Nurse Salaries 2021: How Much Do Nurses Make?
Written By: Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN
If you’re just thinking about getting into nursing, you’re probably wondering how much money you could make as a nurse. Well, the answer is that it varies, A LOT.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for nurses in 2019 was $73,300 per year. But that’s just an average across nurses with different kinds of degrees, experience, specialties, locations, and oh, so many more factors.
In order to shed some light on this, we asked the Nurse.org community to weigh in. 3,000 U.S. nurses answered our salary survey, sharing where they are in their nursing careers, how much they make, and a number of factors that contribute to what they earn.
How Do Nurses Get Paid?
Nurses get paid either an hourly rate or an annual salary. Our survey found that most nurses are being paid hourly.¹
What Kinds of Nurses Get Paid Hourly?
In general, nurses who work in direct patient care areas are paid an hourly wage. This includes ADN, BSN, MSN, NP, and DNP nurses.
For example, if a patient care RN earns an hourly wage of $50 an hour, and they work 12-hour shifts, they will make $50 x 12 = $600 per shift.
What Kinds of Nurses Get Paid a Salary?
Nurses who move into administrative roles, however, are usually paid a salary. This means that they are paid a pre-arranged, fixed amount of money by the institution where they are employed.
For example, if an RN makes a salary of $80,000 per year to work as a Unit Director for an Intensive Care Unit, they can divide their total yearly salary by 12 months to figure out how much money they can expect to receive each month (which comes out to $6,666 per month).
In these circumstances, the total number of hours worked is not the most important factor. However, the expectation is still that they are putting in full-time hours in the workplace.
In addition to a salary, some RN hospital administrators are often also incentivized with end-of-year bonuses in addition to their salaries.
Additional Compensation for Nurses
For nurses, the base salary is just the beginning. 96% of nurses responded that they earned some form of additional compensation.² This can be achieved in a number of ways including overtime, shift differentials, stipends for associated nursing expenses or bonuses.
The most common form of additional compensation is overtime, with 34% of the nurses we polled reporting that they receive it.
What is Overtime Pay?
Overtime pay refers to hours that are worked by a nurse that exceed their normal weekly scheduled working hours. Full-time for nurses is usually 36-40 hours per week. Anything over that is "overtime."
How Much is Overtime Pay for Nurses?
Most institutions will offer time-and-a-half or double-time pay for overtime or holiday hours. So a nurse making $50 would make $75 or $100 an hour for each overtime hour worked.
That is also one of the reasons that some nurses want to work on holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. They have an opportunity to increase their paychecks by working the same amount of hours as they usually would.
Getting paid more for shift differentials is also common. 24% of the nurses we talked to said they got additional money for this.
What is a Shift Differential?
A shift differential is additional per hour compensation for nurses who work shifts considered to be less desirable to work, such as mid-shifts, graveyard shifts, or weekend shifts.
A shift differential can also help encourage nurses to work these shifts and ensure adequate staffing. In many cases, nurses will work a certain number of weekend or night shifts anyway. Still, the shift differential helps nurses feel more appreciated for working hours that they wouldn't have chosen to work themselves. It can also help with nurse retention in some cases.
How Much is a Shift Differential?
A shift differential may be anywhere from $2 to $8 per hour, which can add to a significant increase in pay at the end of a shift.
Some nurses who have worked the night shift for many years are hesitant to move into day shifts because they do not want the pay cut that they would take by switching to non-differential day shift hours.
Bonuses were less common, with 11% of nurses reporting that they receive bonuses.
What are Bonuses?
Bonuses can be earned at the end of the year, or for other reasons such as accreditation, retention, picked up shifts, specialties, performance and even COVID-19.
In some cases, administrative RNs are incentivized through end-of-year bonuses to find ways to save the hospital money by switching to less expensive products, lowering hospital infection rates, increasing patient satisfaction scores, or improving patient outcomes in some way.
Each institution sets their bonuses differently depending on what financial and patient care goals they are striving to reach.
