April 23, 2012: Due to the current nursing shortage in the US, nurses are very much in demand, at least in most geographic region. Nurses are in a more enviable position than they have in some time of being able to command a decent wage upon graduation from an nursing program. But there are large salary discrepancies depending on where you practice, your level of education and how much experience you have.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that determine starting salaries and what nurses can expect coming out of the starting gate. (Find out more here about the learning requirements for each level of nursing degree)
The most popular route to becoming a registered nurse in the U.S. is to get an associate’s degree, and then take (and pass) the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). Alternatively, it’s possible to become an RN by taking a diploma program. These are generally given by hospitals rather than colleges, and take as long as an associates degree to complete (some actually take even longer – 3 years as opposed to the 2 that it typically takes to get an AS in nursing). Diploma programs are often specialized in cardiology, obstetrics or some other particular practice area. Again, you must pass the NCLEX-RN after getting your diploma to become licensed as an RN.
After obtaining their RN, many nurses who want to develop their careers further will move on to a RN to BSN completion degree program for a bachelor’s degree, to work in a more highly specialized role or become a nursing administrator or educator.
The median annual wage of registered nurses is $65,950, according to May 2011, numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Starting wages for RNs range from $20/hr to $25/hr. Nurses who accumulate more than 10 years experience can expect to earn closer to $35/hr. according to Payscale.
Advanced Practice Nurses
APNs earn a master’s degree in a specific area of focus. APNs work with patients one-on-one, similar to physicians. In some cases, they work under the direction of a physician, while in other circumstances they work under their own auspices. Some advanced practice areas include:
- CRNA (certified nurse anesthetist): Starting salary $97,746-$140,801*
- CNS (clinical nurse specialist): Starting salary $64,851-$84,394* NP or FNP (nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner)-starting salary $68,500-$73,000*
- Certified Nurse Midwife: Starting salary $77,000*
(*figures from Payscale and Salary.com)
The annual median salaries for these specialties ranges from $87,867 (CNS) to $156,032 (CRNA) (May, 2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Factors Affecting Salary
As can be seen, there is a wide range in salaries, even within the same focus area. Salaries vary depending on the following factors:
Each level of nursing requires a specific amount of training, certification and licensure. The higher up you go, the more money you will earn. At the bottom in terms of wages are the NAs and CNAs (nurse assistants or aides and certified nurse assistants or aides), followed by LPNs (licensed practical nurses) and RNs (registered nurses). Nurses who go on to specialize by earning a master’s degree will earn the most pay, sometimes doubling the salaries of their RN colleagues.
The number of years spent in an an accredited nursing school program also influences wages. Nurses with master’s degrees almost always earn more than 4-year undergrad degree nurses, who will earn more than a nurse with a 2-year associate’s degree (on average).
Years of Experience
As in many other careers, years spent in a profession contribute towards a higher salary. Nurse’s wages often increase in increments. Typically, pay will increase after the first year, then will increase over regular intervals of time (i.e. 5 year increments).
Where you are employed also influences salary. Nurses working in large cities often earn more than nurses working in rural areas. For example, nurses in California or New York may earn as much as $10/hr more than nurses working in Ohio, due to the higher cost of living in these areas. Nurses working for large corporations may earn more than nurses working in a private doctor’s office, and nurses working in a large hospital center may earn more than nurses working in a small rural hospital. Therefore, there can be large differences in salary depending on where a nurse chooses to practice.
Area of Specialty
Salaries can also vary according to the nursing area in which you practice. Nurses in highly technical areas, such as the ER, surgery and ICU, will earn more than nurses working on a geriatrics unit. Nursing is a field in which education truly pays off- the more education you have, the more you will generally earn. Many nurses start off earning a degree in nursing, gain some experience, and then continue their education while working. The ability to pursue a master’s degree online has made it far easier for nurses to advance their career than ever before.
More On Nursing Careers
- Keys to getting into advanced specialties in nursing like critical care nursing, nurse anesthetist, informatics, oncology nursing, perioperative nursing and nurse practitioner.
- Good resources for students in nursing school.
- Inspirational quotes about the career and the art of nursing.
- How to avoid career burnout as a nurse.