Back in the ’70s
I recently heard some students brag about how they were going into nursing “for the money.” This brought me back to my own beginnings as a new grad back in the ’70s. Starting at $10 an hour, I was one of the highest paid nurses in town. My wife and I felt like we’d just hit a lottery, although we quickly adjusted to our level of affluence. Some of my contemporaries at the time didn’t fare as well, taking care of eight patients at a time for $3 an hour. That’s about $6,000 a year.
We worked hard back then. I know, the conventional wisdom is that it’s so much harder today (although more than one recruiter and millennial as well has told me that some new nurses need to learn how to work). However, some new grads with whom I started were so stressed they couldn’t pass meds without sobbing. I was hired into critical care with about 25 other new grads. We practiced without a license until we passed or failed boards (if you failed, you were an automatic nursing assistant with a reduction in pay until you passed). I’m not a delicate creature, but I wanted to cry while taking care of my first patient. (I didn’t because I remembered that I was a “guy” nurse, and we weren’t supposed to cry on the job.) My patient had just had a Whipple procedure, and his dressings and ostomy bags fell off every time I turned him, putting him way beyond my skill level.
Ultimately, I would insist that we all work hard for the money — back then and now. And as American RNs, we are the highest compensated nurses in the world. The question remains, is it worth it? As Boulder, Colo., ED nurse Melissa Moffatt, BSN, RN, said, “I hear [that people are entering nursing for the money] more and more these days. Of course, once they realize what hard work nursing is, many exit quickly.”
“… as American RNs, we are the highest compensated nurses in the world. The question remains, is it worth it?”
Many nurses in the U.S., including staff at the bedside, earn six-figure salaries. With the long-predicted shortage about to explode, the money will just get better. In a hard-hitting report from Nurse.com, Salaries on the Upswing, annual pay, which had been flat for years and began rising steadily by 1.3%, has now accelerated to 2.6% per year. In the grand job-market arena, weighing region, education and experience, the money’s not bad. But the work is hard — very hard — both physically and emotionally, and therein lies the rub.
Would you do it again?
Some people who become nurses talk about having a vocatione, a sacred calling, as do priests or nuns. I certainly did. Yes, practitioners should expect a fair working wage, but that shouldn’t be the sole reason they choose a nursing career. Very few who go into nursing only for the salary stay in it. At least that’s what my many Facebook friends think. Although, as my wife reminds me, they’re not a homogeneous lot because I don’t know them all as friends, really. There’s too many of them.
“Some people who become nurses talk about having a vocatione, a sacred calling, as do priests or nuns.”
I asked my Facebook nursing sample if they’d still be nurses if they could do it all over again. Then I asked if they feel or have felt appropriately compensated, remembering that there’s always someone richer or poorer. Here’s a sampling of opinions:
Carolyn Smeltzer, EdD, RN, FACHE, FAAN, retired partner in the Health Industry Advisory of PricewaterhouseCoopers: “Money never entered my mind. I went to help people and, Bob, I’m going to one up you. Graduated in 1972 and got $3.50 hr. And that included charge nurse and evening add ons! I was thrilled, and I got a car to get to work! Now, I agree that the nursing salary through my lifetime has been great, but I never expected it! Great profession!”
Nancy DiMauro, MA, RN, BC, dean of nursing program at ASA College, New York University: “For the money, no. For the great feeling of helping people with their health issues, yes. As they say, being a nurse is priceless.”
Karen Mascolo, DNP, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Kent State University: “‘Nursing ain’t for sissies,’ and if you choose nursing for the monetary benefits and not because you love the profession or love people, you will not stay. Through professional socialization, it becomes a part of your human fabric. It is impossible to separate being a nurse from your very being. It simply isn’t and cannot be about the money. It truly is a calling — fortunately one that provides a decent living.”
Donna Huether, RN, charge nurse, Newton Medical Center, Ogdensburg, NJ: “Definitely not the money. It has to be in your heart, or you shouldn’t be doing it at all.”
L.J. Bellard, BSN, RN: “I knew as a nurse I would have job security (technically I can find a job anywhere), and I would be comfortable, not rich. I was not looking for fame and fortune when I took my oath, holding the lamp. It is true that nurses are not paid what we may be worth, but who is? If I had to choose my profession all over again, I would still choose nursing without regret.”
My Facebook friends basically told me that if you’re a nurse, whatever job or role you’re in, you better love what you do. The money’s OK, but it’s not what compensates you. It’s the intangible rewards, like saving a life.
For career tips, visit our 2017 Career Guide.
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I have been an RN since 1977 .I have never been a six figure nurse.I work psych in Florida now and I still don’t make what other occupations make after six months.Yrs I would still do my years in Med-Surg and psych but it is very different now.The money is not great and the emotional up and downs are bad for your family.It is the most rewarding thing you can ever do,but you have to love it to stay…
Karen — I call Florida my home state now, and I’m licensed here. I think some of the salaries are a little lower than other parts of the country for various reasons. I share your salary experience to a degree and the stress of nursing, but I agree, it is most rewarding and I can’t imagine having had any other career. Glad you’re part of the journey.
Dr Bob, RN
I have been an RN for 30 years
We have been suffering from the delusion that competing and demanding salaries that compensate us for the critical role we play in the multi billion healthcare industry is incompatible with our special calling to care for the sick and dying.
The healthcare system can not exist without us.
Our salaries should reflect that fact
Jim — I agree. There’s no reason why nurses’ salaries shouldn’t be fair, equitable, and high.
Dr Bob, RN
I agree-the healthcare system can’t exist without us and our salaries still don’t reflect that. I transitioned to home care after being in the hospital setting for years & private practice with MD’s, the salaries are even lower!
Now you need a BS or MSN to get any job(s) and hope for an increase in salary and there is no assistance with ongoing education unless your working for a large hospital/organization
Karen, Which is why nurses need to start early with acquiring advanced degrees to stay competitive.
Dr Bob, RN
I will tell you this, even hospitals won’t pay you more just because you have a MSN if your job doesn’t require the degree. I work in a rural hospital that starts new grad RNs at 18/hr. There is no overtime and you don’t even get a full paycheck all the time because we get called off on low census so much unless you want to eat up your vacation time. We work 36 hours a week and for a new grad that is almost $7,000 less a year than if we were working 40 hours a week. That is why I do not like the 12-hour shifts and I believe nonpayment for low-census should be illegal. If you are scheduled to work and you are employed full-time, you should be permitted to work.
When I finished my MSN in Nursing Education, my raise was a big fat zero. That is why nobody in my hospital, unless they want to go to grad school, even bothers with a BSN because the pay increase is the same.
If hospitals can pay physicians in my area $3,000 a day, plus room/board, travel expenses, they can afford to pay nurses more. If you work in a clinic, the RN pay is generally that of an LPN in the hospital.
Karen — And we are lucky to have retained you in our profession. I agree with your sentiments, wholeheartedly.
Thanks for the feedback.
Dr Bob, RN
you shouldn’t be a nurse if what you think about how hard you work for the money . But rather how hard you work for the well being of the patient .
this is idyllic drivle.
I disagree. A nurse can have both compassion and the desire to get a fair compensation for his or her hard work.
Have to say, the wages are not great everywhere and work conditions can be really bad at some facilities too. It really requires a commitment and desire to care for people. Definitely not for the weak at heart.
I don’t know where you live, but in my neighborhood nurses don’t make anywhere close to a six figure salary. And I’ve been nursing for 30 years.
Barbara — It’s not about where I live, but nurses do make six figures in places such as Texas, California, New York, and Connecticut.
Dr Bob, RN
Florida does not pay well, and employers try to tell you everyone wants to live here, but those are untruthful. To live in Florida, it is expensive, housing groceries and other expenses have risen considerably, yet wages remain flat.
Patricia, I live in Florida now, so I can agree with your comments. Florida has its expensive challenges, just like everywhere else.
