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Nurse salary 2019: How much are RNs and LPNs getting paid?

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A career in nursing is rewarding for many reasons, but the pay is important too. Here’s a report on the latest trends in nurse compensation. While numbers vary based on location and specialty, the latest Medscape nurse salary report shows wages have slightly increased overall.

Which healthcare settings pay the most?

Chart showing nurse income by practice setting

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While most nurses work in hospital settings — and are among the highest-paid — RNs who worked in employee/occupational health settings and the health insurance industry earned about the same salary as hospital staff nurses: an average of $84,000 per year. School and public health nurses earn the lowest salaries (about $65,000 per year). Average salaries for health industry nurses increased 8% in just one year, from $78,000 to $84,000, while salaries for hospice nurses dropped 4% during the same time period (from $76,000 to $73,000).

Certified nurses earn more

It’s true that certified nurses reported earning 15% higher total compensation than non-certified nurses ($84,000 versus $73,000) in 2018. However, only 26% of nurses said they received a higher annual salary because of their certifications, 6% received a one-time bonus, and 8% received an annual bonus. Most healthcare facilities don’t require nurses to receive certifications, and the cost of classes, certificate renewal, and study guides deters some nurses from certifying since a salary increase isn’t guaranteed.

Nurse salaries are highest on the West Coast

RN income by region

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RNs working in the east-south-central United States (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky) earn the lowest salaries (an average of $69,000), while RNs on the West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska) earn the highest salaries ($102,000 on average). It’s important to note that this does not factor in the cost of living.

Most nurses reported increased income

Despite salary changes for health industry nurses and hospice nurses last year, the Medscape data shows that as a group, nurse salaries did not change much. However, 58% of LPNs and 61% of RNs reported an increase in income since 2016, and just 10% reported a reduced income. The data is inconclusive whether salaries increased year-over-year or more nurses supplemented their pay by taking extra shifts or working overtime — and 30% of RNs and 34% of LPNs reported doing so.

Nurses receive more pay as they gain more experience

As in most industries, nurse salaries increase based on years of tenure. The highest-paid RNs (an average of $84,000 per year) had more than 21 years of experience, as did the highest-paid LPNs, who earned an average of $48,000 per year. Nurses with five years or less of nursing experience also reported their hourly rate for their first nursing jobs, which averaged $25 per hour for RNs and $19 per hour for LPNs.

Travel nursing can provide higher income and greater flexibility

travel nurses in a groupWith competitive nurse salaries across the country, especially on the West and East coasts, there’s never been a better time to consider travel nursing. Here are a few reasons to give it a chance:

  • You can choose where you want to work. Spending the frigid winter months in California instead of your icy Midwest hometown may appeal to you, and you can also pick regions that pay higher wages. Consider all the benefits and ask your recruiter to help you compare salaries in different areas and at different facilities.
  • The agency pays for your housing costs. It isn’t cheap to live on the East Coast, but it’s much more affordable when you’re not paying a mortgage or rent. You have the chance to work in places with a higher cost of living and increase your take-home pay.
  • You can choose from a variety of practice settings. Travel nursing is a great way to get valuable experience in rural or urban settings, a large hospital versus a tiny nursing home, or various regional facilities that treat illnesses you may never have seen before. This helps you develop skills that can help you land a higher-paying permanent job in the future.

Ready to try travel nursing? Give us a call at 800.866.0407 or check out today’s travel nurse job opportunities.

About the author


Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a healthcare writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

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