Nurse Salary Guide

The Complete Guide To Nursing Pay

Why become a nurse? There are so many reasons to choose this rewarding occupation. For one, nurses are in high demand across the country and around the world. For another, you get to help people every day with your skills. Last but not least, nursing can pay very well, especially once you gain some experience and choose a specialization.

Before you embark on your career path, however, you should take some time to figure out what you want to focus on as a nurse and where you want to work.

Both of these decisions can impact your pay significantly. So, it makes sense to do your homework and find out where the best opportunities are early on in the process.

To help you do that, we have put together this complete guide to nursing pay. We are going to tell you what the average pay for nurses is and what starting pay is like. We also will help you find the highest earning opportunities by industry, location, and specialization. Let’s begin.

What is the Average Nurse Salary?

First of all, you probably are wondering what nurses make on average. There is more than one type of nurse, but you are probably thinking about registered nurses.

So, let’s take a look at what registered nurses are earning. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are around 2,982,280 registered nurses employed across the country.

The mean hourly wage these nurses are earning is $37.24, and the mean annual wage is $77,460.

This nurse salary data is current as of May 2019.

The BLS also provides a breakdown for percentiles, which is as follows:

Percentile10%25%50%
(Median)
75%90%
Hourly Wage$25.04$28.90$35.24$43.64$53.47
Annual Wage (2)$52,080$60,110$73,300$90,760$111,220

So, some registered nurses are making more than $111,000 a year. That is pretty impressive!

What Nurse Starting Pay Can You Expect?

While you may be hoping to earn six figures as a nurse, you probably realize that starting out, you will have a lower salary. But as you will see, it is still likely to be quite competitive.

To locate starting salary data, we can turn to ZipRecruiter. Here, you can view information on salaries for entry level RNs.

Nationwide, ZipRecruiter says that the average salary for an entry level RN is $61,728.

On this page (which focuses on the state of Oregon), ZipRecruiter writes, “The average pay range for an Entry Level Registered Nurse varies greatly (as much as $11,761).”

So, if you position yourself well even within a specific geographic area when you start out on a career in nursing, you may be able to earn significantly more than you would in a different role, facility type, industry, or so forth.

Of course, keep in mind that some of these differences may be based on region (i.e. earning more in the big city than out in the country), and higher costs of living could eat into higher wages.

In What States and Cities Do Nurses Earn the Most?

Now that you have an idea what entry level salaries are like for registered nurses, let’s take a look at how your geography could impact your nurse salary.

We will start by looking at the top paying states for registered nurses:

StateEmployment (1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
California302,77017.420.86$54.44$113,240
Hawaii11,33017.830.88$50.03$104,060
District of Columbia10,89015.050.74$45.59$94,820
Massachusetts81,02022.381.10$44.79$93,160
Oregon36,66019.230.95$44.69$92,960

You  may be interested in comparing this information with the states that employ the larger numbers of registered nurses:

StateEmployment (1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
California302,77017.420.86$54.44$113,240
Texas218,09017.540.86$35.84$74,540
Florida181,67020.661.02$32.50$67,610
New York178,32018.730.92$42.23$87,840
Pennsylvania148,04025.081.24$34.33$71,410

As you can see, there is a lot of opportunity in California, which is also one of the highest-paying states for nurses.

Keep in mind, however, that CA also has a high cost of living in many areas (i.e. Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego).

Speaking of cities, here are the top paying metropolitan areas:

Metropolitan areaEmployment (1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA16,65014.600.72$67.67$140,740
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA38,58015.600.77$66.35$138,000
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA1,41014.270.70$64.42$134,000
Salinas, CA2,74015.000.74$64.22$133,580
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA3,72026.211.29$63.45$131,970
Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA19,86019.590.96$60.85$126,560
Yuba City, CA92020.431.01$57.34$119,260
Modesto, CA4,88026.181.29$54.22$112,790
Stockton-Lodi, CA4,47017.690.87$52.99$110,220
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA3,18016.600.82$52.38$108,940

It is not surprising to see so many locations in California. Though it is perhaps surprising that all of these locations are in that state.

These are all expensive areas, so make sure you calculate what your living expenses would be before you decide to move to CA to become a nurse.

What if you do not want to live in a metropolitan area while working as a nurse? Let’s take a look at the top paying non-metropolitan areas for registered nurses:

Nonmetropolitan areaEmployment (1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California nonmetropolitan area89014.990.74$50.98$106,030
Alaska nonmetropolitan area1,24011.470.57$47.64$99,090
North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California nonmetropolitan area1,33013.220.65$47.10$97,970
Hawaii / Kauai nonmetropolitan area(8)(8)(8)$45.61$94,870
North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area1,94018.040.89$44.26$92,060

So, the majority of these locations are in California as well, with a couple located in Alaska and Hawaii.