Registered Nurse Salaries by Degree
Another big factor in how much you make as a nurse is what degree or certification you hold.
ADN vs BSN Salary
While the BLS doesn’t differentiate between nurses who’ve earned an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) versus those who’ve earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), what degree you have DOES impact how much you can make!
Amongst the ADN- and BSN-prepared nurses we polled, we found that BSN nurses were earning, on average, $3.89 more per hour than ADNs!³
Masters Degree in Nursing (MSN) Salary
Nurses with a master's degree have an opportunity to earn significantly more money in their careers. Across the MSN nurses we polled, the average hourly pay was $52.61 and the average annual salary was $131,309.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for masters-educated nurses is $115,800 per year or $55.80 per hour.
Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) & Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD in Nursing) Salaries
DNPs and PhDs in nursing have the highest level of nursing education. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, DNP-prepared nurse practitioners earned an average of $135,830.
Other RN Salary Factors
Nurses across the board start their careers with a lower-paying salary than a more experienced RN. Amongst the nurses we polled, the average hourly wage for new nurses was $29.04.
As a novice nurse gains on-the-job experience, they will also move up in pay accordingly. Hourly pay increased by years of experience in all the nurses we talked to, with the average salary for a nurse with 20+ years on the job coming in at $41.14 -- $12.10 more per hour than a nurse at the start of their career!4
While specialty, degree, where you work, and a number of other factors, certainly play a role in how much you make, experience will always be a factor.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 12% of registered nurses are men, a considerable increase from 2.7% in the 1970s.
Interestingly though, even though nursing is still a mostly female-dominated profession, there is evidence that male nurses are earning more than female nurses for the same work - even when controlling for differences in career trajectory and on-the-job experience.
One study from the University of California San Francisco found that male nurses were earning about $5,000 a year than their female counterparts in the same job.
Our own study confirmed this finding, with male nurses who responded to our survey reporting earning an average of $2.73 per hour more than their female counterparts.5
How You Work?
As a nurse, your hours aren’t always cut and dry. In addition to full-time versus part-time options, nurses can also work per diem or on a contract basis.
Per Diem Nursing: Per diem literally means “by the day,” which makes sense as these are nurses who work on call. They get to pick their schedule and don’t have to meet minimum shift requirements.
4% of nurses we interviewed reported working per diem.
Contract Nursing: Contract nursing is similar to per diem nursing, except you’ll work a set amount of hours for the duration of your contract with a hospital or facility. This will guarantee you the stability of full-time hours and benefits, but you may have to work weekends or holidays and you have less flexibility than a per-diem nurse.
Amongst our polled nurses, contract nursing was as popular as per-diem nursing with 4% reporting working as contract nurses.6
RN salaries also vary based on your specialty. According to the nurses we polled, the highest paying specialty was the OR, where nurses earned, on average, $51.47 per hour. The next two highest-paying were Endoscopy at $43.68 hourly and ICU at $43.15 hourly.7
Which Nurses Get Paid the Most?
If you’re starting out in nursing or looking to advance your career, you’re probably curious to know which types of nurses earn the most money. Not all nursing careers are paid equally! Below are the top 5 paying nursing careers, but you can check out the full list of highest paying nursing jobs here.
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist - $167,950
- General Nurse Practitioner - $107,030
- Clinical Nurse Specialist - $106,028
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner - $105,658
- Certified Nurse Midwife - $103,770
Which Nurses Get Paid the Least?
Nurses who are starting their careers, no matter what kind of nursing they go into will begin by earning a lower hourly rate than more experienced nurses.
An important consideration when talking about nursing income is to consider the state and city where you work. Some cities and states pay considerably less than others, and that is often also determined by the cost of living in that particular area.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the lowest-paying states for nurses to work include:
- South Dakota, at $58,340
- Mississippi, at $58,490
- Iowa, at $59,130
- Alabama, at $59,470
- Arkansas, at $60,780
Negotiating as a Nurse: Real Nurses Share their Advice
Many nurses wonder about whether or not they should be negotiating their salary and it’s especially hard for new nurses to know how to navigate this. That’s why we asked our community of nurses to weigh in. Here’s what you had to say:
1. ALWAYS Negotiate
“1. Understand the answer is always no if you don’t ask.
