What Determines Nursing Salaries?

What Determines Nursing Salaries?

According to a recently released report, nursing salaries has remained fairly steady, but the wider averages in pay depend on where the nurse works.

The Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2019, collected information from the 7,145 nurses (5,143 RNs and 2,002 LPNs) who responded to the online survey over an 11-week period this summer. The nurses were asked questions about their earnings, workplaces, and general hours (about 75 percent worked full-time as opposed to part-time or per diem) for 2018.

The compensation report found that RN earnings averaged $80,000 (down from $81,000 in 2017) while LPN earnings rose from $46,000 to $48,000 over the same period. Employees who are paid with an annual nurse’s salary earn more than those who are paid an hourly rate. Salaried RNs report earnings that average $83,000 vs. hourly RNs who make $78,000. A salaried LPN reports an average annual pay of $53,000 compared to the hourly earnings of $47,000.

Without specific explanation, the report says it’s difficult to determine the root cause of the nearly flat earnings, especially for RNs over the past three years of surveys. Because the results are the average, meaning some nurses make more and some make less, the flat levels could reflect higher paid experienced nurses retiring or it could be a result of stagnant wages for nurses.

Despite all those fluctuations in nursing salaries, it is the type of workplace that drives the higher wages. Traditionally, the report states, RNs in hospital settings earn the largest salaries ($83,000) and nurses who work in non-profits or in school settings earn the lowest salaries ($65,000).

On the higher end of the earning spectrum are nurses in industry settings (insurance or health plans), an occupational health setting, a hospital-based outpatient clinic, a home health or visiting nurse position, or an academic faculty role all earn an average of at least $80,000.

RNs in hospice or palliative care, in non-hospital medical or urgent care, in a skilled nursing facility, or in a public health setting earn somewhere between $72-80,000. For LPNs, working in a skilled nursing facility brought in an average full-time nurse’s salary of $51,000 as compared to the lower earnings of an LPN in a school or college setting who earned an average of $36,000.

One finding that repeats yearly is the distinct gender pay gap that persists in nursing salaries. Male RNs report earning an average of $3,000 more than their female counterparts while a male LPN reports earning an average of $4,000 more than female LPNs. The report points to variations in how men and women work—with  more men reporting working overtime, working on inpatient units, working high differential shifts, and working paid weekend or evening hours—that could account for the higher earnings.

As expected, the greater the education level, the higher the earnings with nurses with a doctoral degree reporting average earnings of $94,000 vs. $75,000 for an associate’s degree level. And, as with many industries, workers with more years of experience, with professional certification, and in higher-paying regions will earn more.

The Medscape report, like Minority Nurse’s annual salary reports, offers points for nurses to think about when choosing a location to live, when considering getting additional education, or when thinking about what type of facility matches their interests and can support their cost of living.