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Nursing Pay Rates, Explained

by Tera Tuten on September 24, 2015

Online lists stating the average pay for nurses nationwide can vary wildly and often suggest that huge rises or drop have occurred, but what’s the final word on how (and what) nurses actually get paid under various circumstances? We take a look at the most up-to-date numbers and what the statistics can – and can’t – tell us.

Soliant Nursing Jobs by State

Pay scales, low ranges

While some lower-paying states average in the $20s for per-hour pay, stats show that some areas within the top ten highest paying states also average as low as $26.75. This raises the question that these lists may not be averaging just RN pay into these salary numbers.

A registered nurse working at a big city hospital – on average – can earn about $40/hour, though a licensed practical nurse in a small-town rest home might not make half that wage.

It’s important to remember that hourly wages don’t reflect the extra hours and higher pay of overtime, which almost all nurses work voluntarily and/or as part of their contract, “as needed.” We spotted one salary site poster, who identified themselves as an RN say: “you might have to work 80 hours a week but even at $20-25/hour, you can still bring in $100K a year”

Pay scales, high ranges

nursing pay rates explained staffNursing in America is a vast profession, covering millions of people employed in thousands of different positions and hundreds of job types: a chief nurse anesthetist can make more than $160,000 a year, five times what some LPNs bring home in the same time.

Keep in mind that, while some scales may be brought down in average hourly pay by including LPNs with RNs, other scales from job sites and the like may be raised by including numbers from higher-paid senior and specialist nurses. These lists also tend to be perpetuated over many other sites and blogs which may not verify the source or accuracy of the information for themselves or put the information in its proper context.

 Location, location, location

As of May 2014, the BLS reported that RN salaries across various states varied massively but according to these latest stats, the average American RN makes about $32 an hour, or about $66,000 a year.

Annual Mean Wage of RN 2014

However, RNs working in the highest paying states can earn far more than nurses elsewhere and among the highest-paying regions of those states RNs can earn even more. For example, while the median pay for RNs in California is $46.38/hour, or about $96,470/year, RNs in the modest 51,000-resident city of Watsonville, CA, typically make more than $65/hour, or about $136,570 per year.

Annual Mean Wage of RN 2014 by area

Here’s how annual salaries in the highest-paying areas of America’s highest-paying state for RNs play-out:

Area of California Average RN Wage 2014
Santa Cruz-Watsonville CA $136570
San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City CA Metropolitan Div $134260
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont CA $130480
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA $130030
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward CA Metropolitan Division $127480


If you think that’s astronomical for a non-specialist RN, a nurse in rural Soldad, CA made $331,346 in 2008, including $211,257 in overtime. Between 206 and 2013, she was paid nearly $2 million and was one of 42 nurses in California to make more than a million dollars in the 6 years between 2006 and 2012. While that is an extreme example, here’s how much a typical RN in the five highest paying states brings in:

Highest paying states in 2014 (median pay):

State Hourly / Annual Pay
1. California $46.38 / $96,470
2. Hawaii $43.38 / $90,220
3. Massachusetts $41.12 / $85,530
4. Alaska $40.22 / $83,650
5. Oregon $39.12 $81,3800


Contrast that with what you’d be making as an RN in the five lowest-paying states in America:

Lowest paying states* (median pay):

(*Not including statistics for Guam or Puerto Rico)

State Hourly / Annual Pay
50. South Dakota $25.04 / $52090
49. Iowa $25.58 / $53220
48. Alabama $26.39 / $54900
47. Mississippi $26.41 / $54940
46. West Virginia $26.59 / $55310


Pay rates by training, specialty, and type of work environment

Nursing salaries vary not only between states and cities, but also between specialized knowledge and skills, positions, and environment. For example, while a staff nurse in an occupational health department might make a medium annual salary of $78,060, a transplant coordinator can bring in an average $81,333.

