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How much do Nurses make? RN Salary

Nursing, Professional Advancement | 0 comments

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How much do nurses make? If you find yourself wondering about RN salary, you came to the perfect place to find out! I worked as a bedside RN myself and now work as a nurse practitioner. I have firsthand experience regarding RN salary, and I have many nursing colleagues who have helped me gain an understanding of this question.

Is money why nurses do what they do? No! Nurses get into nursing because of course they care and want to help people. But let’s be honest – it is also a career that offers decent pay and benefits, as well as job security. Money is a serious consideration to think about before deciding on any future career plans.

So this article will hopefully give you an insight into how much nurses make, and what RN salary you can expect to make when you become a nurse!

How much do nurses make | RN salary featured image

How Much do Nurses make?

You can easily google this answer and get a general estimate. The problem with that is its not very specific to you or your earning potential. A quick search on Glassdoor will tell you that the average Rn salary in the US is $65,870 per year. But nurses almost never get paid “salary”, but rather are paid hourly.

Most RN jobs within the hospital will be 36 hours per week – or 1872 hours per year. This means that per Glassdoor, the average hourly rate of an RN in the US is $35.19 per hour.  I have nursing colleagues who make this. I can also tell you that I have nursing colleagues who make much less than this on average! So this doesn’t really give you a great indication of how much you can make as an RN, especially as a new grad RN.

According to Medscape’s RN/LPN Compensation report for 2019, the Hourly rate for an RN averaged at $38 per hour, but again this is not specific. This encompasses both hourly and salaried employees and those who work in all sorts of clinical settings with varying amounts of nursing experience.

Factors which influence Nurse Pay:

To help answer how much do nurses make and to give you a better understanding of how much YOU can make as a new graduate RN, there are multiple factors to consider. These include your education and certifications, where you plan on working, which clinical setting, how much experience you have, what type of contract you have, and more!

1. Education and Certifications

What type of education and certifications you hold will impact how much you can make as a nurse.

Degree

As a bedside RN, you can hold various different degrees. These include a diploma RN, Associates degree (ADN), Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), as well as doctorate degrees like the DNP. However, most bedside RNs have their BSN degree or lower, and those with their Masters or above typically do not work at the bedside but rather in other clinical areas like management, infection control, or education.

Approximately half of bedside nurses have their BSN, and this can provide increased salary as opposed to Associates degree RNs or diploma RNs. The average salary of a BSN was reported to be $80K per year, vs $75K per year as an ADN. While 5K per year might not seem like a lot, it can be the equivalent of a few more bucks an hour.

Certifications

There are various RN certification exams that a nurse can take to get certified in a specific area. These include the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certifications, among others. As an incentive, many facilities will offer a few more dollars per hour for having a specialty certification.

2. Experience

A major factor influencing RN salary is going to be RN work experience. This is common in non-nursing fields as well, but the more experience you have – the more money you can make. This is a benefit of having experience and providing knowledge and resources to younger less-experienced nurses. Additionally, more experienced RNs know their worth and are in a better position to negotiate.

According to Medscape, RNs with less than 5 years of experience made an average of 66K/year, vs those with >21 years experience made 84K per year. This is almost a 20K per year pay difference, which is significant. Glassdoor also supports this 15-20K increase in pay based on significant experience, with new RNs making $53K and experienced with >15 years making $71K. This holds true for nurse practitioners as well, with a 15-20K difference.

3. Location

Where you plan on practicing as an RN will affect your RN salary. How much do nurses make in California versus Indiana? What about NYC vs Texas? Where you work will greatly impact your salary – and this is true for most professions.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of an RN in San Francisco, CA is $115K! That same nurse can get a job in western PA for $51K. That is a $64K pay difference based on geographical location. However, the cost of living is definitely a factor that needs to be considered, and you might not have as much disposable income as you think you would making $115K in SF. 

In general, the west coast is going to offer the best salary, followed by the New England / NYC area. The mid-west and more rural states are going to generally offer worse pay. Even within the same state, salary can vary greatly. Urban areas will generally pay more, and rural areas less.

4. Clinical Setting

The clinical setting you work in as a nurse can impact how much you make, regardless of your experience or where your facility is located. RNs working in the hospital, with insurance companies, or with occupational health settings can expect similar pay regardless.

The highest paying clinical settings are inpatient settings within the hospital. This usually requires 12-hour shifts, frequent weekend coverage, and sometimes on-call schedules. Home health nurses can expect to make a few thousand dollars less per year, but with that comes the flexibility of working by yourself and typically making your own schedule. Working in an outpatient office or skilled nursing facility will give you a 5-10K/yr paycut (75K vs 83K), and working at a school or university as an RN will offer you the least salary compared with traditional inpatient roles ($65K vs 83K).

As you can see, the clinical setting can influence your pay by almost  20K per year, so this is significant. However, settings that offer lower pay do offer added benefits – often better schedule, weekends/holidays off, and less stress. So everyone needs to weigh the pros and cons.

5. Contract

Another factor to consider in finding out how much nurses make is to look at their contract. Are they Salaried or hourly? Full-time, Part-time, or Per-diem?

According to Medscape, in 2018 salaried RNs made $83K, vs $78K for hourly employees. However, the Full-time hourly rate of $38 was NOT any different from the part-time or per diem rates. I found this interesting, and my personal experience with this is different. Many per-diem employees are often offered a higher hourly rate, as the hospital is not paying for any benefits.

Additionally, some facilities offer special schedules which may offer an increased salary. When I was working through my NP program, I worked the “weekends only” schedule – meaning I worked every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (36 hours), and in turn, got an additional $10/hour.

As a travel nurse, you can expect to make much more, although benefits tend to be lacking. I did some travel nursing and made about $6K/mo takehome, but I know some travel nurses who often made around $8K/mo takehome. 

6. Shift differential

The last thing to consider is which shift you plan on working. Night-shift offers a whole bunch of pros and cons, but one of the pros is usually a shift differential, which is usually a few extra bucks an hour after 11pm. This usually works out to a few thousand dollars more per year.  

How much did I make as a bedside RN?

To give you a little real-life example, I can let you know how much I made as an RN.

To give you some context – I started to work as a bedside RN on a med-surg floor in 2014. I also started in a small hospital in western Pennsylvania. Rates in this area are NOT good and vastly different than where I work now in urban New Jersey. I started at a whopping $22.60 per hour. I worked nightshift which gave me an additional $2-3/hour. Even so, I was only making about $46K/yr. However my rent was only $450 per month – so I had a decent amount of disposable income! 

Where I work now in Urban NJ, new nurses can expect to start around $35/hour. 

Here are some realistic starting hourly rates for new graduate RNs:

  • San Francisco, CA: $50/hr
  • Seattle, WA: $31/hr
  • NYC, NY: $35/hr
  • Chicago, IL: $28/hr
  • Phoenix, AZ: $28/hr
  • Orlando, FL: $24/hr
  • Boston, MA: $30/hr
  • Western PA: $23/hr
  • Philadelphia, PA: $29.50/hr

Hopefully this gave you some insight on the question “how much do nurses make”. If you’re wondering how much nurse practitioners make – you should check that out here!

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