Salaries for Nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
Many factors can determine the salary of an RN with an ADN, including experience, a specialty, and certification.
Wondering what kind of salary you could earn after two to three years of school? Pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is one of the fastest ways to launch your career as a registered nurse (RN) and reap the financial rewards that go with it.
Whether you’re a licensed practical nurse (LPN) thinking about returning to school for an ADN or a new student choosing your entry-level path into nursing, find out about the earning potential of an ADN-educated nurse.
In This Article
How Much Do Nurses with ADNs Make?
Most nurses go for an associate’s degree because it’s the minimum education required to earn an RN license.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for RNs is $75,330. This number includes nurses with all levels of education—an ADN, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and in some cases a master’s degree and above. But salaries can vary widely based on education.
As a new graduate, you’ll qualify for many of the same positions as nurses with a BSN, though you may notice some difference in pay rates. For example, for staff nurses, who work in hospitals, RNs with a BSN can sometimes earn about 8% more, says Joseph A. Dunmire, a board member of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment (NAHCR).
How Does ADN Pay Compare to Other Entry-level Nursing Jobs?
An RN’s salary is a big step up from pay for lower-level nursing jobs such as certified nursing assistant (CNA) and LPN. That’s because registered nurses are more skilled, have greater responsibilities and sometimes supervise nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses.
Entry-Level Nursing Salary Comparison
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020
“An ADN is a great entry level into healthcare and into nursing,” says Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC, and a board-certified nurse coach, nursing career expert, and host of the nursing career podcast “The Nurse Keith Show.” “It’s a great option for someone who wants to go beyond practical nursing or a diploma-based study program.
“For someone who’s not sure, for someone who doesn’t want to go into greater debt, and they’d like to get out of school as quickly as possible and earn a living, then the ADN is the faster path.”
How Does ADN Pay Compare to Other Healthcare Jobs that Require Associate’s Degrees?
Many other healthcare occupations also have entry-level opportunities at the associate degree level. Here’s how some of them stack up against RNs in terms of salary, according to the BLS.
What’s Your Highest Earning Potential?
There’s much more in play than just education: The salary you earn with an ADN also will depend on factors such as where you live, demand, and your position, employer, and experience.
Registered nurses have the highest employment of all healthcare occupations, the BLS says, so you’ll find a wide range of opportunities to explore. This is largely due to a nursing shortage that’s going to grow in the coming years. You’ll find entry-level positions in hospitals, physicians’ offices, home care, schools, and many other areas of healthcare.
Long-term care, medical-surgical nursing, rehabilitation, mental health care, and home care are areas that readily hire ADN-prepared nurses.
Some types of care are likely to offer more opportunities.
“Long-term care, medical-surgical nursing, rehabilitation, mental health nursing, and home care nursing are areas that readily hire ADN-prepared nurses,” says Damion Jenkins, RN, MSN, and an NCLEX prep expert, nurse educator, and CEO of The Nurse Speak. “Some of the more specialized areas, such as pediatrics, maternal newborn, ICU and OR, typically require that their nurses have more experience and therefore would most likely hire BSN-prepared new grads, if a new grad position were available.”
Your Experience and the Competition Matter
“Many ADN-educated nurses have wonderful nursing careers without ever needing to go back to school to further their education,” Jenkins says. “In fact, with the increasing nursing shortage, many healthcare facilities welcome ADN-prepared RNs with open arms and have a professional development team who can help bridge the gaps that a BSN program may cover.”
It’s also important to understand your competition. Of nurses who responded to the 2018 Nurse.com Nursing Salary Research Report, 40% said they had special certifications, which can give you an edge of other potential hires and add to your salary.
Of course, how long you’ve been a nurse can also add to your earnings. In the 2019 Medscape RN/LP Compensation Report, RNs with 11–20 years of experience earned about 9% more than nurses with 6–10 years of experience. “Nursing is one of those careers that demonstrates pay increases with earned on-the-job experience,” Jenkins says.
How Pay Varies by Nursing Specialty
Earning a certification in an area of specialization can increase your job opportunities and earning potential. “The whole issue in the marketplace when you’re looking for work is, ‘How do I differentiate myself from my competition? What makes me different?'” Carlson says.
Criteria for certification vary by specialty. Many specialties require one to five years of practice or a minimum number of hours in the specialty.
The RN-BC is Medical-Surgical Board Certification, which is awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurses can earn this credential in one of nine specialties. Many specialty nursing organizations offer certifications as well.
Here’s a look at some common specialties, their average salary, and the certification required.
The U.S. Census Bureau says the number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to be 83.7 million by 2050, almost double the number in 2012.
