The average nursing pay scale varies drastically by an individual's level of education, experience and chosen specialty field. Individuals who pursue a basic nursing accreditation can expect to receive average salaries around $38,000 per year, while those with advanced nursing degrees and specialty certifications are more likely to earn $70,000 or more each year.
Nursing Degrees and Licenses
Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) or Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) receive their licenses by enrolling in an 18 month to two year program through a technical college or university. These programs provide technical education and practical clinical experience that prepares the students for the licensing exam. Depending on the facility and the job description, most LVNs are tasked with providing basic bedside care and general health analysis and assessment.
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered Nurses (RNs) receive their titles by completing an RN degree program or by earning a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree through an accredited university program. Like LVNs and LPNs, RNs must also complete a state-mandated licensing exam. The more in-depth education of an RN enables their work with patients to go deeper than that of an LVN or LPN and also enables them to receive additional specialty certifications. Specialties range in fields from emergency medicine to pediatrics or psychiatry, just to name a few. Additional specialty certifications ramp up the nursing pay scale of RNs.
Advanced Practice Nurse (APN)
Advanced Practice Nurses must have an advanced degree above and beyond that of an RN. Generally this means that they've received a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing degree. Most APNs actually start as LVNs or RNs, and after extensive experience decide to go on to pursue additional education. APNs are becoming more valuable to the medical field because their training enables them to perform many of the same duties that a physician can perform, but at a fraction of the cost. APN specialties include Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists.
Average Nursing Pay Scale
Like any field, a nurse's salary varies based on the education and experience of the nurse, but also varies based on the location of the job. With all else equal, nurses in New York will generally receive a greater salary than those in West Virginia, for example. Such pay differences generally reflect the location's overall cost of living. When choosing a job, also be sure to consider other benefits, such as health insurance, flexible shifts, bonuses and paid leave as a factor of the total pay package.
- LVNs/LPNs: Generally average $36,000 annually
- RNs: Average salaries range from $47,000-$59,000 depending on the specialty
- RNs with Supervisory Responsibilities: Nurses who are charged with supervising or directing a department or other nurses can earn substantially more than those without supervisory responsibility. Salaries average between $65,000-$105,000 annually.
- Executive Level Nurses: If a nurse has risen to an executive level, especially at a large hospital or facility, he or she could average more than $150,000 per year.
- APNs: Depending on the chosen field of certifications, APNs average around $70,000 to $75,000 annually, but certain specialties, like anesthetists may earn six-figure salaries.
Weighing Your Options
When choosing a nursing field, you may find yourself torn between starting your career quickly, or pursuing an advanced degree that will ultimately increase your average annual salary. It's a tough choice because additional education costs money and time, while LVNs and LPNs start earning a salary quickly, but don't earn as much as those with higher level degrees. The nice thing about the nursing field is that if you decide to start as an LVN or LPN, there are programs that enable you to turn your LVN or LPN into an RN credential down the road. Similarly, you can choose to pursue an APN after practicing as an RN for a period of time. So think about your current situation and discuss your financial needs with your family and friends before making your decision.
The wide range of certifications and specialties within the nursing field creates a vast spread in the average annual salaries of nurses. To learn more about the average salaries of nurse specialties within your state, look at current job postings at hospitals or call your local community college to get career information.