3. Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-6
  4. Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm

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