That being said, most nurses work in other non-metropolitan areas. Here are the areas with the highest employment:

Nonmetropolitan areaEmployment (1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
Kansas nonmetropolitan area8,16020.711.02$27.78$57,790
Piedmont North Carolina nonmetropolitan area5,77022.201.09$30.29$63,010
Northeast Mississippi nonmetropolitan area5,32022.661.12$26.95$56,060
North Northeastern Ohio non-metropolitan area (non-contiguous)4,96014.830.73$30.12$62,650
Southern Ohio non-metropolitan area4,57028.811.42$30.48$63,400

So, there are more nursing jobs in non-metropolitan parts of states like Ohio, North Carolina, and Mississippi.

In What States Do Nurses Earn the Least?

States where nurses earn lower salaries include:

  • South Dakota
  • Kansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky
  • Wyoming

The BLS says that the annual mean wage in those states is in the range of $35,040-$64,800.

You can contrast that with the annual mean wage of $78,330-$113,240 for high-earning states like California, Hawaii, and New York.

Nevertheless, the cost of living in those low-earning states is also lower, so you will not need to spend as much of your lower nurse salary to stay afloat.

Nursing Pay Across Different Industries and Facilities

According to the BLS, these are the top-paying industries for registered nurses.

IndustryEmployment (1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
Business Support Services6500.07$44.33$92,200
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)83,2104.14$43.43$90,340
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing2600.09$41.54$86,400
Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing1200.02$41.07$85,430
Traveler Accommodation50(7)$40.92$85,120

You will notice that this is a very different list than that of the industries with the highest concentration of registered nurses:

IndustryEmployment (1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals1,713,12030.69$38.20$79,460
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals62,67023.63$38.86$80,840
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals40,39016.35$35.87$74,610
Outpatient Care Centers147,55015.47$40.73$84,720
Home Health Care Services177,79011.86$35.41$73,660

Here are the industries with the highest levels of employment:

IndustryEmployment (1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals1,713,12030.69$38.20$79,460
Offices of Physicians197,8907.47$33.45$69,570
Home Health Care Services177,79011.86$35.41$73,660
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)151,3009.43$33.53$69,740
Outpatient Care Centers147,55015.47$40.73$84,720

What Are the Highest-Paying Nursing Careers and Specializations?

The BLS provides a breakdown on nurse salary information for a number of different types of nurses:

  • Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary: Annual mean wage of $83,160.
  • Registered nurses: Annual mean wage: $77,460.
  • Nurse anesthetists: Annual mean wage: $181,040.
  • Nurse midwives: Annual mean wage: $108,810.
  • Nurse practitioners: Annual mean wage: $111,840.
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses: Annual mean wage: $48,500.

Let’s learn a little more about each of these career roles…

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses: Annual mean wage: $48,500

If your goal is to launch a nursing career as soon as possible, you might consider becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN).

LVN and LPN are virtually identical roles. It takes only about a year of nursing school to qualify, saving you time and money so you can get right to work.

The lower educational requirements and authority associated with this job do mean you will make less money than a registered nurse. Indeed, you may even work for one.

But you can continue taking classes while you work so you can eventually become an RN yourself and boost your earnings potential.

Registered nurses: Annual mean wage: $77,460

Registered nurses are able to take on more responsibility than LPNs or LVNs, and work with less supervision. They also earn more money.

The catch is that it takes longer to become an RN. Whereas you can become an LPN or LVN with just a year or so of education, you need to attend school for 2-4 years to become a registered nurse.

Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary: Annual mean wage of $83,160

If you have ever been drawn to teaching, you might want to think about pursuing a path as a nurse instructor at some point to increase your earnings potential.

In this job, you teach others how to be nurses. Your work will take place both in the classroom and in clinical environments where you teach practical skills.

Nurse midwives: Annual mean wage: $108,810

One of the highest-earning specializations in the field of nursing is becoming a nurse midwife. As the name implies, this is a type of nurse who acts as a midwife, assisting women with giving birth, usually in clinical (not home) environments.

As a nurse midwife, you also will provide gynecological and primary healthcare services.

Nurse practitioners: Annual mean wage: $111,840

Another opportunity to earn six figures as a nurse is to become a nurse practitioner (NP). A nurse practitioner has far more authority and autonomy than a registered nurse, and may even work independently.

Around three quarters of nurse practitioners work as family nurse practitioners (FNPs) providing primary care. Others work as acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs).

If you are interested in working in a rural location, you may find more opportunities for nurse practitioners than you would elsewhere. These areas have a hard time retaining doctors, so nurse practitioners tend to fill in the gaps.

Keep in mind that to earn the higher nurse salary of an NP and take on that extra responsibility, you need more schooling.

After earning your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, you will need to earn either a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Only then can you test for your certification as an NP.

Nurse anesthetists: Annual mean wage: $181,040

Finally, the highest nurse salary the BLS lists is for nurse anesthetists, sometimes called nurse anesthesiologists.

These professionals are responsible for safely administering general and regional anesthetics and sedatives.

As you might expect, the educational path is a bit longer than it is for an RN. It starts with becoming an RN, and then spending a year or more in an ICU. You then have to earn a DNP and take a certification test.

How Can You Become a Nurse?

Excited about the high earnings potential of a career as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or another type of nurse?

To find out how to become a nurse and to learn more about life as a working nurse, continue to explore the resources on our site.