Nursing is not only an in-demand profession; nursing salaries are also fairly lucrative. With the current nursing shortage, qualified nurses can find exceptional nursing career opportunities across the country.

Before you start your job search, however, let alone your nursing education, you will want to learn what you can about the nurse salary potential that different nursing careers offer

Factors in Nursing Salaries

Overall, nursing salaries vary depending on a number of factors:

  • Level of nursing degree and nursing education
  • Years of experience in a chosen field
  • State and city where you work (cost of living)
  • Type of work you do
  • Type of specialty you pursue

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Nursing Salaries

Licensed practical nurses typically train for their careers through a year-long education program at a hospital, community college or vocational school. After graduation, candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) to earn their nursing licensure.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses is $42,490. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

Registered Nurse (RN) Nursing Salaries

To become a registered nurse, students must earn a two-year associate’s or four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing or complete a nursing diploma program. After earning their degree, candidates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain their registered nursing license.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for registered nurses is $66,640. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

Advanced Practiced (AP) Nursing Salaries

Advanced Practice Nurses hold a master’s degree in a particular focus area and provide one-on-one patient care services similar to those a physician would perform. The following statistics show annual nurse salary ranges for the different categories of advanced practice nursing careers.

Advanced Practice Nursing Category Median Annual Salary*
Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) $153,780
Certified Nurse Midwife $102,670
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) $102,670
Nurse Practitioner (NP) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) $102,670

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Certified Nurse AnesthetistsNurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Recruitment Incentives

The nursing shortage offers extremely advantageous opportunities for current nurses earning a higher degree and for nursing students preparing to enter the workforce. Many hospitals are now offering incentive programs such as:

  • Recruitment bonuses (ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000)
  • Relocation assistance
  • Housing assistance
  • Day care
  • Tuition reimbursement

These recruitment incentives go to nurses who accept a position at their facility and agree to a set work commitment.

If you’re having difficulty finding a job as a nurse, there are other ways to put your degree to work.

These days, a nursing degree doesn’t necessarily equate to a job right out of school.

Employers looking for experience and older nurses delaying retirement have made it more difficult for the next generation of nurses to find work after graduation. However, all is not lost and there are options.

With intricate knowledge of the health care system, your nursing skills could prove useful in alternative careers you may not have thought of.

How Your Nursing Skills Can Help

A nurse needs to possess certain qualities to succeed and many of these characteristics can be useful in other fields. A few important attributes include:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Organized
  • Team player

What else can you do with these skills? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that some nurses find work at blood drives, health screenings, in research and consulting. Here’s a look at some of your other non-nursing options:

Medical Writer

If you’ve got a way with words, you may find a thriving career as a medical writer. Your medical background gives you the expertise to write in a variety of mediums, including:

  • White papers
  • Online articles
  • Textbooks
  • Grant proposals
  • Marketing materials

This is a career where your attention to detail is important. Strong grammar and spelling proficiency is imperative as are solid research skills.

How to Get Started

Many medical writers work as freelancers which gives you flexibility and a way to be your own boss. However, be prepared to spend a lot of time marketing yourself at first in order to secure regular work.

Another option is to find employment with a health care facility or marketing agency. This can give you a bit more job security and benefits.

What you can do:

  1. Create a portfolio of your work, ideally with health care writing samples.
  2. If you don’t have enough material to create a portfolio, start a blog. If you’re interested in a certain area of nursing, carve out a niche and market yourself as an expert in the topic.
  3. Join professional organizations such as the American Medical Writers Association.

Patient Advocacy

While many roles in public health require a degree in psychology or social work, many nurses with bachelor’s degrees or higher are turning to patient advocacy as a full-time career.

As a trained nurse, you’re accustomed to making patient care your top priority. Problem-solving skills and a supportive nature are two of the most important qualities you’ll need in this role.

Some of your duties might include:

  • Communicate to patients and their families about procedures
  • Explain patient rights
  • Support people of varying backgrounds

Some nurses who go into patient advocacy open their own firms, but if that doesn’t interest you, these companies can still be a good place to look for a job.

How to Get Started

  1. Decide on the area of health care you plan to advocate for, particularly if you don’t have a nursing specialization.
  2. Brush up on your communication skills. Enroll in seminars offering help with public speaking, diplomacy and general communication practices.


It may seem like the furthest career path from nursing, but pharmaceutical or medical device sales is not an uncommon career choice for people with nursing degrees. Since you have the medical expertise, as well as familiarity with certain medical equipment, you can provide knowledgeable explanations to potential buyers.

If you enjoy talking to people, have a knack for networking and are thick-skinned, a sales position may provide a good salary and the potential for career advancement.

How to Get Started

  1. Include any previous sales experience on your resume.
  2. Consider earning the voluntary Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR) certification. You’ll need to complete a training program as part of the process.
  3. Stay up to date on the latest developments on pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

While these are just a few non-clinical career options, take solace in knowing you may find opportunities available to nurses of all experience levels and specializations.

Approximately six percent of the registered nurse (RN) population works in home healthcare services. They travel to patients’ homes, schools, community centers, or nursing homes to provide secondary or tertiary care. Home health nurses offer hands-on treatment, and they educate patients and family members about proper care and prevention. They work with a broad range of patients including the elderly, the terminally ill, the physically disabled, patients in accident rehabilitation, mothers recovering from childbirth, and sick infants.

Home health nurses may fill some of the same duties as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), such as bathing and dressing patients. They are also licensed to provide specialized care like administering medicines and treatments, performing diagnostic tests, operating medical equipment, recording medical histories and symptoms, treating wounds, and establishing care plans.