2. Recruiters will always tell you they go by a grid or pay scale and they can’t negotiate (lies - everything is negotiable). If you can present value that you bring to the table that benefits them ESPECIALLY value and evidence that you can save them money, you have leverage for what you want.
3. Know the market
4. Having other offers on the table from local hospitals can get you the number you need.
5. Have a folder of “evidence” -remember in a negotiation you’re a lawyer trying to win your case - prove you’re worth the number you’re asking for.
6. You can negotiate more than just pay....so yes you can negotiate at a union (also all unions are treated differently).
7. Realize that you are working alongside people with the same experience who are making more money than you hourly simply because they asked....ALWAYS negotiate! ❤️ “
2. Be Prepared to Walk Away
“Be mentally prepared to quit if need be... I negotiated for a raise after I won a state safety award (from a nomination from our medical director), did charge, tech, precept, pick up shifts etc. i hadn’t gotten a decent raise for 5 years. They said no. So I quit and got a job that paid me my worth. 🤷🏾♀️”
3. Know Your Worth
“1. ALWAYS be ready to NEGOTIATE your WORTH’ meaning “WHY YOU ARE WORTH MORE” whether it’s your credentials, years of experience, contributions to the organization ( past/resume), skillset, certifications, etc......
2. ALWAYS be READY to SHOWCASE who you are❤️ YES you can brag on YOURSELF 💛 you’ve worked hard and you should be proud, explaining professionally; Why THEY need YOU and what you have to bring to the table!!”
4. They Expect You to Negotiate
“First managment / HR is trained and taught to do interview questions and one of the questions that they are always told to be prepared to answer is negotiating pay raise. They should always be aware that anyone doing an interview can ask for it, and when someone asks they just need to hear a good reason as to why you need it. That’s it. They should say yes if they hear a good reason or that you bring something to the table (experience, degree, certification, etc). You can always tell them your worth and that if you were to work there you would not be happy with the pay you could leave ... so you need initiative to stay for a while and your worth is high due to experience, degree, etc.”
5. Don’t Give Up!
“mention your worth, work ethics, and pervious offers from other employers. Continue to negotiate until you get what your worth. It works for me, I’m always ready to negotiate with anyone👊🏾”
Get That Money
Nurse salaries vary based on a lot of different factors but there are a ton of ways to make more money as a nurse. As long as you are willing to work hard and learn, you’ll be able to find ways to keep increasing your salary year over year.
Curious about what other healthcare professions pay? Check out these salary guides:
- CRNA Salary
- NP Salary
- Medical Billing and Coding Salary
- Pharmacy Technician Salary
- Medical Assistant Salary
Updated 3/4/2021 with the latest salary survey data
- How are Nurses Paid? 533 answered, "I'm paid an annual salary." 2278 answered, "I'm paid hourly."
- 407 of 422 nurses responded yes to the question “Do you earn any additional compensation? Overtime, bonuses, etc.? 143 said they receive overtime pay, 103 said they receive shift differential pay, 48 said they receive bonuses, 16 said they receive compensation for nursing expenses, and 15 said they receive no additional compensation.
- Across 436 ADNs polled, their average hourly pay was $37.09. Across 572 BSNs polled, their average hourly pay was $39.33. Across 121 MSNs polled, their average hourly pay was $52.61 and their average annual salary was $131,309. Across 64 diploma RNs, the average pay was $37.53 per hour.
- Salaries were based on 1653 respondents who gave their years of experience.
- Salaries were based on 1306 female respondents and 162 male respondents.
- 2,812 nurses responded to the question "Do you work full time, part-time, per diem or contract?"
- Salaries were based on 1,020 nurses who gave their specialty and salary earned.