RN Salary Guide
Median Annual RN Salary
Registered nurses make a good wage. According to the most recent numbers from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for registered nurses is $77,600. So what sort of salary might you see as an RN? Take a look at RN salaries by state and the factors that can determine your pay.
Median Salary: $77,600
Projected job growth: 6.2%
10th Percentile: $59,450
25th Percentile: $61,790
75th Percentile: $97,580
90th Percentile: $120,250
Projected job growth: 6.2%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$95,220||$62,700||$129,670|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Earning your license as a registered nurse can open the door to a wide earning potential and a variety of different types of nursing jobs. The specific job you hold can have an impact on your salary, as can your education, experience, and location. The average pay for a number of RN roles is on the rise around the country. According to a 2020 survey by Medscape, a website that offers resources for the healthcare profession, 58 percent of RNs saw a salary increase between 2018 and 2019.
What Factors Affect Nursing Salaries?
Your education, specialty, workplace, and even where you live can make a huge difference in your possible earning power.
To help you plan, we’ve explored some of the most significant factors that can affect your salary, so keep reading to learn more.
Advanced education often opens doors to higher positions, pay increases
The degree you hold can significantly impact your earning potential as a registered nurse. While you can become an RN with either a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, most management positions require RNs to hold a BSN. These positions tend to come with a pay increase commensurate with the increased responsibility they entail. An advanced degree could even allow you to join your healthcare facility’s administrative team in a role like director of nursing.
Additionally, some institutions offer pay incentives for RNs holding four-year degrees rather than an ADN.
“As a nurse, don’t be afraid to directly ask if there is a pay difference or incentive for an advanced degree,” said Emma Geiser, an RN with 10 years of experience who also works as a financial planner and coach for nurses. “Finding out whether your hospital has tuition reimbursement and scholarships for continuing education is also an important component of your benefits.”
While you can become an RN with either a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, most management positions require RNs to hold a BSN.
If you’re already working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you might want to consider an LPN-to-RN program, which will build upon your existing education and could put you on a path toward a higher salary. Similarly, you can fast-track your nursing degree if you’re already working as a paramedic and want to move into a better-paying job as a nurse. You’ll be able to use your prior education and experience towards a BSN.
Experience impacts RN earning potential
In addition to earning a more advanced degree, another way to increase your earning potential as an RN is to simply gain more experience.
“Certain places of work will offer a bonus or incentive for holding higher education, while other institutions go off years of RN service,” Geiser said.
While earning a higher degree can give new nurses opportunities earlier in their career, there’s something to be said for practical, on-the-job experience. It’s not uncommon for experienced nurses holding just an ADN to have higher salaries than new RNs who have earned their BSN.
In some facilities, RNs who lack a BSN but have several years of experience could be eligible for roles with increased responsibility and higher pay.
Your Salary Depends on Where You Work
One major benefit of working as an RN is the variety of places you can work. Registered nurses work for schools, major companies, government agencies, and more. As an RN, your workplace can make a big difference in how much you’re paid. Here’s a sampling of places where RNs are needed, and the average salaries, per 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, that you can expect:
Outpatient Care Facilities
What you’ll do: Outpatient care facilities include clinics and physicians’ offices, where nurses are needed for patient appointments and procedures that don’t require an overnight stay. RNs at these facilities will take a patient’s vitals, administer vaccines, discuss a health care plan, and administer other outpatient care services to ambulatory patients.
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
What you’ll do: Registered nurses working in hospitals can perform a range of functions, from caring for patients in the oncology ward as an oncology nurse to working alongside surgeons in the emergency room as a trauma nurse.
Occupational Health Workplaces
What you’ll do: As an occupational health nurse, you will be creating and overseeing workplace hazard detection programs, training employees, counseling employees on health and wellness, designing disease-prevention programs, and ensuring compliance with government regulations for workplace safety. As an occupational health nurse, you may work directly in a manufacturing or production facility, or you may work in an office for a government agency or consulting practice.
