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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:



Is This the Best Diet for RNs Working Night Shifts?

by Tera Tuten on August 25, 2014

night-shift-food-soliantNight shifts can cause a myriad of challenges that wreak havoc on your body and mind.

Working in artificial light can shut down your melatonin production, which helps regulate digestion, hormones, and your ability to think clearly.

Disrupting your circadian rhythms can interfere with sleep patterns.

And there’s usually no where to go exercise in the middle of the night, even for a brisk walk to help you wake up (assuming you can get away for a break.)

If you plan it carefully, though, your night-time diet can be your secret weapon for to staying awake, being alert, and maintaining a healthy weight. [click to continue…]



A Look at the Nurse Practitioner Salary Explosion

by Tera Tuten on July 15, 2014

Soliant-blog-nurse-practitioner-salariesOver the last decade, the number of nurse practitioners working in the U.S. has exploded from an estimated 97,000 to more than 189,000.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, these NPs are working in all areas of specialization.

Thanks to the triple-headed healthcare challenge that includes sweeping reforms, the looming doctor shortage of 2020 (and-beyond), and the skyrocketing medical needs of baby boomers, nurse practitioners are more in demand than ever: That’s good news if you’re already in this field and better news if you’re considering going into it. [click to continue…]



Soliant-blog---why-we-didn't-hire-you“I remember one nurse whose clothes were so tight, I felt like I was watching her slowly suffocate during the interview,” says one hospital HR recruiter.

“I had a gal come to an interview with an itty-bitty dog in her purse,” says another.

“Please don’t start off the interview with a litany of things you won’t do…such as work nights, touch poop or look at old people,” says one more.

A totally different senior RN tasked with hiring says “do we really have to say some of these things?”

According to anecdotal evidence, the answer to that question would seem to be “yes.”

Don’t be one of those anecdotes…

…And while you’re at it, take a look at some more common reasons that clinic or hospital may not have hired you as their next nurse: [click to continue…]



How to Wade Through 200,000+ Nursing Job Postings

by Tera Tuten on April 1, 2014

On average, there are 5,000-6,000 nursing-related jobs posted on this site on any given day.

A recent study by Wanted Analytics found nursing to be the most in-demand job in America, with estimates of the number of U.S. nursing jobs open in a year reaching into the hundreds of thousands.

While Soliant adds the handy advantage of having access to a personal recruiter that can work with you on your job search, it’s also important for you to know who you are and what you want, in order to separate the job posting wheat from the chaff.

To that end, here are 5 tips for wading through one of the largest professions for job postings in the U.S.: [click to continue…]



How To Succeed As A Nurse

by C. Alexis Brown on May 8, 2012

One of the benefits of being a nurse is that there are a number of career paths in which to be successful. Nursing is not like being a psychologist where the career path is pretty much set in stone. Instead, there are various positions based on your education and career objectives. There are licensed practical nurses (LPN’s), which take their direction from registered nurses and train for about one year. Then there is the registered nurse (RN), who can choose a degree program in a university, which is the BSN and then there is the diploma nurses that leads to the RN but are mostly trained in hospitals and take three years to complete. [click to continue…]


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