Where they work: Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement communities, private homes, group homes, and hospitals
Certification: Gerontological Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
Home Health Nurses
The increasing preference for older Americans to remain in their homes and the trend toward reducing patients’ time in the hospital adds to the need for home services. Home health nurses will be in demand because they’re required to perform some clinical functions that aides can’t perform.
Where they work: Private homes, group homes
Certification: Certified Managed Care Nurse (CMCN)
Hospice and palliative care have increased as the population has aged. In 2017, 1.49 million Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in hospice care for one day or more, a 4.5% increase from 2016, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).
Where they work: Private homes, nursing homes, residential facilities, hospice facilities, and hospitals
Certification: Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN®)
One in five Americans has a mental health illness in any given year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Increasing openness and de-stigmatization of mental health issues have contributed to growing demand for psychiatric nurses.
Where they work: Hospitals, psychiatric or substance abuse hospitals, community mental health centers, crisis centers, private psychiatric practices, state and federal facilities such as VA hospitals, and correctional facilities
Certification: Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
Occupational Health Nurses
Rising insurance costs and increasing worker compensation cases require nurses who understand work-related health issues, says the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses Inc.
Where they work: Businesses, manufacturing and production factories, clinical practice, regulatory/legislative government agencies, private consultation, occupational health clinics
Certification: Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN)
Demand for travel nurses varies by geographic area and changes in response to local and regional nurse shortages such as those that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where they work: Hospitals, all types of healthcare facilities
Certification: No specific certification for travel nurses, but having one can increase a nurse’s earning potential and assignment options
Acute Care/Hospital-Based Nurses
The nation’s aging population and the retirement of many nurses have created a shortage of bedside and other nurses.
Where they work: Hospital emergency rooms, critical care units, operating rooms, and urgent care facilities
Certification: Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
Community Health Nurses
Public health issues, including declining immunization rates, the opioid addiction crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased the need for community health nurses, who coordinate public care and resources.
Where they work: Government health agencies, schools, community centers, outpatient clinics, and hospitals
Certification: None available at RN level
The CDC reports that about 1 in 4, or 61 million adults, lives with some form of disability. Age, increased rates of chronic illness, and better survival rates after traumatic injuries have added to the demand for rehabilitation nurses.
Where they work: Sub-acute care units, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation units at hospitals, long-term acute-care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, community/home health agencies, insurance companies, and government/VA facilities
Certification: Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN®)
Outpatient Care Nurses
A report by the commercial real estate firm CBRE indicates that the number of outpatient centers increased by 51%, or 13,700, between 2005 and 2016, fueled by our aging population, increased access to insurance, and the popularity of low-cost, high-deductible health plans that pay fewer out-of-pocket costs.
Where they work: Outpatient facilities, clinics, and physicians’ offices
Certification: Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
Your Salary Can Also Depend on Where You Work
Where you work can make a big difference in your take-home pay. Nursing care facility jobs tend to pay below average, while home healthcare nurses make closer to average. Jobs in outpatient care, such as at a dialysis clinic or a surgical center, often pay above average.
Take a look at average annual RN salaries by industry:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
Where You Live Also Can Make a Difference
Your physical location can also affect your pay since salaries often align with the local cost of living. For example, the BLS reports that the average RN salary for nurses in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, is $140,740, while RNs in the Upper Savannah, South Carolina, non-metropolitan area earn an average of $64,660.
How to Increase Your Earnings Further
As a nurse with an ADN, you have many options to increase your earnings. It all depends on your goals.
If you decide to return to school, an ADN is an excellent foundation for earning a BSN, a degree that can help you move into positions with more responsibility and higher pay.
The increasing demand for BSN-educated nurses developed partly in response to a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) (now the National Academy of Medicine), that 80% of RNs worldwide should have a BSN.
“The real difference lies in opportunity,” Dunmire says. “The BSN includes courses of study in theory, informatics, management/leadership, public health, social science, communication, and critical thinking that are not covered as much under an ADN curriculum.
“The BSN is far more likely to secure advanced career opportunities such as management, research, administrative, teaching/faculty, as well as opportunities outside of the hospital like technology and consulting.”
If you’re thinking about getting an ADN, whether through online classes or in a classroom setting, your timing couldn’t be better: A growing baby boomer population and a high number of retiring nurses is increasing demand for nurses—so much so that it’s going to be difficult to fill the predicted 100,000-plus nursing jobs available by 2022.
“As we are going into what is predicted to be the greatest nursing shortage in our history, the associate-level program [will play] a vital and significant role bringing nurses into the profession,” says Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN, and a nursing career expert, advocate, and author known as The Inspiration Nurse.
With professional insight from: