Nursing is a rewarding profession in so many ways. The noticeable impact of your care on patients physical and mental health is profoundly inspiring. Nothing compares to knowing that you’re making a difference in their lives.
Salaries for nurses in the United States vary greatly by location, specialty, and experience. The more time you spend working as a nurse, the more employers are willing to pay for your expertise.
Let’s dive into how much new nurses make and the factors influencing your RN earnings. We’ll also explore some of the highest-paying nursing jobs.
What is the average RN salary?
The average RN salary in the United States is $57,564 per year. According to Zippia, typical RN salaries can range between $38,000 (10th percentile) to $86,000 (90th percentile). In case you need a refresher on statistics, percentiles show how much money groups of people have compared to the average.
Since the median salary is $57,564, most RNs are likely to earn this amount. This salary is an average number for registered nurses only, not specialized nurses or nurse practitioners.
As you consider nurse salaries in the US, remember that the pay range varies drastically depending on location, level of education, and even whether you work for a public or private healthcare facility.
There are 96 unique nursing specialties available, and each one can create new employment opportunities and earning potential for nurses.
How much does a new nurse grad make on average?
New nurses tend to earn less than a nurse with even 1 or 2 years of experience. Entry-level or junior nurses tend to earn around $10,000 less than the national average. A typical starting salary for a new nurse is around $46,000, or $22.12 an hour.
States with the highest nurse salaries
In the United States, nurse wages can significantly change based on location. For example, a nurse in San Francisco earns an average of $81,015 per year. On the other hand, a nurse in Chicago, IL, typically earns $57,691.
However, San Francisco has a much higher cost of living than Chicago, so it is best to evaluate all factors.
Based on Zippia’s latest data, the top 10 highest-paying states for nurses are
Massachusetts – $73,241 annually / $35.21 per hour
New York – $73,583 annually / $35.38 per hour
Alaska – $74,932 annually / $36.02 per hour
Maine – $62,731 annually / $30.16 per hour
Pennsylvania – $61,525 annually / $29.58 per hour
Washington – $70,448 annually / $33.87 per hour
Connecticut – $68,129 annually / $32.75 per hour
Oregon – $75,028 annually / $36.07 per hour
California – $78,160 annually / $37.58 per hour
Arizona – $66,219 annually / $31.84 per hour
What city do nurses make the most in?
Registered nurses in San Francisco earn the highest average salary, with a median income of $81,015. The typical entry-level nurse salary in San Francisco is $52,000 per year, which is the same earnings as the rest of the 10th percentile. The highest-earning nurses in San Francisco make $125,000 per year.
Government nurse jobs can be within the armed forces or working at a facility operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Medicaid or Medicare, or the Department of Health. Federal and state nursing jobs in the government tend to have the highest incomes in San Francisco, but many nurses who work in clinical settings (like hospitals) earn good salaries as well.
San Francisco also happens to have the highest demand for nurses right now. This means there will be not only more job opportunities but also more competitive starting salaries. While the pay is great for nurses in this city, it is important to note that it also has some of the highest living costs in the entire country.
Nursing salaries by industry
The “average” salary of a nurse differs by industry. Those who work in healthcare can expect to earn more than those who work in nursing homes or home healthcare facilities.
For example, a nurse working in a hospital stands to earn more than one who works in an outpatient doctor’s office. However, some private employers can offer greater benefits packages, including higher compensation, if they are eager to fill a vacancy fast.
It all depends on where you live, where you choose to work, and any specialized nursing skills you have.
We looked at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to find out where most nurses work and which industries pay nurses the most. Here’s what we found:
60% of all registered nurses in the United States work in local, state, or private hospitals
18% of nurses work in ambulatory care centers
6% of nurses work in nursing homes and residential care
6% of nurses work in government positions
3% of registered nurses have jobs in educational services
You’ll find the greatest number of jobs for nurses in clinical healthcare settings, such as hospitals, family healthcare practices, outpatient care centers, and physicians’ offices. There are also jobs available in schools or home health care, though these positions tend to have less opportunity for growth and lower salaries on average.
Although most nurses don’t work in government jobs, those that do have the highest annual salary of $85,970. The BLS reports the median annual salary for RNs higher than Zippia at $77,600.
