Registered nurses play a vital role in the healthcare of our society and because of their importance to our personal health, the growing demand for experienced nurses and the educational requirements that are necessary to become a registered nurse these professionals are able to make good salaries.
How much a registered nurse makes can vary from one state to the next and individual incomes can also vary based on experience, education and numerous other factors.
This article will explore in depth how much nurses make, the factors that go into their incomes and why they earn what they do.
Salary and hourly wages
The hourly wage for RN’s can range anywhere from$30 – $45 or more per hour of work.
Hourly wages are usually driven by various aspects of their career such as their education level and nursing position, work experience, state of operation (i.e. average New York salary vs. average Wyoming salary), accumulated overtime, special bonuses and incentives, and many other factors.
In the U.S. RN’s can expect an average salary of around $66,500.
RN’s living in states that are rated in the lower 10% of income earners make closer to $54,500 annually, while RN’s living in states that are rated in the upper 10% make closer to $80,000 annually.
When the right factors are combined (such as working in a high paying nursing position, working as a consultant or self-employed nurse and/or working lots of overtime) some RN’s are able to significantly increase their salaries and can easily make in excess of $100,000 per year.
While not always the case higher density populations such as New York City and Las Angeles seem to bring in higher wages and salaries for registered nurses while more rural areas often pay less do to a lower demand and need for nurses in their area.
Wages for part-time nurses work a bit differently than they do for full-time employees, in fact full-time hours and wages are often determined by the employers.
While employers do have some control over deciding what exactly constitutes full-time employment the Fair Labor Standards Act states that (non exempt) employees who are paid hourly are required to receive overtime pay for any hours worked over a 40 hour workweek.
Most organizations and professions within the United States consider 30 – 40 hours of work per week to be full-time status, which entitle employees to certain perks such as higher wages and additional medical care, which part-time employees may not receive due to not working the minimum required full-time hours an organization has set.
What this means for registered nurses that work part-time positions is that they may not receive the same level of pay and benefits full-time registered nurses receive, and according to the Fair Labor Standards Act part-time workers are not required to receive over time pay since they are working less than 40 hours per week.
What goes into a nurses salary?
One common question asked by many individuals who are unfamiliar with the work that is involved in the field of nursing is, “why do registered nurses make so much money?
Well in order to understand the answer to this question we’ll dig into the various factors that influence a registered nurses income, however it is also important to remind people that registered nurses provide patients who are suffering from an injury or illness with specialized medical care aimed at alleviating the patients ailments and assist them in their recovery.
This type of work requires years of training and expertise that must be acquired through years of schooling and real world experience.
RN’s also provide patients with education and emotional support in order to help them make better decisions and improve their lives.
They educate patients about their condition, provide feedback on their recovery process and answer any questions the patient may have regarding their condition.
Here are some of the most come income factors that can affect an individual nurses salary:
- Experience – Nurses that have acquired years of valuable experience are likely to get hired faster and make more money than inexperienced nurses.
- Career field – Nurses who work in a specialized field of nursing can earn significantly more than nurses working in general positions.
- Location – The state/town that a nurse operates in can have a big impact on their bottom line. Nurses that work in dense metropolitan areas for example may make more than nurses working in rural settings.
- Work hours – Simply put the more hours a nurse works the more money they generally take home. This can vary from one hospital or health care facility to the next depending on contractual agreements.
- Contractual agreements – When a nurse is hired for a position he/she may negotiate their salary, benefits and healthcare coverage terms with their employer. Depending on the agreements that were made a nurses salary may be be impacted by these contractual agreements.
While most people understand some of the common factors that may contribute to the pay nurses receive (such as experience and location) there are many other factors that are less understood.
To help bring some clarity to this topic well discuss a few of the reasons why registered nurses make what they make.
Why registered nurses earn good incomes
Before saying why registered nurses tend to earn good incomes when compared to many other career fields it is important to reiterate that not all nurses earn the same income and different hospitals and states pay out different wages, however compared to numerous other fields it can be said that registered nurses as a whole earn a decent wage.
Now lets look at the factors that affects a registered nurses salary.
1) Supply and Demand
For starters the field of registered nursing is in very high demand.
As our economy continues to grow and existing nurses retire it is estimated that as many as 800,000 nursing jobs will need to be filled by the year 2020 in order to keep up with all of the positions that are becoming available.