Dr Bob, RN
I agree. In 2000 I was making $23/hr in LTC. 2017- making $25/hr. And now I pay for health insurance out of my check. Housing cost has doubled in NY. Here’s an example, internet for my house 4 years ago-$40. Today-$90-monthly. Car insurance, food all going up. Not my pay. My employer does not provide retirement either. And LPNs are doing so much more work..I need to get out
Alice — I sympathize with your struggles, a common response these days. Thanks for sharing your point of view.
Dr Bob, RN
Where in Texas do nurses make six figures without overtime?
I live in Houston Texas and I’m very close to 6 figures without overtime. Been practicing 20 years
Where in New York (the city??). Does any nurse make 6 figures????
Belinda, yes, staff nurses in NYC.
Dr Bob, RN
Hmmm, I live in Southern California,and I am in a specialty, but I don’t know anyone who makes this kind of money, only administrators. Do you know what percentage of American nurses make six figures? I would guess it’s pretty low.
well, i work in texas, RN for 8 yrs in the same hosp 12 hours grave shift, but i dont get six figures though,,fyi..
Lauren, reports from Texas nurses earning six figure salaries came from Texas nurses themselves. I’m sure it is not wide spread.
Dr Bob, RN
Yes, Amen, sister 🙂
Dr Bob, RN
Omg please move!!!
Come to California I was on a travel contract in Fresno California for a year. I brought home after taxes $2,500 a week plus they gave me an free car and apartment. I’m a CVICU nurse; idk if that makes a difference because of my specialty because now I’m in LA at USC Keck on a travel contract that pays $3,300 a week both of these contracts however are 48 hours per week not 36.
Girl find you another job there is money to be made.
Sherry — Thanks for being one of the nurses who was able to represent the money side of nursing, if you’re living and working in the money locations. That last weekly figure, if worked every week without vacation, takes the annual salary to $171 K. Not sure many nurses would want to work those hours, but it’s nice to know that a figure like that is achievable.
Dr Bob, RN
Glad you make a three figure salary but after being in the hospital for 11 years, I wouldn’t go back unless I had to. The physical and emotional stress of it, the sleep deprivation from night shift, is not worth it to me. Travel nursing doesn’t work with all families, esp. when kids are still young. I now work home health and school nursing to work around my kids’ schedule. I wouldn’t do it any other way unless I had to. Thanks for the info.
Aracell — Nowhere did I say that “I” make a six-figure salary. I’m just the reporter here. And we are should seek what works for us, as you sagely allude.
Thanks for the feedback.
Dr Bob, RN
Yes, if you want to spend your life away from your friends, family and home working in an unfamiliar environment with short-staffed facilities then YES! BY ALL MEANS!! Dive in!
I believe California pays higher than most places even higher than NY!-Karen
Karen, I am not sure whether the west Coast pays higher than the East Coast for nurses, but we have plans to explore this further in the future. Stay tuned.
Dr Bob, RN
Barbara — I am not reporting on where “I” live, but reflecting that there are some regions in the US where it is not uncommon for nurses to make six figures. This observation was validated by several nurses responding to this blog.
Dr Bob, RN
Somehow sitting to actually think about care your patients need or problems they have and easy ways to fix is not highly regarded. As patients get sicker outside of ICU. One needs to use brain along with body. Also it should be said the dangers of injury of nursing staff that can affect later in life. Some genetic samples of people with arthritis and back issues should not be on nursing ward as patients are heavy and wiggly. Employers should give incentives to get staff to excercise and keep core muscles tight. Also nursing students should be taught how to deal with stress and proper diet to stay thinner. We wear great shoes because the floor is so hard, but we don’t treat the rest of our bodies the same.
Annette — I so agree that nurses and nursing students should be proactive about their physical conditioning. Patient care is hard work, and we have a responsibility to keep ourselves fit for duty.
Dr Bob, RN
Absolutely. Retired after 40years of hospital nursing where staffing levels and lack of needed equipment continue. Mandatory OT is a given. Exercise is a part of my daily routine; however, work injuries continue to affect my body. Stress levels and lack of respect from management and physicians continue.(NOT “DOCTORS” as nurses are now completing doctoral degrees”)
Annette, thanks for your thoughtful evaluation and the hard, stressful work of nursing. I love your comment about “docotor,” which has to be a blog topic for me in the future. I hate to called Mr Hess. When nurses do that, I tell them to please call me Bob or Dr, Hess, their choice. A few minutes later, they go back to Mr Hess. What is it that makes it so hard for nurses to call their colleagues with earned doctorates, Doctor?
Dr Bob, RN
I still attend the hospital reunions for RN’s and I am one of the few nurses not on disability due to body breakdown from 30+ years of nursing-Oh, I have physical issues for sure, but I am working in Home care where its less physical but still very demanding and hectic, I cant afford to retire, never made enough money.-Karen
Karen, you have my sympathies because I know that I could not practice at the bedside at this point in my life. I really think that chronic health problems in aging nurses will become a bigger issue as time goes on. Lucky for us that there are so many settings in which nurses can practice.
Dr Bob, RN
I too started my nursing career in 1968 with the starting g salary of$3.64 and loved what I was doing. I worked in operating room,took weekend call with a compensation of $.50 perhour for being available for 8 to 24 hours without making any plans because we usually spent several hours in the operating room called in for emergency surgery always working without breaks or sleep! That is what I went into nursing for, to help my patients have healthier better lives. Would I do it again, definitely, after doing it for 40 years I could never imagine me doing anything else. Becoming a nurse for the money was something I never considered.
And you, Mary, are the type of nurse I love to call a colleague. Looks like we’ve aged together as well.
Dr Bob, RN
Mary, I feel the same as you. I am a Certified School Nurse and make no where near what I could be making in a hospital or Private duty. But I love what I do and knew the salary challenges when I took the position. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!
I make decent money even working parttime but get no respect from management for what I do which makes me very angry. It is the thanks I get from patients that keeps me going. I keep letters in what I call a ” feel good file” that I have to look at now and then to remind me why I do what I do because the money surely does not make up for it. I am a bedside nurse at heart but it has taken a huge physical toll on my body and left me with permanent damage and chronic pain. I am very frearful for my future and think that we should be better compensated for the physical and mental toll that the job takes on us. Few people realize that aspect of the career. I love what I do and went into it after a nurse made a huge difference in my life but will also pay for it the rest of my life.
The feel-good file you write about is the portfolio I speak to nursing students about. My feel-good file is a Rubber made bin, in which I keep memorabilia, such as patient letters and nurse letters, I read from time to time to keep me on track and renew my spirit.
I do think about nurses at the bedside and the pong-term physical effects. I know that I myself in my ‘602 couldn’t possibly do the physical work of nursing at the bedside anymore. Hopefully, bedside nurses’ job duties can evolve as they age. And still have contact with the patients.
Dr Bob, RN
In the 1980s, I was working on an AIDS unit in NYC, at the height of the epidemic. A 25 year old Hispanic man I was taking care of was deeply religious and very focused on the Blessed Virgin Mary. One day he told me he had a visitation the night before and was told by the Blessed Virgin he wouldn’t die. He gave me a card in which he wrote me, “Thank you for caring for me. I love you.”
Two weeks later, I wrapped his body and took it to the morgue.
Thirty years later, I still have the card.
That’s why I am a nurse.
Lary — Thanks for that beautiful story exemplifying why we become and stay nurses.
Dr Bob, RN
I agree about the lack of respect from management. I finally retired at 70. Miss my nurses who are absolutley the best, with the increase in drugs and alcohol, it’s become a dangerous job as well. I never had a problem with wages, I also went into nursing to help the sick. I now pick up shifts at the Hospice House which is very rewarding, and much appreciated
Nursing is a priceless opportunity to help our brothers and sisters when they need it most, and to empower them to better their lives from this day forward. What other profession provides such an opportunity to make an impression on someone during their most vulnerable times? The best nurses don’t choose to go into nursing…they are called. ❤
Hey, Patty, thanks for the sentiment. You can tell from my commentary how much I agree as a nurse.
