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 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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