The average nurse salary in the United States is $77,460 as of May 2019, according to the latest survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there is a very wide range of salaries.
In fact, the wage differential between the highest paid nurses and the lowest paid nurses in the United states is quite large. The 90th percentile (90% made less, 10% made more) of nurses receive $111,000 every year while the 10th percentile (10% made less, 90% made more) of nurses receive $52,000 every year. This wage discrepancy of $59,000 is attributable to a couple key factors.
Factors that impact a nurse’s salary
There are five key factors which determine a nurse’s salary
- Nurse specialty and position
- Job location
- Years of experience
- Education level
Impact of specialty and position on nurse salary
Nurse specialty and position is a major factor in determining a nurse’s salary. All of the highest paid positions require years of education and experience in order to qualify. The five highest paid nursing positions are:
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
- Mental health nurse practitioner
- Chief nursing officer
- Pediatric nurse practitioner
- Family nurse practitioner
CRNAs and NPs require years of additional work experience to qualify. Successful CNOs generally require extensive administrative and nursing experience and are respected leaders in their organizations.
If you’re not looking to become an advanced practice nurse or move into an administrative position, there are still high paying positions for registered nurses available. The top paying RN jobs are:
- Cardiac electrophysiology lab nurse
- Catheterization lab nurse
- Pain management nurse
- PICU nurse
- Psychiatric nurse
This provides a lot of upside for nurses who are not in these roles. Home care nurses are the lowest paid specialty, receiving an average $32,000 per year. As these nurses gather experience, education and certifications, they will be in a prime position to move into a higher paying position.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) salary
LPNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination to earn their LPN designation. This type of career has a “much faster than average” job outlook from 2019 to 2029, according to the BLS. The median pay for LPNs throughout the United States for 2019 was $47,480 per year or about $22.83 per hour.
Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Nurse Midwife, and Nurse Practitioner (NP) salary
These professionals can provide and coordinate patient care in both the general and specialty sense. This type of role requires a Master’s degree, but salaries often fall in the range of about $115,800 per year or $55.67 per hour. An Advanced Practical Nurse will usually focus on a particular area of practice, and they provide one-on-one patient care similar to what a doctor would do.
The BLS reports that these areas have a job outlook of 45%, which is still classified as “much faster than average” but is five times the demand for LPNs or LVNs.
Location impact on nurse salary
Location is another of the most important factors determining a nurse’s salary. This is frequently driven by macroeconomic factors like cost of living and the ratio of healthcare employers to nurses in that location.
The state with the highest average nurse salary is California, who’s nurses receive an average of $113,000 per year. While South Dakota’s nurses receive the lowest average salary of $60,000. The average wage difference between California and South Dakota is $53,000. Surprisingly, the difference in salary between these two states is actually higher than the wage difference between the 90th and 10th percentile of all states.
This chart shows the difference between the 90th percentile and the 10th percentile salary in California and North Dakota.
The BLS reports that the top paying states for Registered Nurses include:
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||$94,820|
These higher-paying areas of the United States make sense, as the cost of living in each of these states is usually higher than in other areas. Each of the states in the BLS’s top five areas also in the top 10 most expensive places to live in the United States.
Once you adjust for the cost of living, the top-paying states include:
- New Mexico
These data indicate if a nurse is looking for an instant increase in salary, they should consider moving to one of these higher paying states. Be sure to see where your state ranks on the list of the highest paying states for nurses to see whether you should consider this option.
Years of experience as a nurse
Nurses with experience are incredibly valuable to employers for a couple of reasons. First, they have generally seen many different situations and are able to improve their organization through mentorship and training newer and less experienced nurses. Secondly, they are able to begin their job on day one requiring very little onboarding and training. Finally, they can draw from their past years of experience to address new and unique challenges that arise in their job.
According to payscale.com, nurse salary averages $52,000 for nurses with less than a year of experience and can rise to over $70,000 for nurses with over 20 years of experience.
|Years of Experience||Annual Salary|
|Less than 1 years of experience:||$52,000|
|1 to 4 years of experience||$56,000|
|5 to 9 years of experience||$61,000|
|10 to 19 years of experience||$67,000|
|20 or more years of experience||$71,000|
It’s important to note that simply gaining experience won’t dramatically increase a nurse’s salary. In fact, the average salary difference between a nurse with 20 years of experience and a new grad is only $19,000 – far less than the difference between the 90th and 10th percentile. This means that in order to improve their salary significantly, a nurse will need to also focus on improving their education, skills, credentials in high-value specialties.
Education level and nurse salary
Education attainment can drive up a nurse’s value significantly. As hospitals become more understaffed, someone who has a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) can step in and fill many of the functions typically reserved for MDs. Additionally, CRNAs who are the highest paid nurses, do require a master’s degree in order to practice.
Employers and nurse salary
Some hospitals are very intentional about taking care of their nurses and making sure they have the best salary, benefits and working conditions possible. It is important to negotiate with your employer to ensure you are receiving fair wages given your experience and the job location.
Nurse salaries are growing
The BLS has been monitoring changes in nurse salary for over 20 years. Looking at that data, we learn average nurse salaries have grown over the last 20 years. LVN and LPN salaries grew by 67% between 2019 and 1999. RN salaries grew by 74% during that time.
Starting in 2012, the BLS began tracking CRNA, midwife and NP salaries. CRNA salaries skyrocketed by 17% from $154,000 in 2012 to $181,000 in 2019. During that time period, nurse practitioners enjoyed a 22% salary increase to $112,000 in 2019.
|Year||Licensed Practical and Vocational Nurses||Registered Nurses||Nurse Anesthetists||Nurse Midwives||Nurse Practitioners|
Other nurse benefits
Nursing jobs are in demand. The ongoing nursing shortage in the U.S. has prompted many healthcare facilities to offer recruitment incentives in the hopes of attracting the best and brightest in the nursing field.
Some of the most common incentives include:
- Recruitment bonuses
- Relocation and housing assistance
- Free daycare services
- On-site degree programs
- Tuition reimbursement
Frequently asked questions about nurse salary
The average nurse salary in the United States is $77,460.
The average nurse practitioner salary in the United States is $111,840.
The primary factors impacting a nurse’s salary is specialty, location, years of experience, education and the employer.
The best thing a nurse can do is gain experience in a specialty requiring additional education, training or experience like CRNA, NP or an admin role.
Nurses in California are the highest paid nurses, receiving an average salary of $113,000 per year.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are the highest paid nurses, receiving an average salary of $174,790 per year.
A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) made $181,040 on average in 2019.
A A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) made $48,500 in 2019.