I would definitely be a nurse forever. I always wanted to be a nurse to help people to the best of my abilities. Money, the salary was increasing but not the driving force. The people were always the reason. Along the way, I was also able to be a volunteer firefighter, paramedic, assistant to the state EMS director and able to provide continuing education credits using cadaver labs to hone field skills, fund raisers to support volunteers,help provide feedback on patient outcomes to EMS systems, develop a Trauma Speaker and presentation program. For me, Nursing was more than expected by allowing me to meet wonderful people and provide solutions along the way for all of us. I am Retired now but loved the journey,would do it all over again. While there were bumps along the way, it was a great experience in giving, helping, learning. No regrets.
Karen, not many nurses bring up the volunteering opportunities that exist for us after active employment. This seems like a wonderful way of giving back and I think I will write about this in a future blog.
Thanks for the idea and thanks for your volunteered time.
Dr Bob RB
I was named Nancy because my mother wanted her third daughter to be a nurse. I grew up being told that I was going to be a nurse. I never questioned it then, and after graduating from nursing school in 1973 and still continuing to work today, I’ve never questioned it since. Sure, have some jobs been better than others, yes. But I have always been proud to say that I am a nurse. Since I married an educator, my salary has always been higher than his. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t making a decent salary. Through the years I worked in many different areas of nursing. But, 37 years ago I had the opportunity to work in the operating room. I haven’t left!
Nancy, nurses like me are proud to be in an a profession with someone like you. Particularly, since I use the OR more and more frequently to maintain my own body. Thanks for being a nurse!
Dr Bob RN
What a delight to read various perspectives on our beloved profession. I agree with all perspectives, the work is hard, it is a “calling” and yes it is worth it!
I started as a new RN in 1972 at $4.07/hr in Minnesota. My first job is still one of my best jobs and great memories, but looking back, I don’t really know how I did it. Rotating all 3 shifts within 1 month…working charge on 11-7 ( no extra $$) on a 36 bed fresh post op unit with myself and 1 LPN and 1 NA…I mixed our own IV’s using buretrols for antibiotics.. I am now in management and am saddened by the changes in healthcare affecting staffing ratio’s and the increasing use of non-nurses to do nursing work because they are less costly.
God bless all RN’s our expertise and compassion is invaluable!
Thanks, Mary Kay, for recognizing my attempt to represent a spectrum of opinions about our profession and wages.
I too have similar memories of my early jobs, wondering how I could be a charge nurse, give all the meds for the floor, sign off all the orders for everyone, and have a patient assignment as well. Tough then, tough now, in a different way, I guess.
Dr Bob, RN
I love reading about the goodness of nurses. I have been a nurse for 35 years and would never consider another profession. That being said, I wish nurses would be stronger advocates for appropriate wages and working conditions. Nurses are at highest risk for occupational injuries and workplace violence and yet continue to be the number one respected profession (Gallup Poll). I’m happy to hear of nurses making six figure salaries….but none that I know of.
Nurses work very hard. They should be compensated for it.
Patty, BSN, RN, CRRN, ONC
Paty, I think you will agree that there is a plethora of goodness in some of the responses to my blog this month. Heartening to me.
I would always like to see nurses earn more. I think the six-figure salaries are concentrated in the urban areas, if one would want to live and work there.
Thanks for reading my blog.
Dr Bob, RN
We were not even allowed to carry money in nursing school. I started as an OR nurse for $4.50 an hour, but would have done this work for free. It was a dream come true. I have a post on my blog about nurses and money – “Nursing Joins the Money World.”
Hey, you old fool, I went straight to your blog spot and read several of your editorials. I really enjoyed your clever writing and deep insights. I advise others to visit you as well.
Thanks for sharing. Thank God my diploma school experience was not as severe as yours. I might not have made it through nursing school.
Dr Bob, RN
Hi, I have been a nurse since 1980, just 37 years. I had attended college for elementary education and then I wanted to be a lawyer. Half way through I married and had my son. A few years later I divorced and became a single mother. A teachers salary did not pay the bills. I went to the local college and spoke with a counselor about various careers. After testing he recommended nursing, ugh I thought I would not be able to do it. I signed up for a Nurses aide course and knew I was where I belonged the first day I was on the floor. With the encouragement of my teachers I went on to become an RN. I loved learning and sharing information. I specialized in Oncology after working MedSurg, ER, Cardiac and psych. I went on to receive my Masters degree. I spent 12 years traveling around the country speaking and sharing information regarding new treatments as well as patient management while working full time with new treatment modalities as well as some research. I then went into Research full time, what an honor to help so many people that had felt like they had no hope. I became disabled a few years ago due to many pulled muscles, tears and sprains over the years. I have become a Faith Community Nurse through our local hospital system and I am sponsored by my church. I now care for people on a one to one basis occasionally whom have recently been diagnosed with cancer or are in need of managing the adverse side effects of their treatment. It amazes me how many nurses have no knowledge how to help their patients or possibly they don’t feel the need to? Like so many others have stated, “I love being a nurse”. I am renewing my license again this year, just in case someone needs my help.
Jennifer — I also started out as a nurses aide, so I appreciate your beginnings as a nurse. Please keep renewing that license.
Dr Bob, RN
Great story! You were born to be a nurse!
Thanks for your words of wisdom. I graduated with a BSN in 1969 in Michigan but have always worked in Cleveland, OH, always in perinatal care. I became a CNS IN 1980. My journey in nursing has allowed me to practice at the bedside, teach in both ADN and BSN programs, develop and maintain (for 18 years) a private nursing practice contracting with insurers to provide home assessment for mothers, newborns and families following an abbreviated hospital stay, provided education and consultation for hospitals throughout the country to form their own programs, developed a documentation system for our patient population (which was marketed nationally), spoke at two national AWHONN conventions, worked to educate national and state governing bodies about nursing issues among other things. In the last 10 years I worked, I helped our nursing staff develop their own potential to excel in evidence-based practice when caring for high-risk maternity patients. I do NOT share this to expect adulation, criticism or any benefit. It amounted to being a nurse, viewing the puzzle, finding like-minded colleagues, trying solutions and evaluating outcomes – sound familiar? I now work as a volunteer Reiki Master with cancer patients, an outreach educator for that same program and a docent at a local museum which stresses diversity and tolerance. And when people say, “Oh, you were a nurse?”, I proudly declare, I AM – and will always BE a nurse.”
Annette — I appreciate your account of your career journey in terms of changes roles. You depict the wonderful array of choices we have as nurses as we progress through our lives and careers. I expect to carry my identity as a nurse to my grave as well.
Dr Bob, RN
I think you are talking to us “dinosaurs” that have been in the profession a long time because we love most of the work (JACHO and some computer systems not so much) but I am seeing the new generation in for the money, how hard can it be, and for 2nd career people not successful in other careers. The focus is on tasks and not the pt and family, nor anticipation, basic pathophys and using that knowledge to provide higher level care, nor advocates for the pt/family. As a traveler I see this in both new and some of our older colleagues who and the work environment more toxic and divided. Sad, sad as I started as a diploma graduate and all the communication skills, knowledge, and team work were just part of the norm to advocate and provide the best for all patients. Don’t know what the answer is but we do enjoy discussion over a nice bottle of wine to try and solve.
Hey, Vicki, you don’t have to be a dinosaur unless you want to be one. I too am a diploma school grad, and I’d love to sort this out one day with you over a beverage.
