Registered Nurse 2021 Salary Guide

by NurseJournal Staff
• 6 min read

This registered nurse salary guide summarizes how much RNs make in 2021. Use this guide to find out what states, cities, specializations, and workplaces offer the highest pay.

Registered Nurse 2021 Salary Guide

In This Article

Average Salary for Registered Nurses | Registered Nursing Salaries by Specialization | What Kind of Salary Growth Can Registered Nurses Expect? | Highest-Paying and Lowest-Paying States for Registered Nurses | Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Registered Nurses | Highest-Paying Workplaces for Registered Nurses | How Do Registered Nurse's Salaries Compare to Other Nurses? | Four Ways to Increase Pay as a Registered Nurse | Frequently Asked Questions | Learn More

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 $80,010 a year. Factors such as location, specialty certification, and experience can lead to annual salaries of more than $115,000.

Fast Facts About Registered Nurses

  • In 2020, the average RN salary reached $80,010 or $38.47 an hour.
  • Board-certified RNs average an annual income of $86,000, compared to $76,000 for noncertified registered nurses.
  • Fifty-seven percent of nurses feel they are fairly compensated.

Sources: BLS, 2020 | Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2020

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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.

As a rule, the higher the degree, the greater the compensation level. RNs who hold master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees can expect to earn an average of $23,000 more than individuals with BSNs.


Nursing Diploma


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 median or average salaries for some of the most 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 level 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 Experience

4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Registered Nurse

Highest-Paying and Lowest-Paying States for Registered Nurses in 2020

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 the 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. The lowest-paying states generally offer a more affordable lifestyle, but the absence of a strong union movement for nurses in these states keeps wages below the national average.

Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

State Average Salary
California $120,560
Hawaii $104,830
Massachusetts $96,250
Oregon $96,230
Alaska $95,270
Source: BLS, 2020

Lowest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

State Average Salary
Alabama $60,230
South Dakota $60,960
Mississippi $61,250
Iowa $62,570
Arkansas $63,640
Source: BLS, 2020

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Registered Nurses in 2020

RNs working in densely populated metropolitan areas typically earn more than individuals employed in rural areas. California, the most populous of the 50 states, also hosts the highest-paying metropolitan areas for RNs in the country.

RNs in these five California urban centers earn well above six figures. The impetus on employers in these areas to offer higher-than-average salaries stems from 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 Francisco — Oakland — Hayward, CA $149,200
San Jose — Sunnyvale — Santa Clara, CA $146,870
Vallejo — Fairfield, CA $142,140
Sacramento — Roseville — Arden-Arcade, CA $134,350
Salinas, CA $132,160
Source: BLS, 2020

Highest-Paying Workplaces for Registered Nurses

RN salaries vary substantially by workplace setting. Business support services offer the top-paying practice setting with annual incomes of over $100,000, followed by nurses working in the federal executive branch.

Among the most common employment settings for RNs, general medical and surgical hospitals and outpatient care facilities offer above-average compensation for RNs with salaries of $81,680 and $89,300, respectively.

Workplace Setting Average Salary
Business Support Services $106,670
Federal Executive Branch $96,230
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing $92,110
Other Investment Pools and Funds $91,990
Office Administrative Services $89,490
Source: BLS, 2020

How Do Registered Nurse's Salaries Compare to Other Nurses?

RNs, while not as highly compensated as the advanced practice nursing roles below, earn much more than nurses without college degrees.

Find Out More About How Much Nurses Earned in 2020

Four Ways to Increase Pay as a Registered Nurse

According to recent BLS data, RN salaries range from $53,410 for the lowest-paid 10% to $116,230 for the highest earners in the top 10%. 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 geographical location. 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 $86,000, compared to $76,000 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, business support services, the federal executive branch, and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 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 over six figures depending on their certifications, employment settings, and experience. According to BLS data, nurse anesthetists earn the highest salaries, averaging $189,190 annually as of 2020.

How much do RNs make hourly?

As of May 2020, the BLS reports that RNs earn an average hourly wage of $38.47. However, hourly pay ranges from $25.68-$55.88. 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 May 2021 entry-level RNs receive an average base hourly pay rate of $27.12. 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 $28.70 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 well over six figures, depending on where they work. According to BLS salary data, nurse anesthetists earn over $230,000 a year in Oregon, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

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