RN Salary Guide

registered nurses in meeting
registered nurses in meeting

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% of RNs saw a salary increase between 2018 and 2019.

So what sort of salary might you see as an RN? Keep reading for an up-close look at RN salaries and the factors that can determine your pay.

What Can Registered Nurses Make?

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. Actual salaries will vary greatly based on your specialization, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors.

According to the BLS, pay for RNs covers a wide range. The lowest 10% of RNs make around $59,450 per year, while RNs in the top 10% can earn a salary as high as $120,250.

Median annual RN salary as of 2021 BLS data.

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.

Your Salary Depends on Your Experience and Education

male nurse explains health issue to elderly patient

Perhaps the factors that have the most influence on how much you can make as an RN are the degree you hold and your years of experience as an RN. Nurses can work as RNs with either a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

Often, the jobs that require more responsibility and experience—and subsequently offer better pay—are those that require a BSN. In other situations, your experience determines your salary.

“Salary differences between an ADN- and a BSN-prepared nurse depends entirely on the institution,” explains Emma Geiser, an RN with 10 years of experience who also works as a financial planner and coach for nurses. “Certain places of work will offer a bonus or incentive for holding higher education, while other institutions go off years of RN service.”

Often, the RN jobs that require more responsibility and experience—and subsequently offer better pay—are those that require a BSN

Salary aside, the increased opportunities RNs with BSNs will experience include chances to work in leadership and management roles. With a BSN you could take on charge nurse or nurse manager titles. Your advanced degree can even allow you to join your healthcare facilities administrative team in a role like director of nursing. 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 put you on a path to a potentially 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.

“As a nurse, don’t be afraid to directly ask if there is a pay difference or incentive for an advanced degree,” says Geiser. “Finding out whether your hospital has tuition reimbursement and scholarships for continuing education is also an important component of your benefits.”

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

Average salary

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

Average salary

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

Average salary

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

Average salary

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

Average salary

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)

Average salary

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
Registered Nurses $77,600
Nursing Assistants $30,310
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses $48,070
Nurse Practitioners $120,680

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.


Average Pay for RNs
  • Top Paying Metro Areas:
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara: $155,230
  • San Francisco: $151,640
  • Vallejo-Fairfield: $146,360


Average Pay for RNs
  • Top Paying Metro Areas:
  • Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina: $107,600
  • Hawaii/Kauai non-metro: $100,050


Average Pay for RNs
  • Top Paying Metro Areas:
  • Portland: $101,710
  • Eugene: $97,330
  • Medford: $95,020

District of Columbia

Average Pay for RNs
  • Top Paying Metro Areas:
  • Washington DC-Arlington, VA-Alexandria, VA: $89,060


Average Pay for RNs
  • Top Paying Metro Areas:
  • Anchorage: $96,160
  • Alaska non-metro area: $100,470

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.

Highest paying non-metro areas

Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California non-metropolitan area (Central California, east of the Sierra Nevada foothills)


Alaska non-metropolitan area (Rural areas outside Alaska’s most populous cities: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan)


North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California non-metropolitan area (Northern region of the San Fernando Valley and the mountainous area around Mount Shasta)


Hawaii/Kauai non-metropolitan area (The Hawaiian island of Kauai)


North Coast Region of California non-metropolitan (Coastal California region between San Francisco Bay and the Oregon border)


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:

  • Gerontological Nursing Certification
  • Informatics Nursing Certification
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification
  • Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification
  • Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification
  • Nursing Case Management Certification
  • Pain Management Nursing Certification
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification

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 an average of $111,840, according to the BLS . That’s an increase of more than 44% when compared to the standard RN salary.

3. Put in Some Overtime

Another way to increase your earnings is to work overtime. According to a 2019 Medscape study, 40% of RNs say they work overtime on a regular basis, and 27% say working overtime is their primary source of supplemental income. How much supplemental income? Well, federal law requires that overtime pay be 1.5 times your standard rate. Since the average hourly rate for RNs is $37.24 according to the BLS, that could average out to an overtime rate of $55.86. In that scenario, if you worked one extra eight-hour shift a week, you’d have earned an additional $4,446.

The amount of overtime available to you will depend on your employer, but for many nurses, overtime shifts are a great way to earn additional income.

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.”

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

emma geiser

With professional insight from:

Emma Geiser, RN

Nurse and money coach