Dr Bob, RN
While I love nursing and would not do anything else, the survey driven care, higher acuity, fewer resources, poor staffing and constant derision by management gets REALLY old, really fast. When I do the things I was taught, to help patients, I get in trouble…because they “don’t want to do what I asked”. A millenial comes in, gives them the highest dose of pain medication, despite the fact the lowest dose was effective, tells them they can lie in bed and don’t really need to follow a care plan. I’m exhausted with post op ileus, creating addicted patients with in-hospital overdose and staff/management stating “it’s not our job here”. I feel it is our job, in any setting, at any age, to do the right, prudent nursing thing. A happy patient is great, but if we kill them with kindness, because “survey says…”, we still did it wrong. Money is never great compensation for insomnia, thinking about what you could have done better and how you’ll be written up tomorrow for having to chart late because your 6 patient assignment became 8 and you lost a CNA, while giving chemo to 2 patients. I am not a nurse for the money, but it does pay for prescriptions for hypertension, insomnia, and GERD, as well as rides for my kids to events and games that I have to skip.
Shelly — Thanks for reminding me that we not only work hard for the money, but that nursing these days and in the past is just hard.
Dr Bob, RN
Understaffing and lack of time are big impediments providing the care that patients and their families deserve. We send sick people home from the hospitals and expect them to receive care from family members. But time for teaching about medications and patient care is very squeezed. Our litigious society has medical professionals looking over their shoulder as much as looking forward. The personal satisfaction of “helping, right when you are need” loses some.of it’s luster. Long hours and mandatory overtime are exhausting. Also “leaving your worries about work at work” is not something that very many can do. I have been a nurse since 1976. The workload is hard. The patients are sicker. There have been many golden moments during my career. Nursing require a strong heart, brain and back. One nurse’s unvarnished report
We started our nursing careers the same year. That’s a for an accounting of the difficulties of being an RN.
Dr Bob, RN
I always wanted to be a nurse. I am an oncology nurse for 32 years now and feel blessed that am able to take care of people at thier most vulnerable time in there lives. I do not make the money you are talking about but I feel so lucky that I am a nurse!
Connie — Glad you are content with being a nurse. While I said that “many” nurses make six figures, I didn’t mean to overstate. There’s many more that never did or will.
Dr Bob, RN
Although I have loved bedside nursing, obtained my BSN ( after 17 yrs as a diploma nurse) and held OCN certification, nursing has physically crippled me. In 35 yrs in MO I HAVE GONE FROM $4/hr in ’77 to $29/hr in 2012. My handyman makes more. And he does not worry that the dose of Chemo he gave will slowly kill someone-despite all precautions. Except for advance practice nurses, we are NOT reimbursed for either our brains OR the physical toll. 2 spinal surgeries later I am living on disability-poorly. I have Never and will NOT encourage anyone to go into nursing until we standardize our education and unionize to demand the respect and reimbursement we deserve
Nancy — Sorry to hear about the toll the work of nursing has taken on your physical well being. I share some of this myself. We do have a long way to go in protecting our own as nurses progress through their careers. Thanks for sharing.
Dr Bob, RN
I have been a nurse since 1999 and graduated with a BSN. My first job was with a doctor office, my next job was with a health department. I worked in 2 different health departments for the next 15 years. I NEVER got to 6 figures in spite of also obtaining an MPH (the health department paid the tuition). I now work for a State agency as a Nursing Home Surveyor and still do not make 6 figures. The only nurses I know making 6 figures are in management (DON, Nurse Managers in hospitals).
I don’t know where you get your wage stats from, but they do not reflect my reality.
WHY do I stay in my job – obviously not the pay, which is modest. I stay because of the job I do, the people I serve, and the people I work with who are dedicated people.
I graduated from the university of New Mexico in 1960 and retired 55 years later in 2015. During those 55 years I probably was unemployed about a year and a half to have my babies and make a couple of out of state moves. I was always able to find a job quickly. Until my last active day I loved going to work (although not always getting up at 5 am). I am an oncology nurse, one of the more challenging fields, but one of the most rewarding. I also taught nursing, many times teaching all week and then doing a couple of weekends a month. I started at a low salary of $289 a month. I remember how excited I was when I started making $450 a month. Throughout my nursing career my gains were not monetary. They were of the heart. I received so much more from my patients than I felt I ever gave them, and have been so privileged to share what I do have with them.
Tara, thanks for representing the flip side of making money as a nurse. It’s uplifting!
Dr Bob, RN
I went into nursing in 1992. Starting pay was $11 an hour. The nurses had just unionized three years prior to my graduation. Before that the maintenance workers made twice what the nurses did, with less education. I don’t know if I would go into nursing now or not. I have worked in the OR for the last 25 years, and the emphasis has moved away from the Patient and us more on how fast everything can be done. Taking time to talk to a patient preoperative Lynn is frowned on because time is money and the surgeon needs to keep moving. So you work with no real patient contact, no breaks, no lunch and no time to pee. I miss the ability to help calm fears and answer questions. I miss surgeons who took time with patients instead of having a God complex and expecting the Patient to just have surgery because they were told to. I am currently between nursing jobs and I am seriously considering doing something else.
Wendy, I am sure that OR nursing where you practice is as you represent it. However, as a recent, frequent consumer of surgical procedures, I can personally report that practice is much different as I experienced it. All of the pre-, intra-, and post-op nurses I encountered during half a dozen procedures were personable, professional, engaging, and excellent in providing my care. I guess it’s all about where you work.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Dr Bob, RN
I’ve been a nurse in NY for 38 years. In the beginning I would come home and not take my uniform off because I was so proud and excited to be a nurse, my childhood dream, was even a candystriper. I have had the privelege of caring for so many patients, learning from them-of courage, compassion, gratitude, patience. Great stories from some of my senior pts. Working together with colleagues when the tough gets going, supporting each other,learnign from each other, standing up for what is right. Teaching each year the new interns. I’ve seen nursing change, new “philosophies” that impact out practice, changes in medicine and healthcare. Now leading to hospital mergers that sadly, sometimes result in the loss of that family feel, the business part of healthcare resulting in worrying about the bottom line and loosing the caring about staff, the stresses they go through. Managers who become part of the business and can’t empathize with staff. Of soooo many new nurses who just want to jump into becoming NPs and not recognizing the huge impact of experienced bedside nurses. How our knowledge and experience make such a difference in the caring and well being of our patience. Woould I do it again? Probably yes, but I would leave an institution that no longer shared my feeling of listening, being supportive and fair, and remembered what nurses really do and that acknowledging that is not just once a year during nurses week.
Thanks for echoing so many other colleagues who would become nurses all over again, if given the choice.
Dr Bob, RN
Growing up in the 50’s I knew I wanted ,to be a doctor. But when I was offered a chance for that I turned it down because I didn’t know you could be a doctor and a mother….it was either/or thinking. Also at that time there were very few women doctors for role models.
I was a lab technician in the years before marriage and children, livin. G in a hospital dorm and hanging out in the hospital for much of my spare time. I learned to work the switchboard and help in ER and x-ray. I even volunteered to have a local surgical procedure so I could get into the OR area.
After 20 years of marriage and 5 children I went back to school to become an RN. My plan was to earn enough money in order to become a Registered Medical Tecgnologist..
I graduated in 1981 with a 2 year AS degree and went to work in ICU earning $9.72/hour that included 10% premium for ‘unit’ pay!
I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be anything else but a nurse! The nurse was at the center of it all. We held all the information about our patients. We knew their clinical info, their plan and prognosis plus knew them and their families in the most intimate of ways. I loved being a part of the team and guiding that team, coordinating care, taking care of not a patient but a person!
I worked ICU, some CathLab, PACU, earned my BS degree, and ended with CaseManagement where I still work part time at age 77!
I have loved every bit of it from the hard physical and emotional work of ICU, to the long days and even longer nights on call for PACU, to Case Management where I use every bit of knowledge and skill I have developed in my lifetime. What a privilege it has been to care for so many people and learn something about myself and from each and everyone of them.
