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Where Nurses Make Six Figures: 2021 Nursing Salary by State
Guest Author: Alyse M. Labat
MSN, RN, PCCN
A nurse’s salary depends on multiple factors: what type of nursing license they have, how many years of experience, if they have advanced training, what state they live in, and what their nursing specialty is. However, you can still get a good idea of what your nursing salary could be by looking at the average nursing salary by state. Use the nursing salary by state guide below to explore the possibilities available to you, plan your next big move, or cross-check your current salary.
Types of Nursing Licenses
The type of nursing license is the main factor in salary. APRNs make more than RNs, and RNs make more than LVN/LPNs. This is not because any type of nurse is more valuable than another – the amount of training, time, and experience required by the license type dictates the nurse’s scope of practice and corresponding pay.
Vocational nurses (LVN/LPNs) can do many of the same things that RNs can, but there is a limit. They require supervision of a doctor or RN to provide patient care, and there are certain medications and nursing tasks that vocational nurses cannot administer. When a nurse obtains a higher level of licensure, their independence, responsibility, and liability increase as well.
Here is a breakdown of the different types of nursing licenses in the U.S. as of October 2019:
Out of 5,017,262 total nurses:
- 11.5% are APRNs
- 66.5% are RNs
- 22% are LVN/LPNs (NCSBN, 2019)
|National Median Salaries of Nurses|
|Certified Nurse Specialist||$95,723|
APRNs are the highest paying positions for nurses. This category includes multiple specialties: Nurse Practitioner, Certified Nurse Specialist, Nurse Anesthetist, and Nurse Midwives. Nurse Practitioner (NP) is the most common APRN, but the most lucrative APRN is the Nurse Anesthetist with a median national salary of $161,076 (DHHS, 2018).
Fun Fact: LVN and LPN are the same license. The only difference is the state they are practicing in. Texas and California are the only states which refer to vocational nurses as LVN. Every other state calls them LPN.
Other Salary Factors
Once you have a nursing license, there is a natural progression of how your salary will increase. The more experience you have, the higher your base salary will be compared to newer nurses hired at the same facility with the same type of license. The type of setting or specialty also influences salary amount. Salaries tend to be higher for nurses in the hospital setting than in an office. Even within the hospital, there will be a critical care differential or night shift differentials. ER and ICU nursing pays more than medical-surgical because of the higher demands of the environments. Night shifts or swing shifts will typically pay higher than day shifts because they are less desirable.
Average Nursing Salary by State and License Type
National statistics are good but with the significant variation of nursing salary by state, a national average does not accurately reflect the salary of many nurses. A comparison of nursing salary by state for nurses working full-time is categorized by type of nursing license below. This comparison includes LVN/LPN, RN, and NP. Even though there are multiple APRN positions, NP is the most common, so it is used in the comparison.
- DePietro, A. (2019). Here’s How Much Money Nurse Practitioners Make in Every State. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2019/11/19/nurse-practitioner-salary-state/?sh=5437bb4423cf
- LVN Salary (2020). www.lvnsalary.org
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing (2020). NCSBN’s environmental scan: A portrait of nursing and healthcare in 2020 and beyond. Journal of Nursing Regulation. 10(4), S1-S36.
- Nurse.org Staff (2021). Highest Paying States for Registered Nurses in 2021. https://nurse/org/articles/highest-paying-states-for-registered-nurses/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resource and Services Administration, National Center for Workforce Analysis. Brief Summary Results from the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. https://bhw.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/bureau-health-workforce/data-research/nssrm-summary-report.pdf
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