Nurses in clinics typically earn less than nurses working in hospitals, while nurse administrators, nurse practitioners, and specialists such as anesthetists make significantly more than general RNs. Here’s a look at some typical annual salaries for such positions:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: $97,542
  • Head Nurse: $98,283
  • Nurse Practitioner: $97,568
  • Nurse In Charge of Intensive Care Unit: $100,403
  • Certified Nurse Midwife $96,323
  • Nursing Director: $131,279
  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist: $166,445
  • Chief Nurse Anesthetist: $190,869

Nurses at work

Overall pay -vs- regional cost-of-living

Having said all that, it’s useful to bear in mind that the highest-paying nursing job may not necessarily give you the highest standard of living. By moving from an RN position in Indianapolis, Indiana (earning an average annual salary of $61,650) to Philadelphia, you’d have to be making $79,028 a year to have the same lifestyle you had back at the “crossroads of America”. Unfortunately, a typical RN salary in Philadelphia is about $ 74,030 a year.

Wondering what your quality of life will be if you’re earning a particular nursing salary in a particular state or city? Check out’s Cost Of Living Calculator.

America’s largest profession

With more than 3 million RNs alone (more than 4 million nursing and nursing-related staff, including nurse aides and assistants), nursing is the single most common profession in America. It’s no wonder then that nursing salaries and hourly wages seem to vary so widely across regions, workplaces, and employment circumstances and that the official statistics are so hard to decipher.

How do the official salary figures for nursing pay rates compare to your experiences? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Soliant Nursing Jobs by State


Other Soliant blogs on nursing pay rates:



Soliant-top-jobs-no-med-schoolAccording to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median four-year cost to attend med school is close to a quarter of a million dollars.

And while a growing doctor shortage is keeping med school attractive despite the high cost and long years of training, there are many healthcare jobs that approach some physician salaries, without the extra years (and debt) associated with becoming a doctor.

Here’s a look at five high-paying medical jobs that you don’t have to go to med school for: [click to continue…]



According to labor statistics, some nurses can make north of $100,000 a year. Meanwhile, according to the documentary “The Vanishing Oath,” a full-time physician in the U.S. can take home as little as $28/hr before taxes.

These are two extremes, but it brings up an interesting topic I’ve been thinking about for a while now: How much does the pay you get out of a medical job actually give you?

We often hear of 60, 70, even 80-hour work-weeks debasing the currency of some medical salaries, while overall satisfaction for other healthcare jobs is among the highest in any industry…So what does it all work out to when it comes to the quality-of-life your job lets you have?

To find out, I did some basic math with the most recent available salary, hourly pay, average weekly hours worked, and overtime data, as well as average time needed to complete training, job satisfaction, and other elements from a variety of sources.

The results were surprising, on several levels: [click to continue…]



Nurses (including RNs)

By 2020, the U.S. government predicts a shortage of between 800,000 and one million nurses. (Close to 117,000 short in California alone.)

Before that – 2015 – the U.S. Department of Health projects that 400,000 new nurses will be needed just to fill vacancies left by retirees.

Here’s a closer look at the need, from a blog posting we did in 2009. Since then, 2012 Labor statistics project that at least 580,000 new nursing jobs will be generated in the U.S. just by 2016. And that’s just the jobs that will be generated, not the total needed to fulfill healthcare goals. [click to continue…]



9 People Who Have Turned Medical Imaging Into Art

by Tera Tuten on July 23, 2013

About 5 years ago, I looked at the rainbow strands of light below and wondered if I was seeing some sort of digital art.

What I was actually seeing was a map of someone’s brain, made with a Siemens Magnetom Allegra 3-Tesla scanner at Massachusetts General Hospital.

By imaging the mobility of water molecules, the brilliant strands here showed nerve pathways – essentially a wiring diagram of a thought…maybe even a feeling. [click to continue…]



RESULTS: 20 Most Beautiful Hospitals in the U.S. (2013) are…

After more than 100,000 votes, the results are in for Soliant Health’s 5th annual list of the 20 Most Beautiful Hospitals in America.
[click to continue…]



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