Registered Nurse Compensation and Pay Rates

Registered Nurse Compensation and Pay Rates
Cross Country Nurses
September 15, 2017 14:30 PM (GMT-04:00)
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From the Registered Nurse Salary, Compensation and Demand Trends Series

Nationally, healthcare related careers, and specifically RN jobs, will continue to grow at a rate far exceeding the US average. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for RNs is expected to grow by an average of 16% per year — more than double the average for all jobs — which is 7%. 

As a headline, this data would strongly suggest that the US nursing shortage will not only continue into the foreseeable future, but that the gap between jobs and the availability of qualified nurses will continue to widen. While this may be true, it is important to remember that employment data is only relevant to us if we are evaluating supply and demand within our local job market.

Cross Country Nurses, a national leader in nursing and allied contingent staffing, has  published a series of documents to help healthcare professionals better understand the US job market and provide insight to help RNs navigate their careers over the next 10 years. The series will explore local job markets by state and metropolitan area, salary variations by location and by cost of living factors, economic and other factors that may be tightening the job market for RNs, the skills gap and ways that RNs can improve their opportunities for both placement and career advancement. 

This article in this series, Registered Nurse Compensation and Pay Rates, looks more deeply at salaries for RNs across the US and in major metropolitan areas while also factoring in local cost of living expenses.           


Nationally, RNs earn a mean wage of $72,180 per year, but there are dramatic pay differences based upon both location and experience. By location alone, mean salary can range from $136,000 in San Francisco, CA to $49,000 in Springfield, OH. In fact, the only metropolitan area in the US that perfectly corresponds with the US mean wage for RNs is Albuquerque, NM. So unless you happen to live and work in Albuquerque, national data as it relates to RN wages is not as relevant to you as your local market data may be. 

From an experience perspective, salaries can range significantly as well. For entry-level nurses, the national mean wage is $47,120, and the most experienced nurses can earn as much as $102,990, on average. Over a career, this suggests that the income growth potential for RNs is $55,870 — or about $1,400 in average increases per year during a 40-year career. 

Again, however, location plays a significant factor.  RN residents of Savannah, GA have the smallest income growth potential at about $19,500 during their career while San Rafael, CA RNs enjoy about a $110,000 swing from entry level to peak earning potential. For our friends in Albuquerque, mean entry-level salaries are $54,500 and the highest salaries top out at $95,410.

The first table provides the top ten mean paying nursing markets in the US.  These markets are all currently located in the state of California.  

Market* Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $136,610
Hayward, CA $125,560
Santa Cruz, CA $124,920
Vallejo, CA $124,380
San Jose, CA $120,680
Salinas, CA $120,120
Oakland, CA $117,880
San Rafael, CA $117,550
Sacramento, CA $113,440
Napa, CA $109,460
Market* Mean Salary
Newton, MA $98,040
Nashua, NH $92,570
North Central, MA $90,620
Honolulu, HI $89,290
Portland, OR $88,750
Non-metropolitan, AK $88,260
Jersey City, NJ $88,100
Bend, OR $87,890
Kauai, HI $87,870
Newark, NJ $86,850
Anchorage, AK $86,850
Kahului, HI $86,700
Salem, MA $86,680
Southeast, AK $86,330
Las Vegas, NV $86,150
Danbury, CT $85,830
Nassau County, NY $85,720
Olympia, WA $84,470
North Coast, OR $83,840
Eugene, OR $83,360
Market* Cost of Living Adjusted Mean Salary
Nevada $80,182
Michigan $78,345
Texas $77,607
California $75,482
Oregon $75,390
Arizona $74,852
Washington $74,809
Illinois $74,230
Minnesota $73,136
New Mexico $71,755

While on the surface, California appears to offer the highest paying mean salaries for RNs, when considering cost of living in that state, the adjusted salary rank is fifth on the list. Nevada tops the list for RN salaries when adjusted for cost of living. Overall, RN salaries, when adjusted for cost of living become much more normalized state-by-state. Hawaii offers the lowest adjusted salary for RNs at $53,112. Ohio, which offers some of the lowest salaries for RNs, when adjusted for cost of living ranks number sixteen with an adjusted mean salary of $68,774.

One thing is clear, nursing has, and will continue to be a well-compensated and in-demand profession in the US. We value our nurses for their guidance and lifesaving skills as well as their care and compassion. Nurses across the country touch lives every day, impact the overall health of our population and drive positive change into our healthcare system.  From recent RN graduates to highly experienced, specialized nurses, compensation is only one benefit of the profession. In our next article, we will take a closer look at salary ranges by state and metropolitan area for new graduates as well as the most experienced in the profession.

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