RN Salary – What to Expect
Note: The amount of money Registered Nurses (RNs) make varies by state, specialty, experience, certifications held, degree held, and facility.
Salary Comparison Tool
This tool will allow you to easily search and compare the average salaries of nurses for many cities and locations across the U.S. You can search by city and state. Salary data is provided through the BLS.
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Pay for RNs varies by location of employment, education, and experience level.
Salary by Location
Because of the differences in cost of living between each state, as well as how much RNs are in demand in each location, the pay can vary greatly from state to state. Typically more expensive areas, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York pay more than places where housing is more affordable. This makes sense to provide a nurse with a job which will pay the bills and cover housing wherever they live.
Highly sought after locations where people tend to vacation, such as Hawaii, may have a high cost of living and high housing costs, but pay less than places where living is cheaper because so many nurses want to work in this tropical paradise. The supply of nurses is high so facilities can pay less and still attract employees simply because of their location. However, the same holds true for the opposite. Less sought after locations may pay more to attract good nurses. Think rural small towns.
So utilizing the location factor for making a lot of money in nursing comes down to finding a location where you wouldn't mind living, even for a little while, that has a low cost of living and pays the most. A great way to explore options such as these is by being a traveling nurse.
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RN Salary By Nursing Degree or Education
Typically, in the field of nursing, the more education the nurse has, the more he or she gets paid. Research has shown that hospitals who employ nurses with higher education have reduced mortality rates, better patient outcomes, and improved job satisfaction. This, and the ever-growing supply of nurses with advanced degrees, motivates healthcare employers to seek and hire registered nurses with more education.
To ensure maximum salary-earning potential over the long-term it is wise for nurses to earn as much education as possible. Advancing education in nursing will never be a negative on a resume and learning more about taking better care of one's patients is rewarding on a personal level, as well as a professional one.
Completing certifications within one's specialty may also increase salary. Each nursing specialty has it's own certification. Read more here.
RN Salary By Experience
Registered nurses will earn more money as experience increases. Experienced nurses with lower education levels may even earn more than new graduate nurses with higher education levels. However, eventually, the nurse with higher education will have a bigger salary, in more healthcare facilities.
Many facilities have a set pay scale and experience-level is the largest factor in determining starting salary. This is especially true for those hospitals with nursing unions.
Learn more about the BSN nurse roles.
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Pay may vary by specialty because the facility may be trying to attract more nurses to one particular area where they have a lot of need. Labor and delivery, emergency, and intensive care are usually higher paid than medical-surgical positions due to their increased demand.
Each facility usually has a set amount of money for new graduate nurses and it goes up from there with annual raises. Many facilities have a set pay structure for years of experience for experienced nurses.
Registered Nursing Salary Table
|Location||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|District of Columbia||11,110||$88,800|
Table data taken from 2018 BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs made $36.22 per hour in 2020. California RNs led the way with a whopping $51.42 mean hourly wage, with the Salinas, CA Metro Area coming in with an hourly mean wage of $63.32 and all the top paying metro areas coming from within California.
Certifications and whether the nurse has a Bachelor's degree or Associate's degree is also considered in determining pay. Typically a percentage is added into the RNs pay for each.
For example, critical care nurses are able to be earn the CCRN certification (Certification for Adult, Pediatric, and Neonatal Critical Care Nurses) which may add anywhere from 3-5% to a nurse's hourly pay depending on the facility. Similar certifications are available for almost every specialty in nursing. See our section on Certifications in nursing.
Holding advanced degrees in nursing, such as the BSN, can also increase pay. The amount of the increase depends on the facility but is usually a 3-5% increase for higher degrees.
LEARN MORE - RN Jobs
Associate's Degree RN vs BSN Salary Comparison
The Associate's Degree RN will be hired initially for less money than the Bachelor's educated RN. Once the BSN is completed, the nurse will be given a raise. Of course, this varies by facility, but this is typically the standard.
Years of experience may make up for not holding a Bachelor's degree, however. It's not uncommon for a nurse with many years of experience who holds an Associate's Degree to earn more money than a less experienced Bachelor's educated RN.
As nurses gain experience, many find themselves wanting to pursue graduate degrees. Graduate degree nurses make more money than those with a Bachelor's or Associate's degree and also hold a different role in patient care.
Nurses with a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) may work in private practice, in emergency or acute care settings, in outpatient settings, in education, and more. Specialties are dependent upon the type of program the nurse chooses to pursue. Most nurses stay within their realm of experience but those who have grown weary of the specialty they work in may choose to pursue a different specialty for their Master's degree.
The salary for a Master's educated registered nurse is higher than that of a nurse who holds a Bachelor's degree. This is because employers will pay more to hire nurses who have advanced education. This tends to hold true for the field of nursing, in general.
Read our overview of DNP salary.
The Doctorate in Nursing (DNP) is a relatively new degree in the field of nursing. Many nurses with a DNP choose to pursue a career in research or education. Some nurse practitioner programs are offering the DNP in anticipation of it becoming the standard in the future.
Salary tends to increase in nursing with increased education. The DNP educated registered nurse will earn more money than a nurse with a lesser degree.
The table below shows the projected employment growth of nurses over the next decade. As can be seen, the nursing profession is expected to see quite a sizable growth.
|Occupation||2019 Employed||2029 Projected||% Growth|
|Nurse Anesthetists, Midwives, Nurse Practitioners||263,400||381,100||45%|