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

03/24/2016

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

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 a wages report in 2014. It estimated a mean hourly wage for nurses, including registered nurses and clinical nurse specialists, at $33.55 per hour, and a mean annual wage of $69,790.

The Medscape Nurse Salary Report 2015, a survey conducted from August to October of that year of 8,256 full-time nurses, found an average RN salary of $79,000 annually.

The 2015 Minority Nurse Salary Survey indicated a median annual salary of $71,000. However, African-American nurses reported earning a slightly lower average of $70,000.

The Advance for Nurses 2015 Nursing Salary Survey found 17 percent of the respondents earned between $50,000 and $60,000 and 15 percent between $60,000 and $70,000. Most of the nurses earning in the $50,000 to $70,000 range worked on med/surg units or in geriatrics.

The 2014 BLS report also found that nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $102,670. 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 2014 report. Nurses there earn a mean hourly wage of $47.31 and mean annual wage of $98,400. The top 10 metropolitan areas for salary are all in California, the highest being San Francisco at $61.63 per hour and $128,190 per year. Hawaii, the next highest paying state, is nearly $5 less per hour than California.

Medscape also indicated California paid the highest nursing salaries at $105,000 annually.

WalletHub.com reports the highest annual salaries for nurses, after adjusting for cost of living, are Texas, Michigan, Nevada, Idaho and New Mexico.

The Minority Nurse survey reported higher median salaries in the West and Northeast, at $80,000 annually, with the lowest pay rate of $67,000 annually in the Midwest.

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 compensation by setting

Nurses working in specialty hospitals, except psychiatric and substance abuse facilities, receive the highest salaries, a mean of $35.86 hourly and $74,590 annually, according to the BLS 2014 report. That’s followed by outpatient care centers, a mean of $34.80 per hour and $72,390 per year, and general medical and surgical hospitals at $34.44 and $71,640. Skilled nursing facilities pay the least with a mean of $30.03 per hour and $62,440 annually.

The 2015 Medscape survey found agency or contract nurses earn the most, $95,000 annually, followed by nurses practicing in military or government settings at $93,000 annually. It did not differentiate between general and specialty hospitals and pegged the salary for hospital nurses at $83,000 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 2015 survey found the average staff nurses earned $68,600, up $800 from 2014. It found nurses received higher compensation at acute care specialty hospitals, $74,200, followed by academic medical canters at $72,500, with general community hospitals paying about $66,700 for perioperative nurses. Nurses employed in government or federal hospitals earned about $7,000 more than nurses in nongovernment facilities.

The HIMSS 2014 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey reported an average salary for nurse informaticists of $100,717.  The BLS also reported that nurse anesthetists earn the highest average salary, with a mean rate of $158,900 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 2015 Medscape report found male nurses earning $85,000 annually compared to females at $78,000, a 9 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 AORN survey found men on average earned $4,200 more than women, a sizable jump from a $3,200 differential in 2014.

Nurses who want to improve their earning potential can often do so through education and certifications. The Minority Nurse survey showed a $1,000 average bump for a master’s degree to $72,000 annually, and $10,000 on top of that for a doctoral degree.

The Medscape survey found nurses with a BSN earning on average $79,000, those with a master’s degree $87,000, and a doctoral degree $96,000. 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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