Registered Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
Now is a great time to become a registered nurse and not just because of the registered nurse salary. Over 40 percent of this country’s registered nurses are in their fifties and beyond, and for many of them retirement is just around the corner. At the same time, the overall population is getting older and requiring more medical care. An aging workforce plus an aging population equals a serious nursing shortage. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that by 2020 the healthcare workforce may need one million registered nurses to fill the gap.
Not only is there a wider variety of places to work than ever before, but registered nursing salaries are increasing. Your earning potential as a registered nurse will depend on how much training you have and where you work. Registered nurses with an Associates Degree, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a diploma from a hospital nursing program typically earn $50,000 - $70,000 a year. In 2008, the average registered nurse salary was $66,973, rising 15.9 percent since the 2004 average of $57,785.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), Bureau of Health Professions Research. http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/about/default.htm
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA): The Registered Nurse Population: Findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/nursing.html.
Preparing for Nursing School
You can enroll in nursing courses as soon as you have your high school diploma or GED. You'll need to have good grades in math, biology, chemistry, health science and English to qualify for entry into a program, and good computer skills will help. Being able to speak a language other than English isn’t necessary, but it can be a big plus.
Volunteering at a hospital or clinic can be an extremely valuable part of preparing for nursing school. Being around nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers will give you a feel for the environment, the pacing, and the actual day-to-day routine. It will also help you sort out precisely what kind of nursing is right for you.
Find a mentor.Ask your neighbors, family members and friends if they know of someone who can talk about their experiences in nursing. It’s a big, wide, connected world, and you never know who might be able to share advice and networking contacts.
Certified Nursing Assistant:Nursing assistants are the backbone of the direct care and long-term care industries. In nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospices and hospitals, CNAs help patients with all aspects of daily living. To become a CNA you must complete at least 75 hours of state-approved training and pass a certification exam. The average hourly pay for CNAs ranges between $9 and $13 per hour.
Licensed Practical Nurses/Licensed Vocational Nurses: LPN's, or VPNs, as they're called in California and Texas, care for patients under the direct supervision of doctors and registered nurses. LPNs typically take vital signs, change dressings, prepare patients for tests, give injections, and help patients with bathing, dressing and walking. Typical licensed practical nurse programs take up to 12 months to complete. Once your studies are done you’ll take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) to put the “licensed” in your title and qualify you to apply for work as an LPN. Average salaries for licensed practical nurses range from $33,000 to $46,000.
Registered Nurses: To become a registered nurse you’ll need a nursing degree or a diploma from a hospital-based nursing program. You can choose an Associate of Science degree, which can take 2-3 years to complete. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) takes four years of study. Hospital-based diploma programs take about 3 years, but can be hard to find. Nurses with a bachelor of science have better earning power than LPN/VPN’s or nurses with either an Associate’s or diploma, but there are plenty of RN-to-BSN programs to choose from once you’ve become a registered nurse. In all aspects of nursing your ability to make better pay will also increase with your work experience. On average, registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree can earn $50,000 to $70,000 annually.
After Nursing School, What's Next?
Investing in a nursing education is truly an investment in the rest of your life. How much time and money you invest is up to you, but it will matter as your career progresses. Once you’ve finished your studies and become licensed to practice nursing there are plentiful opportunities for professional development and continuing education. As an entry level or staff nurse, you can work in lots of different specialties. Here’s a very short list of specialized nursing roles:
- Home health care nurse
- Cardiac rehabilitation nurse
- Orthopedic nurse
- Oncology or cancer care nurse
- Pediatric nursing
- Intravenous therapy nurse
- Operating room scrub nurse
- Occupational health nurse
- Plastic and reconstructive surgery nurse
Whatever path you choose, one thing is sure – nurses are in great demand, and that demand will continue to rise over the next decade. Are you ready to take the first step?