Editor’s note: This post, originally published in January 2017, was updated with new information. You also can download our 2018 Nurse.com Nursing Salary Research Report for more current salary information.
In nursing, salaries increased on average about 1.3% per year from 2008 to the middle of 2014, and since then the rate has gone up 2.6% per year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The increase in the last two years coincides with a rise in the demand for hospital services, said Peter McMenamin, PhD, a senior policy adviser for the American Nurses Association. As baby boomers are aging and more people have access to healthcare due to federal insurance reform, the need for healthcare services will continue to increase through 2024, according to the BLS. These are some of the reasons the BLS is projecting the nursing employment rate will grow 16% from 2014 to 2024 — much faster than the average for all occupations.
“There are more opportunities than ever for nurses right now,” said Mary Jane Randazzo, MSN, RN, a nurse recruiter at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. “Hospitals are creating roles for nurses in areas such as transplant coordination, urgent care, ambulatory care, clinical documentation and care coordination.”
The BLS also predicts the financial pressures on hospitals to discharge patients quickly will result in more admissions to long-term care facilities, outpatient care centers and home healthcare. “I’m seeing significant growth in home health, case management, hospice, palliative care and health plan assessment nursing positions,” said Mary S. McCarthy, RN, assistant vice president of human resources at MJHS in New York.
Salaries by the numbers
According to a recent report from Medscape, the average gross salary of an RN in 2015 was $79,000, compared with $95,000 for a clinical nurse specialist and $102,000 for a nurse practitioner. The specific averages vary depending on geographic region, and the report showed that RNs in California earned the highest annual salary with an average of $105,000, followed by the Northeast at $87,000. RNs who live in the Southeast and North Central region earn the lowest annual salaries at $74,000 and $69,000 respectively. Although the salaries are higher in California and the Northeast, the cost of living in these regions is the highest in the country, according to 2016 data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. The two states with higher paying nursing jobs combined with a lower cost of living are Michigan and Idaho, according to data from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
According to the BLS, nursing jobs within outpatient care centers command the highest median annual wages, followed by general medical and surgical hospitals, then home healthcare services, offices of physicians and skilled nursing facilities. Certified registered nurse anesthetists, nurse researchers, mental health nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives are the four specialties with the highest salaries, according to NurseJournal.org.
In the academic arena, faculty salaries increased about 8% between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. In 2015 the mean full-time salary of an assistant professor in the U.S. was $70,000; an associate professor was $83,000 and a professor was $108,000, according to the AACN.
The Medscape report also showed how pay increases were correlated to educational levels. Nurses who completed an RN diploma or associate’s degree program earned an average of $73,000 per year, while BSN nurses earned $79,000. Nurses who had earned a master’s degree averaged $87,000 per year, and those with a doctoral degree earned about $96,000 per year.
“Jobs are not lifetime jobs anymore. There is a lot of movement and you do not need to leave the company to do this.”
How to be a savvy applicant
Although salary is important when applying for a new job, Randazzo encourages nurses to find the right time to ask about the numbers. “Don’t ask before the interview,” she said. “Ask during an interview, or when you are offered the position.”
At her hospital, recruiters facilitate open communication about this topic by meeting with applicants to discuss salary and benefits before the interview with the hiring manager. “While applicants want to know about salary, I find that they are often even more interested in opportunities for growth and development, such as tuition reimbursement, mentorship opportunities, nurse residency programs and the culture of the work environment,” she said.
According to the Medscape report, 69% of advanced practice nurses and 49% of RNs received an education allowance or tuition reimbursement in 2015. Nearly 40% of APRNs and 55% of RNs received certification fee reimbursement that year. Mary Bylone, MSM, RN, CNML, past board member of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, believes learning about the work environment is just as important as gathering salary information. She suggests nurses ask to shadow someone on the unit to get a sense of the work atmosphere. “Money is a piece of it, but it does not keep us in a position,” she said.
For nurses who are moving to a new state, McCarthy suggests calling recruiters to gather information. “If a new graduate called from out of state and we didn’t have any positions available, I would share which organizations in the area are hiring new graduates,” she said.
Workforce of the future
As analysts like McMenamin look ahead, one of the salient demands in the future will most likely be for highly experienced nurses, he said. According to the BLS, nearly 700,000 nurses are expected to retire between 2014 and 2024. While there has been a surge of new graduates entering the workforce, there will not be enough highly experienced nurses in their 40s and 50s to step into the roles of retiring nurses, he said.
“There may be bidding wars for these nurses, and the wages for more senior nurses could increase while very experienced nurses remain in short supply,” McMenamin said.
One specialty that is projected to significantly increase is advanced practice nursing, according to the BLS. Employment in this specialty will increase 30% from 2014 to 2024 as these nurses provide primary and preventive care to meet the demands of caring for newly insured and aging baby boomers.
Randazzo and McCarthy also see many nurses transition to new jobs within nursing, and they expect that trend to continue. Randazzo, for example, started as a staff nurse at Jefferson Health 34 years ago, then later moved into roles as a nurse manager, pool coordinator and now a recruiter. “Jobs are not lifetime jobs anymore,” McCarthy said. “There is a lot of movement, and you do not have to leave the company to do this. I see a significant amount of internal movement. There are many different fields within nursing, and you can spend an entire career in nursing and barely touch a fraction of what is available.”
Key points to keep in mind:
- Since 2014, nursing salaries have increased by 2.6% per year.
- Because baby boomers are aging and more people have access to healthcare due to federal insurance reform, the need for healthcare services will continue to increase through 2024.
- Nursing jobs within outpatient care centers command the highest median annual wages.
- The average gross salary of an RN in 2015 was $79,000, compared with $95,000 for a clinical nurse specialist and $102,000.
- Nurses who are job hunting, should find the right time to ask about the wages.
- According to the BLS, nearly 700,000 nurses are expected to retire between 2014 and 2024.
- Employment in advanced practice nursing is expected to increase 30% from 2014 to 2024 as these nurses provide primary and preventive care.