Medicine

How Much Can Registered Nurses Earn in 2023?

How Much Can Registered Nurses Earn in 2023?
Think of registered nurses as the glue that holds the process of patient-centered healthcare together. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly February 27, 2023

A lot of factors come into play. Think: demand, specialization, location, and while we’re at it, do you have a bachelor of science degree?

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Big decisions, fast-paced work environments, constant challenge—nope, we’re not talking about the CEOs behind Fortune 500 companies, but registered nurses (RNs). In short, they make a career out of helping people and saving lives.

Nursing can be described as part art and part science; it’s a profession that’s driven by both the heart and head. Registered nurses have a fundamental respect for human dignity and an intuition for a patient’s needs to complement their highly developed technical skills and knowledge. Their ability to provide expert care to patients and a complex skillset to the healthcare system overall is supported by the rigorous training completed before entering the field.

Nursing as a career path has come leaps and bounds since the days in which registered nurses essentially served as doctors’ assistants. Over time, registered nurses have become some of the most highly specialized and respected members of the medical and healthcare community, thanks to greater training, ever-growing responsibilities, and evolving nursing culture.

Today, registered nurses act as the motivators behind many advancements within their industry. Serving as both the backbone of healthcare and the people on its front lines, they contribute to conversations surrounding patient outcomes and advocacy, preventative health efforts, and they’re helping shift the system to focus from mere treatment to a broader culture of health.

Whether you’re interested in streamlining hospital procedures and protocols, advocating for patients, or moving the needle on healthcare policy reform, it’s safe to say that a career as a registered nurse is worth it in more ways than one. Let’s take a look at the salaries registered nurses can expect in 2023.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is a registered nurse?
  • What degrees do you need to become a registered nurse?
  • The employment outlook for registered nurses
  • How much do registered nurses earn?
  • What impacts a registered nurse’s salary?

What is a registered nurse?

You can think of registered nurses as the glue that holds the process of patient-centered healthcare together. From ensuring the most accurate diagnoses to providing ongoing education of the public about critical health issues, they’re indispensable in ensuring that that every patient receives the best possible care regardless of who they are or where they may be receiving treatment.

According to the American Nursing Association (ANA), the purpose of nursing is to:

  • Protect, promote, and optimize health and abilities
  • Prevent illness and injury
  • Alleviate suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response
  • Advocate for the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations

The field of nursing is extraordinarily diverse, making a typical day for registered nurses tough to nail down. Responsibilities can range from issuing critical care to patients with post-surgery complications to providing in-home care and working with sick newborns or infants. Ultimately, the unifying characteristics in every role are clinical expertise and the ability to take an all-encompassing view of patients’ wellbeing.

The key responsibilities of registered nurses include:

  • Observing, assessing, and recording health histories
  • Providing health promotion, counseling, and education
  • Administering medications and other personalized interventions
  • Carrying out elements of care plans, such as drawing blood for lab testing, preparing patients for medical procedures, or changing wound dressings
  • Collaborating with a wide array of health care professionals to coordinate care

What degrees do you need to become a registered nurse?

Aspiring registered nurses can meet the educational requirements of their field in three different ways.

Nursing diploma

Nursing diploma programs prepare students for entry-level RN positions in 13 states. Run by hospitals, these programs typically take one to three years to complete. Most emphasize patient or clinical practice and care. The curriculum covers prerequisite courses as well as nursing-specific courses and prepares students to take the NCLEX exam for RN licensure after completing their program.

Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN)

The ADN is a two-year degree and the minimum level of education required to become a licensed RN in most states. These programs often include 60 credits in general education and nursing, as well as faculty-monitored clinical experience. Once a student completes their program, they must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam and apply for your nursing license from their state board of nursing.

Bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN)

This four-year degree also includes extensive clinical education while also incorporating opportunities for students to gain leadership and administrative skills. Like ADN holders, BSN graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam before applying for their nursing license from their state board.