Without enough qualified registered nurses many individuals in need of health care would have difficulty being treated within a reasonable amount of time and many would not be able to receive the level of treatment and health care they need to make a full/partial recovery from their illness and/or injury.
In order to help fill these nursing positions health care organizations entice potential nurses with higher wages and better benefits, which help them provide the type of health care they need to ensure that their patients are being treated in a timely respectable manner and that everyone they treat receives proper medical care.
Simply put the demand for nurses is much higher than the supply of nurses that are currently available.
If there were a surplus of highly qualified registered nurses then the wages they earn would likely stabilize or even decline.
2) Competition to attract the best registered nurses
While this may not always be the case for increased pay some health care facilities looking to hire the best nurses tend to offer the best salaries and benefits.
In some cases health care facilities may increase their wages to compete with one another so that they can hire the best professionals in the nursing field.
Nurses who are highly educated and well-practiced, and are looking to advance their career/pay may be enticed to move to a new hospital or health care facility if the pay and/or job opportunities available to them fit their interests, which can lead to salary/wage competition between various health care facilities.
3) The demands of being a registered nurse
Not everyone is interested in becoming a registered nurse and dealing with all of the responsibilities involved in nursing.
Registered nurses have to take care of patients who are either ill and/or injured, keep records of their patients conditions, provide medical and emotional support to patients and families, work extended hours, consistently take continuing education courses throughout their working lives, make life and death decisions in critical situations, maintain a positive outlook regardless of their environment and complete a host of other responsibilities related to being a nurse.
Those who work as RNs have to deal with both the physical and mental demands their job requires of them and they have to consistently be alert to ensure they are providing the proper care needed to take care of their patients while presenting a positive attitude in the worst situations.
Nurses consistently face challenges day in and day out, and in many cases they do the work and make the decisions that others don’t want to, so they are paid well for their efforts and as a way to keep them working in their profession.
4) Overtime and bonus pay
Those who have worked as registered nurses know that overtime can be a common theme for many health care facilities.
Staffing shortages, employees calling out, unexpected increases in the number of patients being administered to a hospital and a number of other unpredictable factors can contribute to nurses working long hours, which means lots of overtime for non salary employees.
In fact at some health care facilities it isn’t uncommon to hear of nurses who work 60 – 80 hours per week.
When you combine the number of hours registered nurses work with overtime and bonus pay it can quickly become apparent why they may make more money than other professions.
5) The high cost of living
If nurses weren’t paid well for their work they may choose to leave their profession altogether and get a job in an unrelated (and less stressful) field, which would increase the nursing deficit many states are already facing and lower the standard of living for millions of people.
While some states may appear to offer their nurses higher salaries than others in many cases they also have a higher cost of living, which they need to compensate for.
Even in states where nurses appear to make $20,000 more than other nurses the increased cost of living may nullify any financial gains that nurse would make from the increased pay.
As stated earlier in order to keep nurses working in the nursing profession and loyal to their employer health care facilities need to offer competitive pay and compensate nurses who live in areas that are associated with a higher cost of living.
6) Specialized fields, competition and increased responsibility
Nurse who work in specialized fields have been known to make more money than general nurses.
These fields often require nurses to have advanced education and lot’s of work experience due to the increased responsibilities associated with their field of practice.
For example Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) and Nurse Practitioners (NP) are known to make very high salaries, however their professions require very high levels of education, training, competence and patient care responsibilities, which take years of education and practice to master before being able to work effectively in this field.
While it may not always be the case for every nurse those who work in fields where they have more responsibilities in terms of patient care are often compensated the best.
In other words the more education and medical expertise they can provide their patients with the higher their wages will be.
Do registered nurses really make a lot?
While it might be enticing for some individuals to look at the salaries some registered nurses receive and make a quick judgement about it, it often becomes much more understandable once they know all of the factors involved in determining a nurses salary.
Nurses are paid well (or unwell depending on your perspective) because of all of the work they put into their profession.
Nursing can be a highly stressful job which requires nurses to work long hours, make critical decisions regarding the direction of their patients health care and continually stay in communication with both patients and families to help them understand and recover from their situation.
They have to always maintain a positive persona regardless of how bad things get and be able to work collectively with other health care professionals to ensure each patient receives proper patient care.
Organizational skills, continuing education courses and record keeping are also common responsibilities registered nurses have to perform on a daily basis.
With all of the tasks registered nurses have to complete on a daily basis perhaps the question should be, “are registered nurses really paid that well?”