Would I do it again? You bet! When the day comes and I have to put my license as inactive I will still be a nurse. I hope that put it on my headstone, I am that proud of it.
Katie — Thanks for your accounting of a career well lived. I admire you.
Dr Bob, RN
Nursing is my 4th career following chemist,teacher and Army helicopter crew chief. Teaching is the hardest but most rewarding and lowest pay. I do nursing for the money hands down. No pun intended. I’ve been working nights in ICU for 10 years and if I won the lottery I give notice that day. That being said, it does have its rewards at being able to help people and that brings a great satisfaction. It really is a mean job that has to be experienced to fully understand. Oh Missouri has some of the lowest wages in the nation. I get paid better than many but no where near the 6figs.
Terry — Thanks for your thoughtful response. I particularly love hearing from nurses who bring previous careers to the profession, enriching it in so many ways.
Dr Bob, RN
These nurses you gave as an example of working nurses is not accurate. Those nurses are administration, educators, NP…. The bedside working nurse DEFINITELY DOES IT FOR THE MONEY…and I am a grad 1984 started at 16.00 hour thought that was a lot of money. Then 2 children, divorce, and no retirement means yes…yes…yes…I have always done it for the money to keep my lifestyle without too much struggle. A new car every 5 years, a house or two, a job in any city any state I wish to work…if the money is good I go. I follow the recruitment sign on bonus… $ 10,000…$ 20,000 what ever…I get through the interview to get the bonus…I have done travel nursing so I get the higher pay, live in areas I cannot afford to buy a house…I smile every shift..all the way to the bank…I walk away 13 weeks later no pain no stress, because I do not care about the politics of that facility…I am there to help, to smile… then I know I am leaving soon so I do not care if staff, patients, or people in that place like me or not. I got paid well…I do the same good customer satisfaction care giving no matter what hospital I work… it makes good sense to treat every patient as an important ill person who needs my nursing skills. I give care, I get paid…everyone wins… I am not stressed out… I wish I had planned for retirement, so I could know one day I could quit and enjoy life without money being a struggle. There are so many nurses like me. We got used to the lifestyle the pay in nursing gave us so now I cannot live that lifestyle without keeping my nursing job, because nursing profession does not have retirement…well maybe Kaiser nurses are lucky…
Actually, Donna Huether, whom I hired as a new grad years ago, although a charge nurse, is a good representative of a bedside nurse as well, and doesn’t work for the money, in particular. If you read through the dozens of comments to the blog, there is a fair sample of working bedside nurses who give testimony to not working for the money.
I am sorry that you are struggling with retirement, like so many of us, especially with such an extensive, important career.
Dr Bob, RN
I have always been a caregiver, the oldest of six children. I was the one who cared for my younger sisters and brothers. I knew from an early age that I would choose a career in the medical field. I think nursing choose me from the day I was born, and over the past 44 years, I am still working as a nurse. Having graduated in 1974, it was not the money, but the love of caring for others! I have worked in several areas in the hospital setting, and in physicians offices, and now currently in home care. I am a nurse, proud of my profession, and have inspired many others to go into nursing, or further degree. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to let you know.
Susan, thanks for your caring representation of a career well-worked and a profession well-represented.
Dr Bob, RN
I have been an RN since 1981 but never worked in a large metropolitan area. My highest salary as a staff RN is still under $30.00/hr, although I do know RNs who worked in more populated cities who started out making at least $5.00/hr + more, and quickly surpassed my hourly wage by much more. The location makes a huge difference, however we must remember that most of this country’s hospitals are not in the big money areas such as TX, NY, CT and CA. I took a hiatus from nursing in 1989 to pursue a PhD in Spanish Literature (weird wiring…?) (I worked summers and in breaks, but not full time). When I took my leave I resided in the North, and was earning a whopping 18.50 “ish”. Fast forward to 2009 in a 25 bed Critical Access hospital in the South. I was offered about $5.00/ hr more than what I earned in the North 20 years earlier. I am still amazed that nurses aren’t better compensated for their work.
Cecilia, your story is one of the best. I love to hear about colleagues whose interests have varied deep and wide and have moved around the country. I don’t have an advanced degree in something like Spanish, but my undergrad degree was in comparative religion. I think that these varied backgrounds truly enrich nursing. It’s a shame they don’t punch up the salaries as well.
Thanks you for your comments.
Dr Bob, RN
I was born with Tetrology of Fallot and needed a 3rd open heart surgery so went to Deborah Hospital n N.J. in 1980. The RN’s in the Peds Unit would let me stay up at night after the kids went to bed (I was 23) and taught me about PQRST. I asked the surgeon, “Do you think I could become a nurse?”. That was my start! I always had a basis of Faith and serving other so it was a perfect fit!!!
I am 60 now on Disability had a wonderful career loving, caring for, and serving others. I also had an edge in that I knew what it was like being a patient first! I mostly loved 10 years in Homecare where I could care for the poor and well-off alike and needed to disseminate the information on all levels to make it useful. To be able to reach out to family, neighbors. share resources… While I cannot physically do it, I will not give up my license and I still learn to grow, teach, and share. I also volunteer at a local hospital by sewing and doing prayer cards. I help serve meals to the homeless at local churches. It is something in your soul and about so much more than $$$!
God Bless You and ALL NURSES AT HEART!!! xo… Peg
Peg, thanks for such a heartfelt response. Funny, I am having my career validated at the other end of life, as I am engaged more and more in the patient role to keep my body going and doing the things I want to do.
I am so glad that you’re out there, representing us as a volunteer.
Dr Bob, RN
I have been a nurse since1980. Hired on for 10 dollars an hour. Thought it was a fortune. Money has always been secondary. The blessing of helping others has been my main compensation. I have never regretted my choices.my daughter has been a nurse for 13 years come this June. She bedside nurses and makes six figures. I retired was miserable and am back working in education. I’m 71 and believe if you love what you do it’s not like working at all in spite of the hard work.
Carole — Congratulations on having a child who followed in your footsteps. Also, thank you for being one of the nurses who validated my statement that nurses really do make six figures.
I am not far behind you in age and like you, plan on continuing in the profession for as long as it is rewarding.
Dr Bob, RN
Came here to the USA from the Philippines in 2004 to worked as a nurse. Started working in nursing home here in NJ, the pay was great of course compared to what I earned from back home. Worked in the nursing home for 3 years then moved to an Acute Rehabilitation unit of a hospital up to the present. Nursing is not all about the money. You must have the desire to give care that comes from the heart. With all the hard work you give every 12 hour shift is definitely worth every penny. Every shift is a different challenge but the rewards not just monetary but the simple “thank you’s” you get from your patients and family is priceless.
Jay , thanks for echoing the international perspective that I have heard from my foreign-educated colleagues who come here to work.
Dr Bob, RN
Nursing is not for the faint of heart. Bedside nursing while classified as expense should be revenue generator. Is it wrong to consider maybe it is about the money and the love of what we do. Nurses need to value what they do and themselves. Yes nursing is a calling but it is much more than that. The culture of nursing needs to evolve beyond the role of calling to that of value based professional registered nurse. A great deal of education is required in order to provide the level of care needed in the hospital setting. Compassion dedication . . .
Judy, so much of what you wrote rings so true with me. Thanks for sharing.
Dr Bob, RN
You really mislead people with this declaration that nurses are well paid. For the cost of education, and nowadays the cost of benefits and funding your retirement, real wage value is not what it once was. Certain areas of nursing pay more. Certain areas of the country pay more. I have a BSN, an MBA and two post-grad certificates, but even with 30+ years of nursing experience I barely topped 40,000 last year. I work two jobs to make ends meet, but I have struggled to make ends meet since I entered nursing. There was a brief period in the late 80’s and early 90’s where I felt well paid. The increasing cost of benefits has eroded that away.