Compared to ADNs and nursing diplomas, BSN programs often are sought out for the ability to provide RNs with the perks that tend to come with advanced education, like greater leadership responsibilities and higher pay. For those looking to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), a BSN program is a critical stepping stone toward the required master’s degree or doctorate.

The employment outlook for registered nurses

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than 4.2 million registered nurses nationwide, and 84.1 percent employed in nursing. And it’s only getting bigger, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in the field to grow by 5 percent through 2031.

Registered nurses are in high demand in both acute care and community settings, such as:

  • Private practices
  • Public health agencies
  • Health maintenance organizations,
  • Primary care clinics
  • Nursing school-operated clinics
  • Home health care and nursing homes
  • Schools
  • Mental health agencies
  • Healthcare research organizations

How much do registered nurses earn?

According to the BLS, registered nurses pulled in a median annual wage of $77,600 in 2021. PayScale, on the other hand, reports that RNs can expect an average annual salary of $70,736. The company review site, Glassdoor, indicates an average salary of $97,634, with salaries ranging from as low as $67,000 to as high as $144,000. Good to know, but keep reading—these findings stand as just one part of a much larger picture. Clearly, different sources draw different conclusions from the data. In our opinion, BLS data is probably most reliable as it draws on a variety of official government sources.

What impacts a registered nurse’s salary?

Several factors can impact a kindergarten teacher’s salary. They include:

  • Employer
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Specialization
  • Location

Employer

The BLS notes that registered nurses held about 3.1 million jobs in 2021, with the largest employer of RNs broken down by the following percentages:

  • State, local, and private hospitals: 60 percent
  • Ambulatory healthcare services: 18 percent
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 6 percent
  • Government: 6 percent
  • State, local, and private educational services: 3 percent

According to the BLS, top-paying industries for registered nurses include the federal executive branch (OEWS designation) at $97,600 per year and office administration services at $96,630 annually. Outpatient care centers pay an average annual income of $93,070; general medical and surgical hospitals pay, on average, $85,020 per year; and home health care services pay just over $78,000.

Experience

As in most industries, RN salaries increase based on years of clinical experience. According to Medscape data, entry-level registered nurses made $26 an hour in 2019. Here’s how the average annual salary breaks down for non-entry-level registered nurses based on experience:

  • Less than 5 years: $66,000
  • 6-10 years: $73,000
  • 11-20 years: $79,000
  • 21 years or longer: $84,000

Education

As mentioned, registered nurses who complete a bachelor’s degree not only do so to open doors to better job opportunities, but also to pursue better pay. Medscape data shows the earning power that comes with a BSN as compared to a nursing diploma or an ADN.

In the field, ADN-holders reported an average annual salary of $75,000 in 2019, while nursing diploma-holders pulled an average $78,000 and bachelor degree-holders took home an average $87,000.

Specialization

While gaining credentials and skills as a registered nurse can virtually guarantee a comfortable career path with staying power, many RNs earn additional certifications and specialize in a particular area of nursing. It’s a smart move, one that helps RNs take a deeper dive into the area of nursing they’re most passionate about, qualify for more prestigious positions, and increase their earning potential.

According to Medscape data, slightly more than half of RNs held specialized certifications in 2019. Of this group, 28 percent were compensated for their specialization in the form of higher pay, while 12 percent received an annual bonus and 12 percent received a one-time bonus.

Location

While many factors influence a decision to relocate—or stay put—it’s not uncommon for RNs to consider employment in areas of the U.S. that offer higher-than-average salaries.

As it turns out, the BLS highlights that the states offering the highest RN salaries are dominated by the continental West and Northeast, offering as much as $46,500 more than the occupation’s median national wage.

Here’s how they break down by average mean salary:

  • California: $124,000
  • Hawaii: $106,530
  • Oregon: $98,630
  • District of Columbia: $98,540
  • Alaska: $97,230
  • Massachusetts: $96,630

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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