According to the BLS data, nurses who work in clinical practices and hospitals earn around $78,078 per year; ambulatory nurses earn an average of $76,700; nurses in home and residential care make around $72,420, and those working in education make approximately $61,780 per year.
Specialty nurse salaries in the USA
Working a specialty can qualify you for more nursing jobs and higher pay. However, not all specialties automatically mean a higher salary. In some cases, a person can earn more as an RN than a specialist, especially if there are not many jobs in a particular industry.
The highest-earning nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). More specifically, certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) make an average of $152,996 annually, and nurse practitioners earn an average salary of $103,033 annually.
Other high-paying nurse jobs include:
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse – $79,483 annually
Clinical nurse specialist – $77,086 annually
Nurse midwife – $74,490 annually
Neonatal nurse – $71,497
Pursuing different specialties not only helps you shape your career, but it can also help you align your profession with positions that give you a higher salary. While the real reward from nursing comes from helping your patients each day, nurses sacrifice so much, and they deserve good salaries that allow them to take care of themselves and live comfortably.
Starting, median and top-end salaries of various nursing positions
We have reviewed 40 different nursing positions using data from Zippia, BLS, talent.com, and salary.com to identify the average starting salary, the median, and the average top-end salary each nursing position earns in the united states.
Top end salary
Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
Public Health Nurse
Nurse Case Manager
Home Health Nurse (HHN)
Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Nurse
Telemetry Registered Nurse
FNP (Family Nurse Practioner)
Mental Health Nurse (MHN)
What are the most stressful nursing jobs?
You may be wondering, “Is being a nurse worth it?” While the pay is appealing for many, there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make as a nurse. There will be frequent emergencies, trauma, and loss of patients that can be emotionally scarring. You also have to be willing to work long shifts with short breaks and sometimes deal with difficult patients or uncooperative colleagues.
Many nurses are prone to anxiety, depression, and burnout. Those who work long shifts with little rest in between are more likely to experience poor mental health. ShiftMed provides the ability for nurses to choose when and when they want to work, which is a great tool to combat burnout.
The most stressful nursing jobs are generally in intensive care, emergency rooms, and cardiac nursing. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. As a result, nurses specializing in cardiac care must work intensely with patients suffering from the effects of CVD or a stroke.
When choosing whether to become a nurse, it’s equally important to think about what kind of nurse you can see yourself being. Not all careers in nursing are made equal. Some nurses thrive off the constant demands of emergency care, but it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay — there is still good money to earn and careers to have in less intense nursing positions.
How to earn more money as a nurse
If you’re considering becoming a nurse or already hold an RN, here are some tips to boost your earning potential.
1. Get certified
You can earn certifications in various nursing specialties that qualify you for higher pay. Options include becoming an Emergency Nurse, Critical Care Nurse, Heart Failure Nurse, Pediatric Nurse, and Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse.
2. Earn a master’s degree
A master’s of science in nursing (MSN) can prepare you for a career as an advanced practice registered nurse. You can choose a master's program that trains you for a specific role, such as a family nurse practitioner or CRNA.
Just a note, by 2025, all certified registered nurse anesthetists will have to hold doctorate degrees (PhDs).
3. Consider management positions
Nurse managers or charge nurses can earn more by taking on greater responsibility in the workplace. To qualify for leadership jobs in nursing, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience.
4. Consider per diem shifts
Nurses can earn more by working extra shifts for hospitals on an as-needed basis. Per diem nurses are in a hospital’s staff pool and can be on-call during different times of the year. Taking per diem shifts, especially last minute, can qualify you for much higher pay than average.
5. Look into travel nursing
If you’ve been an RN for at least 2 or 3 years, you can qualify for many jobs as a traveling nurse. Travel nurses work short assignments across the U.S., tending to patients wherever nurses are most needed. Travel nurses can earn $3,000 to $8,000 a week depending on the assignment and any specialties they may have.
The bottom line
While nursing is a rewarding and wonderful career, it’s important to consider practical things like work environment and salary, too. The average RN can make a decent living in most states, but the opportunity is greater in some cities. Nurses should consider where they’re most passionate in healthcare and look for jobs that not only pair them with the greatest patients but also compensate them fairly for their time and tireless work.