From High School to High Paycheck: The Nursing Career Advantage

There are three nurses to every doctor.

That’s the situation in most countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization that builds better policies for better lives.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that’s just the average.

The ratio of nurses to physicians can range from one nurse per doctor (like in Chile, Greece, and Turkey) to over four nurses per doctor (like in Ireland, Japan, and the United States).

Speaking of which, nurses in the US earn so much.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses make an average of $81,220 per year. That’s 75% higher than the average annual salary of all workers: $46,310.

Nurses earn so much because of the critical role they play in the healthcare setting.

They have demanding work extending beyond just taking vital signs and administering meds.

They also coordinate care with other healthcare team members, provide emotional support, and educate patients and their families throughout their long (and often irregular!) work hours.

Nurses can earn even more by working overtime, getting more experience, and pursuing specializations.


Different Nurses, Different Pay

I like to clarify that nurses who make an average annual salary of $81,220 per year are registered nurses.

How much a nurse in the United States earns per year depends on the individual’s title and roles in a healthcare environment — yes, there are different types of nurses.

Let’s take a quick look at the different types of nurses.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

LPNs and LVNs work in a variety of settings.

They include hospitals, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, physicians’ offices, rehab facilities, residential care facilities, nursing facilities, and schools and private homes.

However, their roles are limited to the provision of basic medical care, such as:

  • Monitoring blood pressure and other vital signs
  • Providing basic care and comfort
  • Listening to patients’ concerns
  • Documenting patient care
  • Reporting patient status

They also work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians.

LPNs and LVNs make an average of $54,620 per year, which is roughly 18% higher than the average for all jobs.

Below are the top highest-paying states for LPNs and LVNs:

StateAverage Annual Salary
Rhode Island$66,770

To become an LPN or LVN, you must complete a state-approved program, which takes about one year to complete. You must also earn a license, although requirements can vary from state to state.

So, what’s the difference between an LPN and an LVN?

Besides their job titles, there’s no difference between LPNs and LVNs. States like California and Texas prefer the name Licensed Vocational Nurse, while most other states prefer the name Licensed Practical Nurse.

Related Article: Why Do Anesthesiologists Make So Much?

Registered Nurse (RN)

When people think about nurses, what most picture are RNs.

Compared to LPNs and LVNs, RNs carry out more advanced tasks and hold more responsibilities in various medical settings, usually without the supervision of physicians and other higher-level healthcare professionals.

Primarily, their roles are the following:

  • Provide treatment, often doctor-delegated
  • Administer medications
  • Disseminate information to patients and the public

As mentioned, RNs in the country make an average of $81,220 per year.

Below are the top highest-paying states for RNs:

StateAverage Annual Salary

The majority of RNs in the United States (59%) work in state and local hospitals. Others work in ambulatory healthcare facilities, nursing care facilities, residential care facilities, schools, and the public sector.

To become an RN, you should complete a bachelor’s degree and earn a license.

Some begin the path toward an RN career with an associate degree program.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

APRNs are nurses with advanced degrees such as master’s and doctorate.

While they can work in numerous healthcare environments, most APRNs are in community-based settings, providing assorted primary and preventive care services.

There are various APRNs, including:

  • Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs)
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs)

Given that they provide primary and specialty healthcare practices as a result of having advanced qualifications, it isn’t surprising that APRNs are some of the highest-paid nurses.

According to the BLS, APRNs in the United States make an average of $125,900 per year.

The educational path toward becoming an APRN can vary from state to state.

Generally speaking, though, all APRNs have a registered nursing license, meaning they are also RNs. They must have also completed an accredited graduate-level nursing program and passed a national licensure exam.

Nurses Get Paid More — And Even More!

You’re one of the highest-paid professionals in the American labor force as a nurse.

However, you can make more than what most RNs make per year, especially if you are unhappy with your current salary if you feel you deserve more because of your expertise and what you can contribute to humankind.

It’s not uncommon for many nurses to seek more pay for different reasons, such as:

  • Their jobs have a demanding nature
  • Many are working long hours
  • Some at understaffed facilities to the job of several people
  • Others work under bad conditions
  • A high level of responsibility
  • Their lives are constantly at risk or in danger

Related Article: Why are Dental Hygienists Paid So Much?

Work Additional Shifts or in High-Demand Settings

Many hospitals, residential care facilities, and others offer additional pay to nurses who work extra shifts or overtime.

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), working 12-hour shifts is commonplace for many nurses in hospital settings, either from 7 am to 7 pm or 7 pm to 7 am.

On the other hand, those who work in offices and schools that do not provide round-the-clock care usually work during typical business hours like most people in the workforce.

Nurses who want more pay by doing additional work must ensure their health and social lives won’t suffer.

Working in healthcare environments that require more skills, such as emergency services, critical care, and specialty departments, may also pave the way for increased monetary compensation.

Pursue Further Education and Specialization

As a nurse, there’s room for climbing the career ladder.

While gaining additional experience in the healthcare industry is one way to do it, returning to school and getting further training and qualifications allows for a marked and satisfying career advancement.

For example, LPNs and LVNs may work on a bachelor’s degree in nursing and earn an RN license.

On the other hand, RNs may attend graduate school to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree.

Furthering one’s education to make more per year, of course, requires both money and time — for those who wish to keep their jobs, it’s a must to manage their time well to succeed in their careers and educational pursuits.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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