Before covid19, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a hefty 12% job growth for Registered Nurses.
After covid19, that number is expected to spike even larger.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that salaries aren't expected to rise with the demand.
With the amount of work nurses do, the long hours, and the health risks, the financial rewards have to be carefully weighed. What do you need to be able to support yourself and your family, as well as make the hard work worth it?
Helping people and taking care of yourself should not be mutually exclusive! It doesn't make what you're doing any less awesome if you get paid a good salary for it.
There's a lot of factors that affect how much a nurse gets paid. If you don't know what to look for, you could be costing yourself tens of thousands of dollars every year!
How Soon Can You Start?
Training to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) can be done in as little as a year with only a high school diploma or GED as a pre-requirement. Because of the limited experience and training, the salary is on the low-end, with a national average of around $45,000 annually.
More training can lead to better incomes but is also a greater time commitment and greater financial investment.
Going All In
According to NerdWallet, nursing student loan debt averages are between $19,928 for an associate's degree and $47,321 for a master's.
That's a lot of money, but if you can manage to get your masters, it also bumps up your salary to around $86,000 annually, almost double that of an LPN.
Don't finalize your training plans until you consider if you want to pursue a specialty path. Choosing a specialty can drastically change your earning potential as well as your responsibilities.
Don't make the mistake of thinking a specialty always means a bump in pay. Registered Nurses have a national average salary in the low $70,000 area. An ER Nurse, despite the high-pressure work environment, only has a national average salary of around $66,000.
On the other hand, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, who helps with anesthesia for surgery, can make double or more the average annual salary of an RN, with a national average of about $181,000 annually.
Becoming a Nurse Practitioner not only comes with a healthy pay raise (around $115,000/year) but also more authority, getting to diagnose and treat patients without a doctor. State laws vary on how much authority NPs have, so you'll need to consider where you hang your hat.
Home Sweet Home
Where you settle will change your income, and I don't mean by a few dollars.
Working as an RN in South Dakota, Alabama or Mississippi will get you around $60,000 annually. On the other hand, an RN in sunny California will be bringing home over $110,000. That kind of money buys a lot of scrub sets.
California isn't the only state that pays over $100,000. An RN in Hawaii averages about $104,000. Before you pack your bags, keep in mind that Hawaii also tops the list of most expensive states to live in (with California not too far behind.)
If you're comfortable in the $60,000-$70,000 range, you'll have the most options. You could make your home in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming.
If $70,000-$80,000 is more what you're looking for, you still have over a dozen states to choose from. This kind of salary would see you settling in Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, or Wisconsin.
Choices get a little slimmer in the $80,000-$90,000 range, and more focused on the east coast. How do you feel about Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington?
If you're needing more than $90,000, but California and Hawaii aren't for you, you can pick between Alaska, Massachusetts, Oregon, or Washington D.C.
If you're not ready to move to one of the highest paying states, there are ways to boost your paycheck right where you are.
Often there is a need for nurses to work extra hours or unusual hours, and that can mean higher pay. Overtime pay can offer as much as double your regular wages. With the already long hours healthcare workers have, this isn't a good option for everyone.
Nurses may also have the chance to take advantage of shift differentials. Anything that makes a certain shift more difficult may translate into more money.
Sometimes working the less desirable hours pays better than working regular business hours.
Some shifts may require more work, such as training a new nurse. That extra work often means extra dollars that can add up quickly.
Not all employers offer bonuses based on shift differentials and some that do may offer a lower nurses salary to begin with, so do your research into employers you are considering.
Where Do You Fit
The healthcare industry is already facing a doctor shortage and that is projected to only get worse over the next ten years.
It's going to be hard on patients and hard on nurses asked to bridge the gap. You may be left feeling overworked and underappreciated at times, though the truth is many communities know how important nurses are.
Companies like AP Uniforms go out of their way to voice their support for nurses and all healthcare workers.
With increasing demands on nurses, it is not always easy to remember that your hard work is noticed and respected.
Make sure you pick a specialty you enjoy, an environment where you're comfortable working, and a salary that lets you feel adequately compensated. All of that will be vital to ensuring you can handle the demand and avoid burnout.
The Right Stuff
The need for nurses keeps growing, though that rising need is not reflected in salary increases.
It's not an easy job, but if your heart is big and strong enough to pursue a nursing career, make sure you look at all your options. Consider the multiple factors that affect salary, from how much training you want to what bonus pay prospective employers offer.
You have the opportunity to earn the kind of paycheck you want and deserve as a nurse.
Now get yourself the right equipment and start your journey towards a rewarding nursing career!