Registered Nurse Salary By State

by Melissa Sartore
• 4 min read
reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW
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Salaries for compassionate, highly trained, and in-demand registered nurses reflect the rewarding and crucial nature of the position.

Registered nurses (RNs) work alongside other healthcare professionals to provide patient care. They administer medications, answer questions, and perform medical treatments, along with keeping detailed records and offering emotional support.

RNs commonly find employment in hospitals, clinics, and private doctors' offices. They may provide care at nursing and residential care facilities, travel to meet with patients, or engage with individuals and groups in schools and community settings.

Experience, education, and location all factor heavily into registered nurse's salaries, but the average salary reflects the essential nature of the role. RNs remain in high demand across the U.S., with the average nurse salary attesting to the continued need for professionals in the field.

Registered Nurse Salary Distribution in the U.S. (2020)

$53,410
>Lowest 10%

$75,330
Median Annual Wage

$116,230
Highest 10%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Average Registered Nurse Salary by State

In May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average salaries for RNs by state. Salaries often reflect a state's overall cost of living. Within individual states, salaries also vary based on urban or rural location.

Registered Nurse Mean Annual Wages Across the U.S. (2020)

The BLS reported in May 2020 that RNs in California and Hawaii earned the highest salaries. However, four out of the five states where RNs earned the highest annual wages have the highest costs of living in the United States, according to the BLS. California also has a strong nurses' union, which helps guarantee raises and ensure that nurses' wages are proportional to the cost of living.

Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses
State Mean Annual Wage (2020)
California $120,560
Hawaii $104,830
Massachusetts $96,250
Oregon $96,230
Alaska $95,270
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The states with the lowest mean annual wages in May 2020, based on an assessment by the BLS, are Alabama, South Dakota, and Mississippi. Comparable to how a high cost of living can influence high wages, the low cost of living in these states may factor into average nurse salaries.

Lowest-Paying States for Registered Nurses
State Mean Annual Wage (2020)
Alabama $60,230
South Dakota $60,960
Mississippi $61,250
Iowa $62,570
Arkansas $63,640
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Factors That Can Boost Your RN Salary

RNs earned a mean annual wage of over $75,000 as of May 2020, according to the BLS. To increase earning potential, nurses can pursue additional education, earn certifications, and participate in career advancement programs available through professional organizations.


Nursing Level

Aspiring and practicing nurses can pursue several types of degrees. Some states require an associate degree to work as an RN, while others mandate RNs have bachelor's degrees.

RNs benefit from earning master's degrees in the field. Earning advanced degrees allows professionals to advance to nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, and clinical nurse midwife roles. With specialized knowledge and training, RNs can boost their credibility and salary opportunities alike.


Certifications

Nursing certifications supplement existing knowledge and skills, opening up employment and salary opportunities. Nurses can earn additional credentials in specialties such as public health, mental health, and forensic nursing.

The American Nursing Credentialing Center oversees certification programs for nurses. Nurse practitioners can earn certifications in family care, adult-gerontology acute and primary care, and psychiatric care. Clinical care nurses can certify in adult-gerontology care as well. Certification areas for other RNs include informatics nursing, nursing professional development, and nursing care management.


Type of Degree

An associate degree in nursing is the minimum qualification to become an RN in many states. Bachelor's degrees in nursing benefit aspiring and practicing nurses by providing additional coursework and training to work in the field. By continuing to a master's degree in nursing, individuals can further enhance their professional opportunities. Earning graduate degrees can also lead to higher salaries.


Place of Work

Setting plays a significant role in salary. Nurses in emergency rooms and intensive care units may earn more than their counterparts in private physician offices, but prospective nurses should consider the added stress and demand of these settings.


Work Hours

Nurses in hospitals and acute care facilities work in shifts, some of which might provide higher hourly wages than others. These settings may allow for overtime and extra shift work, increasing annual registered nurse salaries. Nurses who work in doctors' offices or comparable locations often receive salaries, without opportunities to take on additional hours.


Industry

Nurses who work in healthcare settings can often transition into managerial and administrative roles with the right education and experience. Some RNs may take on teaching duties to earn additional income, as well. Registered nurses also work within municipal, local, state, and federal government agencies. These positions can result in higher-paying positions, depending on the role and its qualifications.


Years of Experience

Registered nurses acquire knowledge, skills, and training with experience, all of which can boost their salaries. According to PayScale, experienced nurses earn about $10,000 more than their entry-level counterparts each year. Entry-level nurses earn about $58,000 on average, while midcareer nurses take home roughly $68,000. With 20 years of experience or more, RNs earn an average base salary of over $73,000, per PayScale data.

Common Questions About Registered Nurse Salaries

true What Kind of Nurses Get Paid the Most?

Nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, who must hold at least a master's degree, are the highest-paid nurses. The highest-paid nurses often possess the most education and experience.

true How Many Days Do RNs Work?

Nurses in hospitals work three 12-hour shifts a week, with opportunities for overtime. Nurses who work in doctors offices may work five days a week. The number of days RNs work depends on where they work.

true At What Age Do Most Nurses Retire?

Most nurses retire from bedside nursing in their 50s, although the emotionally and physically taxing nature of the job often leads to earlier retirements. Many RNs move on to less demanding nursing positions, such as case management, before retiring completely.

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. A native of Boston, MA, Clarke tired of the cold and snowy winters and moved to Coral Gables, FL in order to complete her undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of Miami. After working for several years in the cardiac and ER units of UHealth and Jackson Memorial Medical Systems, Clarke returned to the University of Miami to complete her master of science in nursing. Since completing her MSN degree, Clarke has worked providing primary and urgent care to pediatric populations.

Header Image Credit: Fly View Productions | Getty Images

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