Registered nurse salary & career outlook

Registered nurses are some of the most vital team members in any medical workplace. They can be found in hospitals, health clinics, home nursing services, hospice care and a variety of other settings, and are relied upon for their competence, caring and breadth of medical knowledge. Like the rest of the health care field, nursing positions are expected to grow enormously in the next few years as the need for medical services expands.

Registered nurses, also known as RNs, treat, educate and collect information from patients in a variety of medical settings. They may work in hospitals, doctors' offices, hospices, private homes, public health clinics, and anywhere else that trained medical professionals are needed.

Nurses are often the first point of contact with medical clients, collecting patient histories and performing routine tests and diagnoses. They may also help to educate patients about nutrition, disease management, and treatment options, or administer IVs and medication.

Even when working long, grueling hours on their feet, nurses must be patient, kind, compassionate and possess strong communication skills. They must also follow health and safety regulations with extreme care to prevent infection or mislabeling of samples and medications, and they must be strong enough to perform the physical tasks involved in this challenging but rewarding career.

How much do nurses make?

Nursing salaries vary not only by location or what type of nursing degree you have, but by specialization, experience, health care setting and more. According to salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), salary ranges for registered nurses spanned from $45,630 to more than $90,000 in 2013. The national average wage for nurses was $68,910 in 2013.

A closer examination of the data reveals that nurses in sixteen states earned more than the national wage, taking home an average salary of more than $77,000 in 2013. The list of top-paying states includes

  • California: $96,980
  • Hawaii: $85,380
  • Massachusetts: $83,720
  • Alaska: $83,640
  • Oregon: $80,440

Other states exceeding the national average wage include Nevada ($78,800), New York ($74,470), Delaware ($70,660) and Colorado ($68,980).

Health care setting affects earnings

Just as location can influence potential wages, the health care setting or industry can also impact how much a registered nurse earns each year. Some of the best paying health care organizations in 2013, include the following:

Top Paying Medical Settings

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Interestingly, there are numerous non-medical settings for RNs that pay well above the national average. Some of these include the following:

  • Transit and ground passenger organizations: $86,780
  • Waste management and remediation services: $84,350
  • Aerospace products and parts manufacturing: $74,200

Advanced education and its impact on salary

Salary survey information from Clinical Advisor's 2014 Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant Salary Survey, as well as the HIMSS 2014 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, reveals that earning power is significantly higher for registered nurses that complete advanced education training and certification.

For example, nurses working in nurse informatics earned an average annual salary of $100,717 in 2013, while nurse practitioners earned an average of $94,881. For nurse practitioners, the highest paying specializations included Oncology/Hematology ($100,626), Psychiatry ($102,242) and Adult Medicine ($93,750).

Employment opportunities for registered nurses

Nationally, more than 2.6 million individuals were employed as registered nurses in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. States with the largest numbers of nurses include California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania. However, those employment figures are in line with the total population rates of each state, which are among the highest in the country.

States with Highest Employment Levels

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Aspiring nurses might also consider looking for employment in states where there are fewer jobs overall but more jobs relative to the size of the population. The states with the greatest concentration of nurses included the following:

  • South Dakota: 28.63 nurses per 1,000 jobs
  • West Virginia: 25.99 nurses per 1,000 jobs
  • Mississippi: 25.46 nurses per 1,000 jobs
  • Rhode Island: 25.37 nurses per 1,000 jobs
  • Missouri: 24.58 nurses per 1,000 jobs

Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19 percent employment increase between 2012 and 2022. During that time, the best opportunities should be in Utah, Texas and Idaho, according to state labor data statistics. Combined, those states are projected to see employment growth of 28.6 percent during that decade. The ten states expected to experience the largest career gains between 2012 and 2022 include the following:

  1. Utah: 31.4% growth
  2. Texas: 28.2% growth
  3. Idaho: 26.4% growth
  4. Colorado: 26.2% growth
  5. Arizona: 26.2% growth
  6. Florida: 22.6%
  7. North Dakota: 21.1%
  8. Montana: 20.4%
  9. North Carolina: 20.4%
  10. Kentucky: 20.1%

Registered nurse education and training online

The vast majority of registered nurses have completed either a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree, though many also have additional training or a master's degree, and wages generally rise with increasing education. Some nurses study through shorter certification programs, but these are not the most advantageous for those seeking competitive career opportunities. They may be a good choice, however, for aspiring nurses who want to get into the workforce quickly and pursue an RN-to-BSN program once they are employed.

Hospice care nurses, in particular, are likely to require additional education: either a master's or specialized qualifications are desirable for this career path. The majority of nurses — nearly 60 percent of today's RNs — work in hospitals and emergency rooms, but the fastest-growing employment areas are in physicians' offices and home health care services. Students with an eye on future career opportunities would be wise to pursue training and certification that can make them eligible to work in these thriving fields.

Interested? Compare nursing schools in your area.

1. "2014 Nurse Practitioner & Physician Assistant Salary Survey," The Clinical Advisor, Accessed November 2014, http://www.clinicaladvisor.com/2014-nurse-practitioner — physician-assistant-salary-survey/slideshow/1934/#1
2. "HIMSS 2014 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey Salary Resources Guide," Health Information Management Systems Society, Accessed November 2014, http://himss.files.cms-plus.com/FileDownloads/2014-Nursing-Informatics-Workforce-Salary-Resource-Guide.pdf
3. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm
4. Registered Nurses, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm