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nursing incentives

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:



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There is good news for those contemplating becoming a nurse in the coming years, job opportunities are on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook is excellent for registered nurses and jobs in the field of nursing are expected to increase at a faster rate than in other areas. The one caveat is that positions in hospitals are not expected to increase as dramatically as in other areas because of reduced patient time in the facilities and the increased offerings in specialty facilities for procedures once offered only in hospitals. Not only are these jobs becoming more readily available, they are also great jobs to have. The U.S. News and World Report listed registered nurse as the best job for 2012 in the field of health care and also overall out of all the jobs profiled. It topped the list because of the projected growth in the industry, current employment rates, average salary, and job satisfaction. [click to continue…]



How to Access Incentives to Become a Nurse

by Ryan Winter on October 6, 2009

“My friend got her way paid down to ___, her living arrangements taken care of, loans forgiven, even got a signing bonus…”

We’ve heard countless people relay such success stories of those willing to help alleviate America’s nursing shortage. But what’s the reality? Is it possible to have some (or all) of your costs for becoming an RN paid for?


Though you might not happen upon an all-expenses-paid dream scenario from a facility desperate to recruit you, there are hundreds of incentive programs to help take the financial sting out of becoming a nurse.

Here are a few of the ways – from coast-to-coast – you can get your education, re-education, and even your actual job subsidised by the communities that need nurses most: [click to continue…]