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With high average salaries and an increased demand to serve an aging American population, registered nurses (RNs) enjoy one of the most stable and rewarding occupations in the healthcare industry.
Nursing students can become RNs in 2-4 years and begin earning salaries that typically exceed the overall average U.S. salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earn an average annual salary of $82,750. Factors such as location, specialty certification, and experience can lead to salaries of more than $120,000.
Fast Facts About Registered Nurses
- In 2021, the average RN salary reached $82,750 or $39.78 an hour.
- Board-certified RNs average an annual income of $88,000, compared to $77,000 for noncertified registered nurses.
- Forty-seven percent of nurses feel they are fairly compensated.
Sources: BLS, 2021 | Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2021
Average Salary for Registered Nurses
RNs can enter the field after completing a nursing diploma or two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN). However, earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) has become the norm, bumping up the RN starting salary and leading to wider job opportunities.
Generally, the higher the degree, the greater the compensation level. RNs who hold master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees can earn an average of $23,000 more than individuals with BSNs.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Master of Science in Nursing
Source: 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey
Registered Nursing Salaries by Specialization
Nursing graduates receive specialized training in clinical practice to gain in-depth knowledge and advanced competencies. RN salary levels vary with board certification and specialization. The following information provides average salaries for some common specializations.
What Kind of Salary Growth Can Registered Nurses Expect?
Like most professions, a nurse's salary rises with experience and education level. Increases in RN salary levels correspond to recent changes in expectations about RN roles and responsibilities.
Nursing training has become more specialized, with a growing emphasis on technology and preventive care. As advanced graduate nursing degrees become more common, RNs can move into senior leadership roles that carry higher salaries.
Average Annual Salary of Registered Nurses by Experience4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Registered Nurse
Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses
While RNs receive relatively high salaries compared to other occupations, some areas of the country pay far more than others. Overall, the Western states offer the highest salaries while some Southern and Midwestern states pay the least.
Factors such as cost of living, nursing demand, and labor conditions account for RN salary variations across the country. California and Hawaii, which rank among the most expensive states for cost of living, attract nurses by paying the top salaries in the country. Lower-paying states generally offer a more affordable lifestyle, but the absence of a strong union movement for nurses may keep wages below the national average.
Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses
Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Registered Nurses
RNs working in densely populated metropolitan areas typically earn more than individuals employed in rural areas. California, the most populous state, also hosts the highest-paying metropolitan areas for RNs in the country.
RNs in these five California urban centers earn well above six figures. Employers in these areas may offer higher-than-average salaries in these areas due to nursing shortages among underrepresented groups, the high cost of living, and the strong union movement among the state's nurses.
The top-paying metropolitan areas for RNs are:
|Highest-Paying Cities||Average Salary|
|San Jose — Sunnyvale — Santa Clara, CA||$155,230|
|San Francisco — Oakland — Hayward, CA||$151,640|
|Vallejo — Fairfield, CA||$146,360|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$141,440|
Highest-Paying Industries for Registered Nurses
RN salaries vary substantially by workplace setting. The top-paying industry, nonscheduled air transportation, offers an average salary of over $100,000, followed by pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing.
Among the most common employment settings for RNs, general medical and surgical hospitals and speciality hospitals offer above-average compensation for RNs with salaries of $85,020 and $84,800, respectively.
|Workplace Setting||Average Salary|
|Nonscheduled Air Transportation||$112,630|
|Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing||$105,270|
|Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods||$101,240|
|Federal Executive Branch||$97,600|
|Office Administrative Services||$96,630|
How Do Registered Nurse's Salaries Compare to Other Nurses?
RNs, while not as highly compensated as advanced practice nurses, earn much more than nurses without college degrees.Find Out More About How Much Nurses Earned in 2020
Featured Online RN to BSN Programs
Four Ways to Increase Pay as a Registered Nurse
According to recent BLS data, RN salaries range from $59,450 for the lowest-paid 10% to $120,250 for the top 10% of earners. Several factors determine an RN's salary. The highest-paid RNs typically possess advanced degrees and have worked in the field for 10 or more years.
Earnings vary among healthcare employers and locations. Board certifications and specializations in high-demand practice areas can boost RN salaries significantly.
- 1. Consider Pursuing Certifications
- Certification validates an RN's expert knowledge and specialized skills, advancing their professional development and salary potential. Board-certified RNs earn an average annual income of $88,000, compared to $77,000 for those without certifications. RNs apply for certifications through the American Nurse Credentialing Center or other organizations for specialty practice fields.
- 2. Earn a More Advanced Nursing Degree
- RNs who enter the field after earning their nursing diplomas or ADNs often return to school to expand their career possibilities. Bridge programs offer a popular option for RNs to earn BSNs or graduate degrees while continuing to work. RNs who hold MSNs or doctor of nursing practice degrees can earn the highest salaries in many clinical and nonclinical roles.
- 3. Gain Experience in Administrative Roles
- Nursing shortages and senior-level RNs retiring have driven the need to recruit experienced nurses into administrative positions. Many healthcare facilities offer leadership development and mentoring programs to provide managerial training and support for nurses to transition into these roles. Experienced RNs can pursue nurse executive certification or enroll in online graduate programs in nursing administration while continuing to work.
- 4. Switch Practice Setting
- While hospitals, outpatient care settings, and physicians' offices hire the most RNs, nurses who switch practice settings may find a high demand for their services and better pay.
- According to recent BLS employment profiles, nonscheduled air transportation, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, and merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods offer RNs higher annual salaries than traditional clinical settings.
Frequently Asked Questions: Registered Nursing Salaries
What kind of nurses get paid the most?
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) rank among the highest-paid nurses. APRNs, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, earn well six figures depending on their certifications, employment settings, and experience. According to BLS data, nurse anesthetists earn the highest salaries, averaging $202,470 annually as of 2021.
How much do RNs make hourly?
As of May 2021, the BLS reports that RNs earn an average hourly wage of $39. However, hourly pay ranges from $29-$58. Factors that determine RN pay rates include specialization and types of certifications, workplace setting and location, and years of experience.
What is the starting pay for an RN?
According to PayScale, as of April 2022 entry-level RNs receive an average hourly rate of $28. RNs who enter the field with BSNs earn higher hourly pay than those with nursing diplomas or ADNs. Early-career RNs with four years or less experience earn an average of $29 an hour, including bonuses, overtime, and other compensation.
Do nurses make six-figure salaries?
RN salary rates have climbed significantly in recent years, with APRNs receiving the highest increases. Nurses who obtain APRN specializations and board certifications can earn median salaries that are six figures, depending on where they work. According to BLS salary data, nurse anesthetists earn annual average salaries over $200,000.
Learn More About Registered Nursing
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