How Does Your Nursing Salary Compare Across the U.S.?


By Debra Wood, RN, Contributor

Updated October 2018

Compensation is rarely the main motivator for nurses--who tend to care more about helping people and finding a fulfilling job--but it doesn’t hurt to at least be familiar with average nursing salaries across the country.

Have you ever been curious? Perhaps you are thinking of moving and would like to find RN jobs in a more lucrative locale, or you simply wonder how your nursing salary in your hometown stacks up against the highest paying nursing jobs.

While you may discuss salaries with fellow nurses outside of the employment setting, few nurses share that information. Even if they did, that data would only offer a limited perspective about nurses’ pay in different locations, settings and specialties.

Nursing salary surveys and reports

Are you curious how your pay stacks up to other nursing jobs?

Multiple organizations track and report nursing salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last published its latest wages report in March of 2018. It estimated a mean hourly wage for nurses, including registered nurses and clinical nurse specialists, at $35.36 per hour, and a mean annual wage of $73,550.

The Medscape Nurse Salary Report 2017, a survey conducted from June to August of that year of 10,523 full-time nurses, found an average RN salary of $80,000 annually.

The 2017 Minority Nurse Salary Survey indicated a median annual salary of $78,000. However, African-American nurses reported earning a slightly lower average of $70,000.

The Advance for Nurses 2018 Nursing Salary Survey reported that Nurse practitioners (NPs) reported average full-time salaries of just under $115,000. Staff nurses, who comprised 28.5% of the total survey responses, reported average full-time salaries of $73,287.

The 2018 BLS report also found that nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists earned an average median salary of $123,197. These advance practice nursing jobs all require a master’s degree, as do clinical nurse specialist jobs.

Highest paying nursing jobs by state

California is the top paying state for nurses, according to the BLS 2018 report. Nurses there earn a mean hourly wage of $49.37 and mean annual wage of $102,700. The top 10 metropolitan areas for salary are all in California, the highest being San Francisco at $67.16 per hour and $139,700 per year. Hawaii, the next highest paying state, is nearly $3 less per hour than California ($46.63).

Medscape also indicated California, Hawaii and Alaska paid 3 of the top 5 highest average nursing salaries, and as part of the Western region are substantially higher than other regions in the country. However, several regions showed significant average salary increases: the West, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. reports the highest annual salaries for nurses, after adjusting for cost of living, are Arizona, Nevada,  Wyoming, followed by Michigan and Texas.

The Minority Nurse survey reported higher median salaries in the West, at $93,000 annually, then the Northeast at $80,000, with the lowest pay rates of $75,000 annually in the Midwest and South.

The pay rates for travel nursing jobs also vary by location and specialty, with many of the higher paying assignments in California and the other states mentioned above. Travel nursing assignments include free housing, travel reimbursements, plus an array of benefits that are similar to staff positions.

Best nurse compensation by setting

Nurses working in specialty hospitals, except psychiatric and substance abuse facilities, receive the highest salaries, a mean of $37.16 hourly and $77,290 annually, according to the BLS 2018 report. That’s followed by general medical and surgical hospitals at $36.45 and $75,820 and then outpatient care centers, with a mean of $36.39 per hour and $75,680 per year. Skilled nursing facilities pay the least with a mean of $31.59 per hour and $65,710 annually.

Best compensation by nursing specialty

Few sources break down nursing salary data by specialty.

That being said, the American Association of periOperative Nurses (AORN) conducts an annual compensation survey. The 2017 survey found the average staff nurses earned $69,400, up $800 from 2015. It found nurses received higher compensation at academic medical centers at $75,500, then acute care specialty hospitals $72,200, with general community hospitals paying about $68,300 for perioperative nurses.

The HIMSS 2017 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey reported salary ranges for nurse informaticists. Nearly half (46 percent) of respondents indicated a salary of over $100,000 while in 2014, only 33 percent of respondents had a salary over $100,000, an increase of 13 percentage points.

Compared to 2014 results, there was an increase from 13 percent of respondents to 20 percent of NI respondents who have a salary between $101,000 and $115,000. In addition, there were also slight increases for each salary range over $116,000 in comparison with 2014 results.

The BLS also reported in 2018 that nurse anesthetists earn the highest average salary, with a mean rate of $165,120 per year.

The gender gap and education affecting nursing salaries

Despite the fact that nursing is a female-dominated profession, male nurses continue to earn more than female nurses.

The 2017 Medscape report found male nurses earning $84,000 annually compared to females at $80,000, a 5 percent difference.

A 2015 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found an average salary gender gap of $5,148. The gap has held over time and occurs across settings and specialties.

The latest AORN survey found men on average earned $3,700 more than women, and was affirmed for the first time to be statistically significant.

Nurses who want to improve their earning potential can often do so through education and certifications. The Minority Nurse survey showed a $6,000 average bump for a master’s degree to $80,000 annually, and $10,000 on top of that for a doctoral degree.

The Medscape survey found nurses with a BSN earning on average $80,000, those with a master’s degree $87,000, and a doctoral degree $94,000. It also reported that some nurses surveyed did not think the higher salary compensated for the cost of the additional education.

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