To become a home health nurse, you must first gain licensure as a registered nurse. There are well over 2,000 state-approved RN training programs across the country. Many are taught at technical schools, community colleges, and hospitals, while the most prestigious are offered at four-year colleges and universities. Three common pathways to RN licensure are the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), and hospital diploma. ADN and hospital diploma programs require two to three years of fulltime study, while a BSN program takes four years to complete. Although it may take longer, the BSN pathway is the preferred credential of many top healthcare employers.

All pathways prepare graduates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is mandatory in all states. Additional certification is not required for home health nurses. This option was once available, but the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) has since retired both the home healthcare nurse and the home health clinical nurse specialist exams. Certification renewal is the only option for home health nurses that already have the credential.

Another credential, the Certificate for OASIS Specialist-Clinical (COS-C), is a voluntary certificate that enables home care providers to demonstrate their expertise in Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS) data accuracy. According to Wolters Kluwer’s Lippincott Nursing Center, certification in OASIS completion is becoming critically important. This certification could enhance a home health nurse’s earnings potential and employment opportunities.

A successful home health nursing career starts with an RN degree from an accredited college or university.

When it comes to our concept of a nurse, more than likely, we are all guilty of conjuring up an image of an outdated stereotype, something we were used to seeing in movies or on television: it’s the image of a woman dressed in white, wearing a white hat and carrying a tray of pills to a patient’s room. She doesn’t ask questions, she simply carries out doctor’s orders.

Times have changed.

Nursing Education

Today’s nurses play a major part in patient care, and they receive intense medical and patient care training that prepares them for tasks well beyond handing out pills and learn the important place that critical thinking in nursing occupies in practice.

One of the most important aspects of their education, critical thinking in nursing truly rounds out a nurse’s expertise and effectiveness. Developing critical thinking skills, nurses position themselves to manage and strategize patient care situations, deal with multiple physicians, family members and others involved in a patient’s treatment, and enhance their expertise in such a way as to truly excel in their occupation.

Critical thinking in nursing is integral to a nurse practitioner’s success.

Nursing Research

When it comes to health care research, the critical thinking required in nursing practice plays a unique role. Of all the health care professionals involved in a patient’s treatment, none stay as closely involved in day-to-day care as nurses. Certainly, they provide medical care to patients, but more than that, they offer understanding, compassion and a chance for patients to talk through not just their physical reactions to treatment but their feelings about it.

Simply put, nurses connect with their patients. A recent article in John Hopkins University’s Nursing Magazine, describes how a nurses’ relationships to patients proves vital to the field of health care research. Who better to offer observations, analysis and a human perspective of treatment than nurses in the thick of helping patients get through their care physically and emotionally?

Nursing Careers

Critical thinking in nursing makes a significant difference to the health care profession as a whole. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates, nurses represent the largest health care occupation, holding 2.75 million jobs. The medical skills and critical thinking they bring to patient care have the power to enhance medical treatments for decades to come.

Learn more about the different types of nursing career specialties and nursing education options.

Qualified Registered Nurses Needed

As baby boomers in the United States age, the demand for qualified nurses is increasing. Because of the shortage of qualified nurses, registered nursing is anticipated to be one of the hottest jobs over the next decade. The nursing shortage means that many people earning their nursing degrees can write their own ticket to success.

Contributing Factors

Some contributing factors impacting the nursing shortage:

  • Enrollment in schools of nursing is not growing fast enough
  • Limited nursing school faculty
  • With fewer new nurses, the average RN age is climbing
  • An aging U.S. population

Addressing the Nursing Shortage

The American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) is extremely concerned about the shortage and is diligently working with schools, policy makers, the media and other organizations to bring attention to this health care crisis.

The AACN compiled a number of nationwide strategies taking place to address the nursing shortage:

  • In 2006, many statewide initiatives were started to encourage current nurses to return to school to earn graduate degrees to teach the next generation of nurses.
  • Nursing colleges and universities are forming strategic partnerships and seeking private support to help expand student capacity in schools.
  • In September 2010, AACN announced the plan to expand NursingCAS, the nation’s centralized application service for RN programs, to include graduate nursing programs. This plan is expected to maximize the educational capacity of schools of nursing.

Online Nursing Programs to the Rescue

Nursing schools are increasingly unable to accommodate the influx of new students because they don’t have enough space or qualified teachers. To make up for this challenge, one thing that schools such as University of Phoenix, South University and Kaplan University are doing is developing high-quality online nursing programs.

Advantages of Online Nursing Programs

Sheila Marks, DNS, APRN, BC, is an Associate Professor of Nursing at South University in Savannah, Georgia. Marks is careful to explain, online nursing programs are not secondary to traditional programs—they are filling a void and offering students wait-listed at traditional schools an alternative. “The prospective students on waiting lists now are not marginal students. They are good students who can’t get into nursing school because there is not enough faculty,” she said.

What You Can Do

“There are many reasons why prospective students should consider nursing,” Marks said. “The field offers an active, varied work environment and job security. There is also flexibility—most nurses can either work part time or full time.”

Anyone who is interested in science and enjoys working with others should apply to nursing school. “We want the best and the brightest to enter the profession,” she said. An aptitude for science is critical. Marks said that the emphasis on science is much more now than when she was in nursing school in the 1970s.

What are her final words of advice for the would-be nurse? “Do it!” she said enthusiastically. But, she warned, “It is a rigorous scientific field, so take it seriously.”