As turnover continues to be a challenge in nurse staffing, it’s not surprising that our recent salary survey shows that average years of experience for nurses are declining while median salaries are rising.
In our 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report, average experience for registered nurses (RNs) was 22.5 years, down from 26 years in 2020. Advanced practice registered nurses’ (APRNs) years of experience declined to 23.5 years from 28 years in 2020. And years of experience for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) stayed around 19 years in both reports.
Another interesting finding in our report related to gender differences. Survey results revealed more male nurses chose travel nursing over females, but fewer male nurses began work in this field after the pandemic started.
Over 2,500 RNs, APRNs, and LPNs/LVNs from regions across the U.S. participated in our survey from mid-November through mid-December 2021. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected healthcare operations, new questions were included to gauge its impact on the nursing profession.
Responses showed various changes from our 2020 results pertaining to median salary, job satisfaction, and the gender pay gap. The report revealed improvements such as increasing nurse salaries in most U.S. regions and declines such as more nurses considering leaving the profession amid the pandemic.
Rising Nurse Salaries and the Gender Pay Gap
The report showed the median nurse salary in 2021 was $78,000 for RNs, $120,000 for APRNs, and $48,000 for LPNs/LVNs.
Compared to our 2020 results ($73,000 for RNs, $107,000 for APRNs, and $45,000 for LPNs/LVNs), this year’s survey showed a significant rise in salary. However, this year’s findings show the gender pay gap widening for RNs, with male RNs earning $14,000 higher. The gap noted in our 2020 data was almost $7,300.
A variety of factors could be fueling the pay gap. Felicia Sadler, MJ, BSN, RN, CPHQ, LSSBB, Partner in Acute Solutions at Relias, discussed some of the reasons in our report.
“Looking at the more substantial gender pay gaps for RNs, those could be due to explanatory variables such as clinical settings, higher acuity specialties that pay higher differentials, and certifications,” she said.
Men are also more likely to negotiate their salary (40%), which could lead to higher wages. According to our survey, 30% of nurse participants said they don’t negotiate their salary, and 31% of female RNs were less likely to negotiate salaries either always or most of the time.
The demand for nurses has increased for many reasons, including nurses retiring, staffing shortages, and higher care needs as the population ages, which place nurses at an advantage to negotiate for higher salaries.
The Effects of COVID-19 on Nursing
The patient surges during COVID-19 and nurse departures have left the healthcare system stretched thin. The effects, which included short staffing, limited access to PPE, and larger patient-staff ratios, have been felt among nurses in all specialties.
According to an American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) survey, 75% of nurse leaders said emotional health and well-being of their staff was one of the biggest challenges in 2021.
Nurses’ emotional health, which came to the forefront amid the pandemic, can be considered a main factor for job satisfaction.
Low job satisfaction can lead to burnout, stress, turnover, and more. The salary report explored job satisfaction and how nurse participants ranked areas that were most important to them.
The elements ranked most important among all nurses were consistent raises, the ability to utilize the full scope of their nursing practice, and their managers. If these components aren’t up to par, nurses may change employers or leave the profession altogether.
Our report found that 29% of nurses with all license types considered leaving their profession, and 17% considered changing employers. These percentages jumped significantly from 2020, when only 11% of nurses surveyed considered making either one of those choices.
Both nurses and nurse leaders are constantly advocating and pushing for these essentials in the workplace. At The Nurses’ March (which was co-sponsored by Nurse.com) on May 12 in Washington D.C., for instance, nurses advocated for change in the areas of wages, staff safety, violence, and discrimination. This event also honored nurse colleagues who lost their lives during the pandemic.
A Growing Demand for Travel Nurses
Before and during the pandemic, there was an increase in nurse staffing shortages. As this gap widened, the demand for travel nurses grew. In our report, 4% of participants said they currently worked as travel nurses, and 62% stated they became travel nurses in 2020 or 2021 during the height of the pandemic.
Survey respondents pointed to many reasons they chose to move into travel nursing. However, higher pay remained the top reason, trailed by dissatisfaction with management, the exploration of new locations, and more flexibility in work hours. The survey also showed that LPNs/LVNs were more likely than individuals with other license types to become travel nurses.
One travel nurse who came to The Nurses’ March noted that traveling is a trade-off. While applauding the higher pay she received during the pandemic, Loretta Guajardo, RN, a travel nurse in a post-anesthesia care unit, said, “This is what I should be making.”
She noted that traveling allows her to explore new cities and meet new people. But Guajardo misses out on family events, she said, and it can sometimes be lonely. “I’m getting paid more, but I’m sacrificing,” Guajardo said. “There’s no real winner.”
The shift toward travel nursing circles back to job satisfaction and the rise of nurses changing employers or leaving the profession. Nurses want to feel they’re getting paid what they’re worth, Guajardo said.
Travel nursing presents amazing opportunities and benefits for nurses but also brings to light the deficiencies felt by staff nurses in many settings.
“It’s important to invest in staff nurses and grow the community,” said Ashley Teague, MSN, RN, an Atlanta-area ICU nurse who was in Washington for The Nurses’ March.
Sadler mentioned that elements like pay incentives, competitive benefits, and flexibility with scheduling will help provide more fulfillment to nurses in their current roles.
“Offering more options to nurses who are looking to improve their income and work-life balance can promote retention of experienced nurses,” she said. She also added that with these options come more institutional knowledge, higher satisfaction, and elevated levels of engagement.
This snapshot from our salary report touches on only a fraction of the various matters explored in our survey that affect nurses every day.
Are you curious how your career compares to another area? Interested in learning more? Download and review our 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report.