Nursing salaries are on the upswing




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.

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.”

Heather Stringer, a freelance writer, contributed to the writing and research of this article.

To find jobs in your specialty and area, visit the Nurse.com Job Board.


About the author
Sallie Jimenez

Sallie Jimenez 

Senior Nursing Editor Sallie Jimenez develops and edits content for OnCourse Learning’s Nurse.com blog, which covers industry news and trends in the nursing profession and healthcare. She has more than 22 years of healthcare journalism, content marketing and editing experience.

18 responses to “Nursing salaries are on the upswing”

  1. I wish we saw this where I work. Our salaries aren’t even close to $79,000, and BSN nurses don’t make more money than ADN nurses…all the same!!

  2. Hi Mercy,
    I live and work in the eastern region of the states, and as a 7y experienced RN, BSN, MSN, I feel as though my salary is not comparable with others with the same experience, and my organization tells me that I do, but I am not convinced. Do you know of any approach that I should use?

    • Hello Addie,

      If you are concerned about whether your salary compares to those nurses within your organization who have the same experience AND education level, you may want to consult with your nurse administrator and with the human resources department, as there are many factors that may explain variations in pay rates. Outside of your employer, local and national salary rates could be reviewed on several websites. There are also several online resources that provide useful information on how to determine if you are being fairly compensated for your work.
      Thank you,

  3. These salary articles all seem to be very inflated. I live in rural Illinois. Maybe administrative nurses make these salaries or more, but the day to day front lines nurses who are the backbone of the nursing profession are in the $45,000 – $50,000 range. They work very hard to get it.

  4. So glad to see that the salaries for full time nurses is improving! I know that it is well deserved!!!! Can anyone tell me what the going rate for per diem nurses in the greater New York area is? My experience is that we are making a lower hourly rate than the full timers when I believe we should be making more since we take no benefits. Any information that anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated.

  5. It is good to know that there is still appreciation for the seasoned nurse. It seems in the mid west that the focus is hiring the new graduates and getting rid of the seasoned, more mature nurses. The pay in Missouri ten years ago, is still the same now even though the same nurses have ten more years experience. Where is the appreciation for the rise in cost of living or for knowledge in our profession. Who is there to teach the young/new graduates, if the budget cuts eliminate the seasoned nurses? Please recognize the need for nurses with experience, not eliminate us.

  6. It cannot be, My gross earning is $60,000 working in hospital with a BSN degree. I worked in north suburbs of Chicago.

  7. Nurses salaries are still well below the national average for any male dominated job in this country. We do not encourage retention of nurses in their profession. The job we do as a hands on caring professional gives us no salary increase. Patients lives are in our hands and we have a great deal of compassion and patience.
    So untill the nursing profession is on the same level with an engineer this is a well underpaid profession.

  8. its not true, my friend is working in ICU with 10 yrs experience and BSN and making 31$ in hour in Detroit, MI, its around 60-62K a year and another friend with 14 yrs in ICU-max 37$ in hour, I am making more because I am working as a travel nurse in CA

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