Registered Nurses: Salary Facts and How to Earn More
How RN Salaries Compare to Other Nursing Jobs
Before diving into the various RN specialties or which areas of the country offer the most lucrative opportunities for nurses, you might be interested to learn about the value of the RN license itself. In other words, how much will an RN make in comparison to a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)? The short answer is that you can earn significantly more, plus you are positioned to keep advancing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 1 , the median annual salary for registered nurses as of 2012 was $65,470. Remember, that means that half of the workers earned more (as high as $94,720) and half earned less, but that number should give you a good idea of how high you should expect your starting salary to be.
Now, compare that to LPN and LVN salaries, and you’ll see a notable difference. These lower level nurses (who work under the direction of RNs) earned a $41,540 median pay, says the BLS. It makes sense given the qualifications for and responsibilities of the two nursing jobs. The path to RN takes is more intensive.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are advanced nursing occupations like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, all of which are sometimes referred to collectively as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Professionals working in one of these areas earned a median wage of $96,460 in 2012. ( Learn more about Nurse Practicioner careers here. )
As you can see, there are different tiers of nursing jobs, and salaries increase along with the level of skill required.
Becoming a registered nurse takes a lot of commitment, and working in the job itself not only requires a specialized set of skills, but a special kind of person. Choosing a career as an RN is not something that should be taken lightly, which is why it’s important to get a sense of nursing salaries.
Depending on your level of expertise and areas of specialization, the number of years experience you gain, and the city and state in which you work, your RN salary can range quite a bit.
This comprehensive look at nursing salaries will help you see how you’ll be compensated depending on the direction you decide to take your nursing career. The good news is even those who are just entering the profession can expect a healthy starting RN salary. From there, the possibilities and income potential are only limited by your willingness to pursue advanced certifications and/or seek out a higher-paying employer.
Advanced Registered Nursing Specialties
The great thing about RN careers is that there are multiple career paths to choose from if you decide that you’d like to advance or specialize. As noted above, that usually comes along with a salary increase. To help you decide which career direction is most appealing to you, take a look at some of these 11 high paying specialties for RNs:
1. Family Nurse Practitioner - Advanced RNs who earn an average of $83,527 per year, according to PayScale. FNPs must earn a special certification in family practice, and usually a master’s degree. FNPs provide primary care in either a doctor’s office, clinic, hospital, or nursing home, and typically perform many of the same functions as a doctor (without the intense work hours). That includes patient assessments, prescribing medications and treatment, and more.
2. Certified Nurse Midwife - Becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife is a great choice for RNs who are interested in obstetrics, labor and delivery, and prenatal care. Midwives can expect to earn an average salary of $85,000, as per PayScale. They typically work in OB/Gyn offices, clinics, or hospital settings, but some choose to open private practices as well. A special certification is required to practice certified nurse midwifery.
3. Neonatal Nurse - For those who love taking care of newborn babies, becoming a neonatal nurse is a good fit, and one that commands a strong salary, too. The average hourly wage for neonatal nurses as per Payscale, is $29.76 per hour. Those who work in the neonatal intensive care unit have the potential to earn more. View over 200+ NICU RN Jobs here.
4. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner - Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners earns on average $89,634 per year, according to PayScale. This advanced position usually requires a master’s degree with a specialty in psychiatric nursing, and you’ll usually work under the supervision of a psychiatric physician to administer patient care.
5. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) - Of all the RN specialties, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists command the highest salaries, with an average of $133,000 per year, as reported by PayScale. This highly skilled profession involves prepping and administering anesthesia to patients. Additional education is required to achieve a license from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).
6. Pain Management Nurse - After earning a Nurse Practitioner certification for Pain Management Specialists, Pain Management Nurses have the advanced credentials to help manage patient pain post-surgery or during a health crisis. The average yearly salary for this specialized RN track is $90,288 per year.
7. Gerontological Nurse Practitioner - Once you become a Certified Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (CGNP), you can begin a career in working with elderly patients, and administering the specialized health care that they require. The BLS reports the median annual salary for this specialty to be $95,070 as of May 2013.
8. General Nurse Practitioner - While there are a number of additional credentials that one can pursue as an RN, a general nurse practitioner can work independent practice or as part of a healthcare team, according to the BLS. Per year, those with this designation can expect to earn $97,990, as of the May 2014 occupational employment statistics.
9. Clinical Nurse Specialist - Choosing the Clinical nurse specialist (CNS) route means you’ve chosen to work in a specialized unit or clinic. Because that requires additional training and advanced skills, the median salary as per PayScale is $80,984. Search 3,000+ clinical nurse jobs for various specialties and experience.
10. Nurse Educator - Some RNs decide to move out of the patient care realm to work directly with other nurses to help them achieve their continuing education credits, facilitate training programs, and help employees with remediation. Working in this area, you can earn an average yearly salary of $69,249, as reported by PayScale.
11. Nursing Administrator - Another behind-the-scenes position you can pursue as an RN is nursing administrator. In this position, you’ll oversee the “business” of nursing, including budgets, HR functions, and more. Doing so can earn you an average salary of $80,351, as per PayScale.
Where are the Highest Paying RN Salaries?
As with any profession, where you work can have a major influence on your income potential. As such, certain cities offer significantly higher salaries for RNs than others. Keep in mind, though, that other economic factors should go into any decisions you have regarding relocation for a job, cost of living being the biggest among them.
Still, it’s worth noting which metropolitan areas offer the best opportunities, especially if you live in the vicinity of any of them. The top paying cities for RNs all happen to be in California, according to U.S. News and World Report 2 . They are, in order: San Francisco, San Jose, Vallejo, Oakland, and Sacramento. Beyond the California area, other high-paying cities for RN salaries according to LPN.com 3 are Boston, New York, Baltimore, Worcester (MA), Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Salary Variations by State or Region
As for states, we already know that California comes in as the most generous when it comes to RN salaries, with a median salary of $98,400. Next on the list in order is Hawaii ($88,230), Massachusetts ($85,770), Alaska ($85,740), and Oregon ($82,940), according to the BLS 4 .
As you can see, nursing salaries vary widely based on level of specialization and where you choose to work. Becoming an RN is the first step toward a lucrative career in healthcare, thanks to a respectable starting salary. The appeal is not only financial in nature, however. It’s also a versatile career in which you can seek out different niche areas that you’re passionate about, whether it’s caring for babies or seniors, managing other nurses, or working closely with a physician.
Where you decide to take your RN career – and your salary – is in your hands.
How Can You Advance Your Nursing Career?
High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As an RN, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve.
Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, WomansDay.com, Parents, CreditCards.com, and more.