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Nursing Salaries & What Can You Expect?

Salaries for nurses vary according to the type of job they have and the degree they hold, their geographic location, they type of specialty they pursued and the number of years of experience. When the cost of living is high, as it is in major metropolitan areas, salaries are higher with lower salaries often seen in rural areas. California is the highest paying state for nursing jobs today. While employers are bound by the Equal Opportunity Act to pay nurses equally, it has been noted that the salaries for male nurses are slightly higher than their female counterparts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May of 2008 the median salary for registered nurses was $62,450 and the median hourly wage was $30.04. The Bureau’s 2008 statistic on median salary averages noted that 50 percent of nurses were making on average between $51,000 and $76,000 annually. The lowest 10 percent of these salaries was under $43,000 and respectively, the highest 10% was greater than $92,000. The national average for starting salaries for registered nurses is around $39,000 but does vary from state to state with hourly pay rates ranging from $16.00 to $28.00.

Salaries by industry

In an effort to understand annual mean wages of registered nurses one must compare and contrast the wages broken down by industry and with the number of nurses employed in those settings.

Large institutions such as hospitals, governmental agencies and health care facilities usually have a standard pay range guided by their organization’s budget. The range is what they are willing to pay a nurse and, depending on the institution, can be based on the lower of the range being offered to a nurse with not as much education and experience or the new graduate. The more education and experience a nurse has the greater probability of being paid at the top of the salary range.

Some but not all employers may be open to negotiating salaries and it never hurts to ask. If a nurse wants to negotiate the salary being offered they need to be prepared by knowing what they would like to be paid and what they are willing to settle for.

Signing bonuses are an incentive used by employers to attract and retain nurses. These bonuses can often be as little as $500 and as high as $20,000. Not all bonuses come with a time commitment tied to retention and the employer will pay the nurse typically after they are out of probation. Higher bonuses, those exceeding $1000 are usually paid out over a predetermined timeframe associated with a contract where the nurse agrees to work for a certain number of years.

Increasing your salary

Transitioning into higher level nursing positions with more responsibility is one way a registered nurse can increase their salary. They may start out working as a floor nurse and then become a charge nurse, which is a kind of supervisor, and eventually work their way into a management position.

Nurses can also increase their salary by moving into senior management positions such as assistant director, director, vice president or chief nursing officer. Higher paying jobs may require the nurse to have a bachelors degree in nursing therefore a nurse might decide to go back to school which enables them to apply for those types of positions.

If a nurse has a masters degree they may choose to obtain an advanced practice nursing license which in turn will lead to an increase in salary. Average median salaries for advanced practice nurses are as follows:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) $87,867
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP) $89,787
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) $91,242
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) $156,032

When examining salaries for nurses one has to consider such aspects as shift premiums, higher pay for working on weekends, overtime pay and employer paid benefits. If a nurse chooses to work non-traditional hours, including nights and weekends, they have the potential to make more money over their base rate of pay with the highest premiums paid for night shift.

Hospitals and nursing facilities typically offer to pay a premium for nurses who work shifts that may be less desirable than others, such as day shifts. In the healthcare industry, employer offered benefits must be considered when calculating any salary as most institutions will pay a large portion or sometimes even 100%.

When patients are in the hospital, nursing is a constant job that does not end. While hospitals are trending away from mandatory overtime, the potential for nurses to choose to work overtime still exists. Although this is not something that can always be counted on, it can lead to more and often significant income as it is paid at 1.5 times the hourly rate of pay.

Institutions and facilities are becoming creative when it comes to paying nurses. Nursing employers are often hiring nurses to work less than 40 hours but continuing to pay them for a 40-hour work week. Less work with equal pay has become the standard in terms of creative staffing in healthcare today. This type of scheduling often relieves the burnout nurses face and is attractive to nurses.

Salary cannot be the driving factor in your decision to become a nurse because nursing as a career can be stressful and takes dedication and perseverance. Nursing requires hard work and selflessness and in knowing this, you must understand that while the pay scale varies widely, the options to grow and succeed are limitless. New opportunities for nurses are emerging every day and it is estimated that because of technological advancements new jobs and the salaries of nurses in the future will continue to grow and increase.

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