As much as you love taking care of patients, you also need to get paid for all the hard work you do. From student loan debt to taking care of yourself and your loved ones to saving for your first house, even a small pay increase can make a world of difference.
Nursing salaries tend to vary widely across the country. Some areas will pay you more than others, but the high cost of living can put a dent in your earnings. So, how much do nurses make and which states will help you earn the most? Use this guide to plan the next chapter of your career.
How Much Do Nurses Make Per Year?
Nurses earned an average wage of $82,750 per year or $39.78 per hour, but these rates vary widely across the U.S. Some states pay more per hour but they come with a higher cost of living, which can eat into your earnings. Nurses also stand to make thousands of dollars more per years if they have a master’s degree in science of nursing (MSN). You can use this degree to become a registered certified nurse anesthesist, nurse practitioner, or nurse mid-wife. In short, your pay largely depends on where you work and what kinds of nursing skills you bring to the table.
Licensed Practical Nurse
Licensed pratical nurses (LPNs) perform basic medical care and work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as nursing homes, extended care facilities, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and in-home care settings. You don’t need a bachel0r’s degree to become a LPN, but you need to complete a one-year education course and be licensed to practice in your state.
According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), The median annual wage for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses was $48,070 in May 2021 and the highest paying states on average for LPNs are:
- Alaska: Yearly salary of $67,620 ($32.51/hr)
- California: Yearly salary of $64,090 ($30.81/hr)
- Massachusetts: Yearly salary of $60,400 ($29.04/hr)
- Washington: Yearly salary of $59,780 ($28.74/hr)
- Nevada: Yearly salary of $59,700 ($28.70/hr)
However, Alaska only employs around 330 LPNs. California, New York, Texas, Ohio, and Florida employ the most LPNs, so these tend to also be some of the best places to look for work.
Registered Nurse Salary
Registered nurses take on a more active role than LPNs. They cordinate care and educate patients about various diseases and health issues. You will need a bachelor’s degree to get a job as a RN or at the very least an associate’s degree in nursing or a certificate from an accredited nursing education program. You must also be licsenced to practice in your state. This is the most common position in the healthcare industry with nearly two thousand new nursing jobs opening every year. They work in just about every healthcare setting available, including doctor’s offices, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other in-patient care facilities.
RNs made an average of $77,600 per year or $37.31 per hour in 2021.
If you’re a registered nurse, these states will pay you the most for your services on average, according to the BLS:
- California: $120,560 annually ($57.96/hr)
- Hawaii: $104,830 annually ($50.40/hr)
- Massachusetts: $96,250 annually ($46.27/hr)
- Oregon: $96.230 annually ($46.27/hr)
- Alaska: $95,270 annually ($45.81/hr)
California is by far the country’s largest employer of RNs, with 307,060 working across the state. Texas comes in second with 219,330; Florida with 183,130; New York with 178,550 and Pennsylvania rounds out the top 5 with 146,640 providers.
Looking at the data by state doesn’t tell the full story, though. If you’re considering moving to a new city, these areas pay the highest averages:
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $149,200 a year ($71.73/hr)
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $146,870 a year ($70.61/hr)
- Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $142,140 a year ($68.34/hr)
- Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA: $134,350 a year ($64.59/hr)
- Salinas, CA: $132,160 a year ($63.54/hr)
Clearly, California is the place to be if you’re looking to earn the most money for your time. However, many cities in this state and several others also tend to be some of the most competitive.
If you’re looking to land your first job, these areas have the highest concentrations of RNs:
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
- Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
- Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL
- Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
Let’s say you’re not a city person. If you’d rather live in the country without taking a massive pay cut, these are the highest paying nonmetropolitan areas on average:
- North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California: $103,890/year ($49.95/hr)
- Alaska nonmetropolitan area: $102,390/year ($49.23/hr)
- Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California: $101,000/year ($48.56/hr)
- Hawaii / Kauai nonmetropolitan area: $97,950/year ($47.09/hr)
- North Coast Region of California: $92,760/year ($44.60/hr)
RN Salaries – Adjusted for Cost of Living
Let’s face it: living in New York, L.A., or Chicago isn’t for everyone. You’re probably spending most of your time at the hospital, so living in a big city might not be worth it. Cities like these are also among the most expensive to live in the world. Yes, we’re looking at you, San Francisco. If you’re looking to squeeze as much money out of your time as a nurse, these states pay the most when we adjust for the cost of living:
- New Mexico: $84,770
- California: $84,663
- Texas: $83,478
- Nevada: $82,491
- Michigan: $81,656
- Washington: $80,805
- Minnesota: $80,397
- Georgia: $79,721
- Arizona: $79,348
- Illinois: $78,484
Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when taking a job in another state. You might be able to maximize your paycheck by living cheaply in a major city or high-paying state like California. For example, you could get a roommate or live outside of the downtown area and take a train to work.
Nurse Practioner, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Anethesthists Salaries
You will usually make more money per hour if you go back to school to get a master’s degree in nursing. These programs typically take between two and three years to complete. Gettting another degree will likely add to your student debt, asssuming you don’t qualify for a full-ride scholarship, but nurse practitioners, midwives, and anesthetists retain more autonomy in the field than RNs with the paychecks to prove it.
The average pay for all three positions was $123,780 per year or $59.51 per hour in 2021. You can open your own private practice as a NP or work in an outpatient surgical center.
They also represent some of the fastest growing positions in the country. The industry is expected to add around 29,400 job openings for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners each year, on average, over the next ten years with a growth rate of 45% through 2030.
According to the BLS, the top five highest paying states for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists are:
- California ($133,780 a year)
- Alaska ($122,880 a year)
- Massachusetts ($122,740 a year)
- New Jersey ($122,100 a year)
- New York ($120,970 a year)
Choosing a career path or nursing specialty will have a dramatic impact on your future earnings as a healthcare professional. The more you learn, the more you stand to earn.
Keep this information in mind as you plan out the future of your career. And remember, you’re worth every penny.