Content courtesy of Baylor University.
Our 2020 Nurse.com Nurse Salary Research Report provides current data you can use to move your career forward.
More than 7,400 RNs, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) from across the U.S. responded to our online nurse salary survey from late March through May 2020.
Responses shed light on current nurse salaries and the benefits you desire most. The report also revealed some difficult aspects of the profession, such as high stress and an ongoing gender pay gap.
Snapshot of nurse salary and the gender pay gap
Today’s average primary salary for RNs is $75,293, according to our report.
But similar to our previous nurse salary report, male RNs tend to make more than females. Our 2020 report revealed the pay gap remains even though male nurses report less education than their female nursing peers and are less likely to be certified.
While women reported an average annual primary salary of $72,703, men reported making $80,000.
According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ research, gender pay gaps also vary by position, with certified registered nurse anesthetists standing out with a gender pay gap of $18,000.
“All nurse anesthetists receive the same education and training,” said AANA President Kate Jansky, MHS, CRNA, APRN, USA LTC (ret). “The AANA would like to see the pay gap eliminated.”
Jansky added that of the CRNAs who are members of the AANA, 40% are male and 60% female.
Negotiating salary could help close the gap. Our salary survey found a small correlation between RNs, APRNs and LPNs who negotiated their salaries and those who commanded higher primary pay.
But while 46% of male RNs reported that they negotiate salary either always or most of the time, only 34% of female RNs reported doing so. The findings also suggest that regardless of gender, education boosts nursing income.
The survey also gathered salary data on LPNs and APRNs. According to the survey, LPNs earned an average annual primary salary of $45,000. While APRNs earn more than double the LPN rate.
On average, U.S. nurse practitioners reported making $107,000 annually (not including overtime or other secondary sources of income) in our report. That’s compared to $184,000 for certified registered nurse anesthetists; $113,800 annually for certified nurse midwives; and $100,000 for clinical nurse specialists.
Higher education can equal higher salaries
Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, said our nurse salary research report shows employers are recognizing the difference education makes and are more apt to compensate nurses with bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
“Nursing is a dynamic profession that provides unlimited opportunities for nurses with advanced education to serve in clinical, research, teaching, policy, and leadership roles,” she said. “Given the widespread availability of online and hybrid nursing education programs, all nurses are encouraged to embrace lifelong learning, which will enhance their career horizon and earning potential.”
Nursing roles also impact salary. For example, school nurses reported making an average $53,800 annually while nurse executives and nurse vice presidents reported average annual incomes of $150,000.
According to our nurse salary research report, 48% of RNs have achieved professional certification. Certification also can increase your salary, according to our report. For example, when controlling for education and number of hours worked, a significant relationship was noted between men’s and women’s salary and certification.
Other findings about how higher education correlates with rising salaries in nursing include:
- The average total salary of an associate degree nurse (ADN) in the U.S. is $65,000.
- Nurses with a doctorate of nursing degree earn an average of $98,000.
- Only 1% of males and 1% of female nurses surveyed reported having a DNP.
Going back to school is trending
Among those surveyed, 56% of male and 49% of female nurses indicated they were considering pursuing higher education, certification or training to boost their salary potential. Eleven percent of RNs, 6% of APRNs and 15% of LPN/LVNs reported they intended to pursue higher education in the next six months. Many more reported wanting to go back to school in the next year or more.
But there are several important attractions nurses look for when deciding on a nursing program. Cost and flexible schedules matter most and online education is preferable over on-site education, according to the report.
RNs who return to school typically work full time. If they work at a hospital, they often work a variety of shifts. RN work schedules make it difficult for them to attend in-person day or evening courses without having to quit their jobs, said Kristi Feutz, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, associate dean for Online Graduate Programs at Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing.
“We have seen a tremendous uptick in applicants for our online programs, as we do provide flexibility in schedules and allow students to continue to work and to do so without moving,” Feutz said. “With the current pandemic, this is even more paramount for many applicants. In my mind, this is where higher education is heading and it will stay especially for students seeking a second degree due to the flexibility provided and the ability to complete the courses on your own time in your own home from anywhere.”
In the Nurse.com survey, nurses pointed to personal achievement, career advancement and advanced clinical expertise as important benefits of attending a degree program.
“Education provides improved clinical judgement and patient outcomes, leadership skills, advancement of clinical expertise, a sense of personal achievement and enhanced self-esteem for doing so, as well as increased compensation,” Feutz said. “Going back to improve your education has never been a bad idea.”
Feutz said advancing her career was never about salary, but rather the benefits of work-life balance. Salary increases, however, happened with each step of her 30-year career as an RN, FNP and associate professor.
“When I graduated from the university with my BSN, I never dreamed of being anything other than a bedside nurse,” Feutz said. “However, during my long shifts on the floor, I had an opportunity to work with an advanced practice nurse. This individual had so much more independence in decision making and authority than I had as bedside nurse. She also had more control over the hours she worked.”
Intrigued, Feutz went back to school and became an advanced practice nurse. Feutz didn’t have to work weekends, holidays and night shifts as a family nurse practitioner working in a clinic.
“I had the independence to make patient care management decisions based on current evidence-based practice,” she said. “As an APN provider, my salary increased …. Initially it wasn’t much more than an RN would make doing nights and weekend shifts. But as my practice grew in the clinic so did my salary.”
Feutz didn’t think she’d go back to school but realized the benefits and took the plunge. She was precepting advance practice nurse students in her clinic when she discovered how much she enjoyed teaching. So, Feutz joined the faculty at a local university and continued to practice.
Then, the American Association for Colleges of Nurses developed a new DNP degree path. As a faculty member, Feutz was encouraged to pursue the DNP. She did and found it opened new doors into leadership roles.
While each advancement in leadership led to a corresponding increase in salary, Feutz’s advice to nurses is to follow their hearts and goals, not necessarily only their pocketbooks. “Advancing your education almost always will lead to an increase in salary as well as an increase in autonomy,” she said.
Tuition reimbursement is a desired perk
Employers, according to Feutz, can demonstrate their support by offering nurses tuition reimbursement.
The costs of going back to school can be a barrier for nurses wanting to advance their degrees. Cost was the most important consideration for choosing a degree program for RNs, APRNs and LPNs/LVNs, according to our report.
But providing tuition reimbursement can be a win-win situation for employers and their nursing staff.
“This employee may become a leader within the hospital who advances policies to improve patient care or staffing issues,” Feutz said. “For many hospitals who are desiring Magnet status, this is a winning situation. They provide tuition reimbursement and in return they increase their numbers of BSN or MSN or doctorally prepared nurses, which in turn leads to higher quality nursing care and enhancement in the nursing profession.”
About 40% of RNs, 25% of APRNs and 25% of LPNs/LVNs surveyed said their employers provide tuition reimbursement. While some employers covered less than 10% of tuition costs, others paid 100%.