Mental Health Facilities
What you’ll do: RNs working in psychiatric or substance abuse hospitals, community mental health centers, and state and federal facilities such as VA hospitals and correctional facilities are typically working as psychiatric nurses. In this role, nurses help assess mental health needs, administer and monitor treatment, and perform crisis intervention.
In-Home Health Care
What you’ll do: Home health nurses provide skilled nursing services—including high-tech care such as IV therapy—in patients’ homes. They often work alongside home health aides, performing more advanced clinical care that aides aren’t licensed to provide.
Nursing Care Facilities
(such as Skilled Nursing Facilities)
What you’ll do: Gerontological nurses, or nurses who care for older people, work in places like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities, providing a mix of health and social services in a residential care setting.
Keep in mind that even if your RN job title has a lower starting salary, that doesn’t mean your total compensation package can’t be very competitive. “While it may feel like you can’t negotiate salary and benefits, if you have something to offer, there may be some wiggle room on the table,” says Geiser.
“It might not be your hourly rate or education reimbursement, but sign-on bonuses, moving expenses, and initial housing set-up costs can often be negotiated.”
And don’t forget: RNs, like all licensed nurses, need to take educational classes throughout their professional career to ensure that their license stays current. While these classes won’t necessarily mean more money in your paycheck, their completion will ensure that you remain in good standing with your state’s licensing agency.
How Does an RN Salary Compare to Salaries for Other Nursing Roles?
Check out how RN salaries fit in with other nursing jobs that require less—and more—education.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses||$48,070|
Your Salary Depends on Where You Live
Where you live can make a major difference in your salary. Some areas with the highest earning potential are large coastal cities such as San Jose and Boston.
District of Columbia
While it’s true that earning potential is high in large, busy cities, some rural areas have a high demand for nurses, leading to higher pay. For example, RNs in rural parts of Alaska can earn an average of $97,230; much higher than the national average.
Certain cities also have a stronger healthcare industry culture, which can create not only higher salaries but more generous compensation packages overall.
What are the Opportunities to Increase My Earnings?
While your degree, chosen specialty, and geographic location all influence how much you can make as an RN, there are a number of additional ways to proactively boost your pay.
1. Get Certified
One of the best ways to increase your earnings is to earn certification in a specialty. Many nursing specialties require or recommend that nurses are certified. You’ll need to meet criteria, like a set number of years of experience, and pass an exam to earn one of these. Certifications are offered in a variety of specializations by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Certification Program. Earning a certification from ANCC will give you the designation of Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC) in your specialty area. Popular certifications that can help RNs advance their career and earn higher salaries include:
2. Get an Advanced Degree
If you want to take your career even further, consider earning an advanced degree. Nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing degree can increase their scope of practice, take on leadership roles, and potentially earn a lot more money. In fact, nurse practitioners, who are required to hold an MSN, earn a median annual salary of $120,680, according to the BLS .
3. Put in Some Overtime
Another way to increase your earnings is to work overtime if you are paid as an hourly employee. Hourly employees are considered non-exempt, whereas salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay privileges. The amount and availability of overtime you may be entitled to depends on your employer, as well as the labor laws of the state you work in.
Are RNs exempt or non-exempt employees?
Many RNs are paid a salary, and therefore are considered exempt employees. This means cannot earn overtime pay even if they work overtime. However, some states’ labor laws override this general rule. RNs who are paid hourly, on the other hand, are considered non-exempt and should be entitled to overtime pay.
4. Consider a Professional Membership
According to Geiser, nurses have the potential to increase their earnings if they are part of a nurse-affiliated labor union or other professional membership organization that bargains or lobbies for higher salaries on behalf of their members.
“Many nurses find themselves working for unionized hospitals,” says Geiser. “During contract negotiation periods, nurses have the unique ability to voice needs and request better benefits.” In addition, “depending on your experience, you may be able to negotiate an education component in your department which often offers a higher hourly rate.”