Teachers make more than us with summers off. We have constant overtime and stress, and the responsibility of human lives. I would never say we are well compensated for what we do. Backbreaking, heartbreaking, stressful work with no breaks and little time off in most settings. But if I had to do it over again, I would. Even when I graduated and started working I was so very proud and happy to be a nurse! That has never changed. I am only sorry that others outside the profession do not understand what we do or value us. At least until they need us.
Carol, I have tried to represent the facts of the salaries without comment to equity. I would always like to see nurses make more money for what they do. I simply point, like the quoted nurses, to the intrinsic rewards of our profession.
Thanks for your comments.
Dr Bob, RN
I did not go into nursing for the money, but I did consider the fact that I will always be able to find a job. I work oncology and love what I do. It is not a question that it is a calling and if you don’t love it the work is hard.
Beth — I so agree that one of the benefits of being a nurse is the ability to work at will. I have also experienced the additional perk of being able to change roles as well.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Dr Bob, RN
Love the comments as I graduated in 1977 with my BSN, first job as a staff nurse at $5.00 an hour. I loved doing bedside care but my body couldn’t take the increased stress with aging. Nursing gives you opportunities you never thought you would go when you started. Went to Graduate school twice (MSN and MS in Adult and Cont. Education) and found my second love in education. I teach in a hospital based childbirth education program prn on Saturdays after working Monday -Friday running a Nursing Skills Labs for PN and RN ADN students at one of the local community colleges. Found that my full time position to be similar to working labor & delivery with being very busy or getting a small break before going back into the flurry of activity. Education changes lives for the better for patients as well as bring new folks into the profession. When I retire from practice my hope is that I will leave my community a better place than when I started so many years ago. And yes if I could do things over again I would be a Nurse.
Linda — Thank you so much for your recounting of your career. You and I are similar in our love for nursing and having experienced rich careers. I too would do it all over again.
It’s been a grand ride.
Dr Bob, RN
Over my almost 28 years of being a RN I have worked in hospitals, Long term facilities, doctors offices and workman’s Comp. and Liability. After 19 years I chose to further my education and obtained my School Nurse Certification. Of all the paths I have taken this is the least financially increasing, yet the most rewarding! I wouldn’t choose to do anything else. It would be nice if they actually paid us like nurse’s though : (
Lori — We share a rewarding career, but I think you want us to be paid not like nurses, but paid more than nurses. Let’s hope that salaries increase in the future as the baby boomers need nurses more and more.
Thanks for the post.
Dr Bob, RN
Worked as a nurse for 40yrs in a Chicago suburban hospital Med surge oncology nursing now retired current license cpr certified and yes nursing is not for cissies I believe it’s a ministry not a job. I enjoyed my career and would do it all over again. I have a daughter who is a nurse and loves it. I did reach the six figures at least 6 yrs before retirement the money is very imp because it’s a necessity of life bills have to be paid. I love being a nurse and even though retired now will always be a nurse
I am finding that more and more nurses who are retiring are not really leaving nursing, like you. Thanks for ackowledging that you did reach six figures for a while. There are some disbelievers out there.
Dr Bob, RN
I love being a nurse. AS I went to college I was working as a nursing assistant then received my Practical nursing degree in 1974. 1990 went back and go my Associate Degree in nursing, at 50 went back and received my BSN. Iowa unfortunately is the lowest paying for nurses out of the 50 states based on the Medicare reimbursement. I love to be around my patients and doing teaching, but after 43 years I am retiring and moving on with my life. I feel I make decent pay but it is my heart that the compassion I have for my patients that has kept me going. With my marriage and moving to North Dakota and taking care of my 87 year old mother. After retiring I will probable look for a part time job. Nursing will always be with me.
Donna — I too was a nursing assistant (psych) when I went to college). I never thought about nursing before that, but one thing led to another. as in your career. Nice to know there are nurses like you who will never leave nursing.
Dr Bob, RN
There seems to be this persistent notion that you can’t go into nursing for the money. Why not? It’s great money, it’s a great lifestyle and it’s a great job. Nursing seems to be stuck in the nunnery days where our profession is a sacrifice to the healthcare system. Really this is crap. We don’t have to be martyrs to be a good nurse and you don’t have to get a terrible salary to prove it. We deserve to earn money and we deserve to earn a great salary. If people go into ANY profession only for “the money” they are going to be miserable in what they do. I love being a nurse working with patients and I love that nursing has been a catapult for me to earn a lot of money in many different ways. One doesn’t negate the other. With the looming nursing shortage, we should be marketing the great money nurses make and let the process of self selection weed out the bad ones.
Catie — Thanks for a truly alternate perspective to what nurses have been writing in response to my blog. Great money and a great job. Who would have thought? I also think that we can have both.
Thanks again fro posting.
Dr Bob, RN
If you imagine what a babysitter would make, lets say 8/hr to watch a child. Okay lets do the math, bedside nursing in NJ you can have 6 med/surg pts. ( wow still no mandated staffing ratios) So five or six pts, they need their adls, meds, transferring, tracking labs and vitals and dealing with irate doctors, visitors, family etc. Nursing pays well, is the pay equal to the responsibility, no way.
Your Buddy, Steve W.
Hey, Steve, you’re right. We still have some ways to go.
Dr Bob, RN
Agreed, nursing is not about money but we as nurses have come to expect that respect for our profession, knowledge (technical and theoretical), practice, and caring be compensated to reflect what we do. The pay should keep up with the market and demand, definitely!. But an increase in respect for the profession is much needed also. Nurses are partially responsible for gaining this respect. Always remember your call and oath and act respectfully at all times. Nurses also need to become more involved on various boards, media, and education. As far as being a nurse for money, no! And your significant other cannot support a you in a nursing career just because you make good money. Families of nurses are part of the team also.
Johna, Thanks for highlighting the obligations that come to play with all parties, especially with ourselves as nurses with our professional work and compensation.
Dr Bob, RN
So I am currently 21 years old and in my last semester of nursing school. My mom has been an RN for 32 years and loves what she does. Ever since my first trip to her job in the Cath Lab, I fell in love with health care. I love making people feel better. I am currently a nurse’s aide at a hospital in Tulsa, OK. The floor nurses definitely don’t get paid a six figure salary. However, that doesn’t make it impossible. It depends on the amount of education you have, the skills you possess, and the desire to succeed. I always knew I wanted to become a nurse to save lives. I also knew that a job in health care would mean endless possibilities. The amount of continuing education is infinite. Which means a hefty pay check is possible. The question is, how bad do you want it? I believe hard work is what gets you places. You can’t just sit around with the letters “RN” attached to the back of your name and expect to get paid the big bucks. Some people may be that fortunate but I don’t believe in that entitlement talk. And yes, nurses are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen. They bust their backs day in and day out to make a patient feel better, but then get slapped in the face when they forget the cream for their coffee. But they do it anyway because it’s a calling. If you’re in it to make money then I am sorry, my friend. But this is not the career where you get the “easy A”. Be prepared to show up and work for it.
Hannah , I think we are SO LUCKY to have you entering our profession. I personally can’t wait to see what you do as a nurse, And know that I’ll be around to help you any way I can.
Dr Bob, RN
For the sake of our good care for our patients, perhaps it is a good thing that entry level nursing doesn’t pay such an appealing amount that would draw more people towards it for a paycheck! Bob, you mentioned that nursing is often viewed as a calling, and although it seemed inappropriate as an new nurse to make less money than my high school friend waiting tables, what could be a better test to solidify a lifelong career direction? Our careeer demands a passion and a selfless attitude that cannot be driven by money, and as relaxing as it would seem to get in my car after work and say “Woohoo that was some easy money today!”… I won’t hold my breath for that day. I believe we will always remain grateful for a job that sufficiently compensates us financially for actions that we are driven towards anyways. And when I hear of high paying jobs or less stressful workloads that experienced nurses seek out or run into, I am grateful because they deserve it. However, i believe every nurse, for varying lengths of time, has gone through tests of tight finances or breaking point stress levels to keep us true to our lifelong goal of commitment to care for the wellbeing of others. And a nurse with that commitment is the only kind I would trust to care for my loved ones when they are in need of healthcare.
Katie, you are the only one who has brought up that common experience that most of us have as nurses. While I wonder about that as a sort of initiation, I am comforted by the thought of most anyone who might care for me having had the obligatory experiences you write about. And there are truly higher-paying, less stressful jobs available as nurses progress into their careers. At least I can attest to that. My medication error equivalent for years was publishing inaccurate information in front of the largest nursing audience in the world; that was very stressful to me, but not like hanging a drip that could kill someone.
I’m calling you out here. You took care of my wife last month, and you are one wonderful nurse, as you demonstrate with this post.
Dr Bob, RN
I have been a nurse for 20 years now (I worked for a large military oriented insurance company for 10 years prior to finding my calling to become a nurse).
I hold a Bachelor Degree in Economics & Business as well as my nursing degree which have both served me well.
I have been fortunate enough to work in many areas of nursing but my favorite by far is in the minor procedure/pain management OR as the pain nurse which I relate to so well after suffering a severe injury myself on the job–I am fused at C5-6 as well as from L3-4 to S1–rids, cages and pins, though I am fortunate that I do not take narcotics & don’t drink–I do keep my core fit & take Cox-2’s to keep pain at a manageable level.
Despite my injuries, I wouldn’t trade being a nurse for even a high paying CEO job as this is where I belong and thrive–helping others live with less or no pain & achieve their potential–best job ever!
Carol — I’m pretty upfront about me being a chronic pain patient myself, so I totally get what you saying about your pain management and still “managing” to work. I’m glad to be able to do the same.
I guess as nurses we all try to handle the hand we’re dealt and still take care of our patients. Kudos to you.
Dr Bob, RN
When I started my nursing career as an LPN I knew nursing was for me. I make close to 6 figures, my regular salary, overtime is always available but I live in New York and work for a big institution. Great pay is good but the best reward is making someone feel better during their most vulnerable time.
Marieca, sounds like you have the best of both aspects of your employment — meaningful work and equitable pay. Good for you. We should wish this for all of our colleagues.
Thanks for what you do.
Dr Bob, RN
I have been a nurse for nineteen years. I am an RN with an associates degree. I was paid $17.85 an hour at my first nursing job on a medical surgical floor in a nonunionized community hospital in northern NJ in 1998. When I left a large, unionized university hospital in northern NJ in 2011, I was making $44 an hour. I moved to the Bay Area in Northern California. My base pay in a large, unionized hospital in Oakland, California is $75 an hour. I make $82 an hour with my evening differential. I work with a nurse who left Columbia Presbyterian in NYC two years ago who was making $40 an hour. Nurses in San Francisco make about $85 an hour. Travelers make about $50 an hour. Nurses in the Bay Area are the highest paid in the whole country. However, this is the most expensive place to live in the whole country. Rent is well over $3000 a month. Old houses in mediocre areas with bad schools are about $700,000. Even though I make over $150,000 a year, we are just getting by because housing is so expensive. I commute fifty miles each way because we live in the closest affordable town with good schools. I am fortunate that I work twelve hour shifts and only commute three days a week. There are lots of high paying nursing jobs in the Bay Area. However, even with the high salaries, lots of people are moving out of California because housing is too expensive.
Rizza — Thanks so much for giving us a wonderful snapshot of the sometimes regional other side of making a lot of money: the cost of living.
Dr Bob, RN
I would like to add that California is the only state in the whole country with nurse to patient ratios. I remember taking care of seventeen patients on a med surg unit on evening shift in NJ in 1999. It was so unsafe and I realized that I could not work on that unit anymore because eventually, someone was going to die. That’s when I went to the OR where there is only one patient at a time. I have been in the OR ever since and I love it. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to take care of a patient in such an important and life changing event.
In California, the med surg patient to nurse ratio is 6:1, on all shifts. There is a state law banning mandatory overtime. We are relieved on time for the most part. The CNA, the California Nurses Association, the largest nurses’ union in the country, has made sure that the union nurses receive all of their breaks and meals. If we miss our break, we are paid an extra hour. We are allowed to use half of our sick time to take our kids to doctors appointments or take care of them at home when they have colds according to state law. Even the non union hospitals pay pretty well because they are competing for staff from the unionized hospitals. I have four weeks of vacation time and I don’t pay for my health insurance. The CNA has done very important work for nurses in California.
Rizza — Thanks for the comprehensive accounting for the nursing situation in California.
Dr Bob, RN
I assume that any six figure salary is earned by the high executive RNs who may be heading large hospital departments (Administrative, VP etc roles). I have been a nurse since 1975 and I have enjoyed job security, with pay that pleased me. I was able to work part time as well as full time. My roles included primarily bedside care, with some Staff Education, some Clinical Nurse Specialist, some Nursing Instructor roles too. We (nurses) are needed and welcomed into the lives of people in distress, and we can help – what a privilege.
No, Sally, I’m talking about staff nurses, who just happen to live in high-paying areas of the country, such as San Francisco and New York City. However, the cost of living is through the roof. My point was really that some nurses at the bedside are making much more than some nurses with only a regional perspective might think. I can’t wait to see what kind of a reaction I get when i testify that there are millionaires out there whom I know who amassed their wealth as nurses, albeit entrepreneurs.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
Dr Bob, RN
Hello Bob. I constantly tell people who ask why I wasn’t a doctor because I’d make more money: Medicine and Nursing are two very divergent fields. After 45 years and 25 in my present job, I still love my calling. The money is more than I ever dreamed, but I still earn the same as my husband’s carpenters. I think my skill set is much more challenging than theirs. No, we are NOT being paid what we are worth.
thank you for this information.
my pleasure, Maryjane.
Dr Bob, RN
I was an LPN for 3 years, then became an RN in 1983. In 37 years of being a nurse, I have never regretted it and it does become an integral part of who and what you are. I agree that although money is great, working conditions mean far more as long as you are making a livable wage and if you don’t have it “in your heart”, it’s going to be a really tough ride. It’s a tough ride in any event, even when you love what you do! A couple of comments on both your statistics and the survey. First on the statistics: They definitely need to be delineated by locale, experience level and job category. It is difficult to make comparisons to your own situation if there is nothing to equate to. Regarding the survey: I am sure there is no way to include EVERY category of where a nurse can find a job in nursing, but office nursing is not on the list. I was a hospital nurse for 15 years (Med-Surg, PCU and CCU) and have been working in a Cardiology office for 22. I would also suggest a “back” button – I know I missed one question and clicked in error on another, but had no way to go back to correct it.
Christine — Thanks for the comprehensive feedback. Maybe we’re add office nursing to our survey the next time. I was sure we would miss something, and maybe that’s it. We will be trying to delineate the survey results so that they are meaningful across the country.
Stay tuned, and again, thanks for responding.
Dr Bob, RN
Hi, I have been an ICU nurse in south Florida for 5 years at the same hospital since I graduated nursing school. As a bedside nurse I started at about $25/hr and my rate went up about .75 cents/yr with the union contract negotiations. Prior to taking on my current role earlier this year as a clinical coordinator for the ICU, I made about $28/hr. I currently make about $32/hr with my new role. We hire new nurses into the ICU and stepdown for about $28/hr with a three year contract. If you have experience we offer up to $15k bonus. Still we have extreme short staffing at times and difficulties with nurse retention and Nurse/patient ratios. I find nursing extremely fulfilling, challenging and exciting- I didn’t always want to be a nurse but rather chose nursing versus medical school because of the lifestyle and flexibility. When I first started nursing, i originally had my mind set on nurse anesthetist, but after I entered the bedside I learned that type of job didn’t fit my personality and I found myself more drawn to management and education. Would do it all over again – I love my job, nursing, and the hospital I’m at.
Michaela — I think our slary and staffing issues will continue as the nursing shortage heats up. We’re lucky to retain nurses like you, who have insight into their own personalities and fit with job. I, too, was drawn to management and education. It’s been and still is a good ride. I wish the same for you.
Dr Bob, RN
Nursing has been good to me. Choose it for the interest, heart, intellectual stimulus and the “job growth and security” based on who I was then and amnow.
In Urban CA it is possible to make good money. But you have to stick with it. After 40+ years (and I don’t feel that “old”) I am nearly there… specialty is school nursing for last 25 yrs (before that acute care pediatrics for 17 yrs). Came to school nursing with a big cut in salary – and no opportunity for overtime pay, but kept moonlighting at hospital and worked 40 hrs at school job, raise family, obtained a higher degree, and finally let go of moonlighting. Salary has been only getting better. Though salaried I (as well as most teachers I work with put in 10-20 hrs extra each week to get the job done… it is not like the hospital – but there are multitudes of things to do each day/ or paperwork home. Summers off? I work Summer School. I may be the “odd duck” – but I love my career choice and the specialty areas I have worked in … never a dull moment. Don’t miss the adrenaline rush of the ICU’s but I have to be ready at a moment’s notice for an emergency.
Started pay as an RN Ina rural hospital in 1975 at $5/hr. Didn’t see any real significant income increasees (usually had small COLA increase with annual evaluations…until 8-10 yrs later with the shortages and changing profession of the ’80s (12 hr shits etc). Moving across country did not change much either… Income increase has been gradual and steady from there – except for the shift to credentialed school nursing. But withthat major shift I obtained a union job, decent growing salary – still improving annually each year – no overtime – but I pull on average (as I see the teachers I work with) pull 50-60 hr weeks. I usually work Summer school. So it isn’t a “Life of Riley”, just a different type of nursing. But have survived and continue on increasing my benefits as they go financially and professionally.
In has been a good road for me – and I am not done yet!
NM — You’re not the “odd duck.” There are loads of us who enjoy being a nurse in whatever position we’re gravitated to…
Thanks for the feedback.
Dr Bob, RN
Greetings Bob ~ Our 16 year old daughter who is in 11th grade attends a Technical High School and is in their LPN program. (they even pay for her State Board Exam). She absolutely LOVES it and will graduate with a high school diploma and with an employable skill and certification. Her intention is to go on and become an RN. I have begun searching sites where she can find advise and support and came across yours. My question for you is what are a few pieces of advise you would give to her as she begins a career in nursing? Thanks in advance.
Just to add to the nursing salary commentary, I have been a nurse for 6 years. I live in Houston, TX and actually just took a pay cut (to switch specialties) from 102.5k BASE to 83.9k BASE. The first was salary, the second is my base hourly rate, OT, shift diffs, bonuses and incentives not included. My wife base is 89.5k with the same 6 years of experience. We’ll make well over 200k together this year.
6 figure salary! Hilarious.
As a current medical/surgery nurse I have to admit, in hindsight, I would not have become a nurse. Not all nurses can advance their degree or no one would be left at bedside. Most of the advance practice nurses I talk with, especially those in management, have long forgotten the stress of bedside nursing. As those of us with six and on occasion up to eight patients can attest to, it is stress to the max! Many nights I can hardly make it to my car from both mental and physical stress. Our compensation does not begin to cover all we must do and be accountable for on an average day, let alone on a day we are flexed to eight patients.
Feed a starving child and quit your crying! Some states are paying nurses 80,000-100,000 a year (in average cost cities… Like St.Paul/Mpls). If you are making over 50,000 after a few years you have absolutely no reason to complain. There are literally thousands of stressful and dangerous jobs that require people to have Bachelors or even Masters degrees. Many of these people make just over $30,000 dollars a year. I’m talking about police officers, social service workers, teachers in highrisk areas, firefighters, and the list goes on and on and on. Twenty years ago nurses made 1/2 of what they make today. Be happy with what you have because soon or later lower paying technical workers and machines will replace these high paying nursing jobs. The reason why you are strung out is that nurses constantly demand higher pay. Rather than sign on two nurses at $40,000 hospitals now must pay only one nurse $80,000 to make them happy. The healthcare industry cannot keep up with the high cost of paying health care professionals and pharma! It makes me sick to think of a nurse complaining about only making $50,000 dollars a year, meanwhile, many families can’t afford to get healthcare for their child so they put off that ER visit, or follow up appointment, and pretty soon their little boy or girl is beyond fixing. All of this because of the greedy healthcare systems that control available healthcare in the US. It makes my stomach turn knowing nursing is no longer about wanting to help, so many people go into nursing simply because they want to make big bucks. Shame on you if you don’t think you make enough!
I think it is very misleading and inaccurate to say nurses can have six figure salaries. I have been a nurse for 30 years and the only time I barely broke 100,000.00 for a year because I was in California working 60-72 hours per week. Please don’t mislead the public by saying we make great money. We don’t. It also disillusions a lot of students thinking they will make a great living by becoming a nurse. You become a nurse because you care and hopefully your income won’t be the primary one. Be honest.
Lal are you a nurse?
I don’t think you are. I have been a nurse for about 14 years and I still love to be one. But if you not a nurse, I understand your frustration for the excessive cost of our healthcare, I feel your pain. I want to invite you to talk to a nurse just for you to hopefully have a very small idea of the stress we live in each day. 100 or 200 thousand of dollars a year? there is not a salary that could pay for what I do, there is not a salary that can pay for love, respect and compassion nurses give to this world. There will never be a machine that replace that. I have also been in a hospital bed as a patient and been so grateful to wake up after general anesthesia to see a compassionate human being right next to me asking me how I feel, offering her or his healing hands to assist me to drink water or to the restroom, injecting pain medication or just offering those hopeful words that we all need in those so vulnerable moments. Nursing is real love for humanity.
Believe me, nurses aren’t the reason why the healthcare is so expensive, please do a little research on that.
Just fyi, most nurses in NYC do NOT make six figures as a base salary. I live in Philly with six years experience and make more than most NYC nurses I’ve spoken with. Chicago? same. High pay is more dependent on the nurse friendliness of the state in which you practice rather than the size of a city.
I work in Flint, the same Flint that you cant drink the water. At our hospital nurses start at 32.00/hr. after 5-7 years they are making 42.00/hr as a floor nurse. Some nurses who just work weekends, cadre, make 51.50/hr plus shift diff of 8.25% can make over 100k a year with no overtime. I have done so last 5 years. Double time on holidays and I can push 125k/yr. Even in a smaller city like Flint, its possible. Resource nurses make the same here also. So there are many of us here making that 6 figure income. It all depends on the hospital. Shop around people. Even people who became nurses for the money can be good nurses, do their job with compassion, and make patients and families feel better.
Iam not a Nurse, but Iam a Nursing Assistant for 10 years and we are the ones that works hard and we DONT get paid enough AT ALL! It’s like we never get recognized for what we do and what we do isn’t a easy job. Iam so ready to change my career and do something completely different, even though being a nursing assistant and taking care of people is what I always wanted to do. This is so sad.
I started in nursing in 1960 making $90/month for full time night shift. I retired in 2016 earning $58/hour. I continued my education over 40 years earning an ASBSN, BSN, MSN and am board certified as an FNP. I had and raised 8 children while doing this. One if my daughters went into nursing. The 4 others went into teaching because working nights weekends and holidays was not attractive! One if my children became an attorney, one a polimer engineer and one in the service working for DID! I would not change my profession for “all the tea in China” as the old saying goes!