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Make ‘cents’ of money matters in the nursing job search
Account for other factors besides salary in career satisfaction
Lisette Hilton
Salary is by far the most important aspect for nurses’ job satisfaction, according to’s salary survey
, representing responses from 4,522 RNs from all 50 states.
More than 70% of nurses surveyed said salary was paramount for job satisfaction; followed by 15% who said benefits were No. 1. Advancement opportunities were most important to 6% followed by 5% of nurses who indicated merit increases were key for their job satisfaction. Overtime opportunities rounded out the most important aspects for job satisfaction at 1%, according to the survey. Money and flexibility are the most important aspects of job satisfaction to Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, an author, speaker and advanced practice nurse who works at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Fla. “Flexibility is hard to evaluate until you're at the job, while, of course, base pay is pretty simple,” Angelis wrote in an email to “My current schedule allows me to work several days of long hours that occasionally give me four or five days off in a row without requiring me to take vacation. In other jobs, nurses aren't sure when they're going home, so planning must account for the longest shift possible each day, which is an inefficient way to live.”
Nurses tend to be told that everyone starts at the same rate of pay, especially at large institutions. The bias exists that someone already asking for vacation or trying to get a higher salary is going to be trouble.”
— Nick Angelis, MSN
How nurses can compare what other nurses earn
There are many ways in which nurses can research nursing salaries, according to place, setting, experience and more. “We all need to make a living, right?” said Michele Pedulla, DNP, ARNP, CPNP, assistant chair for graduate programs at
Purdue Global
and a practicing nurse pediatric nurse practitioner. Pedulla said nursing organizations can be a great resource for salary information since many of them perform annual salary surveys. is another good source, giving nurses who are interviewing for jobs a range of salaries to consider. As far as the big picture, the median pay for RNs in the U.S. is $68,450 annually and $32.91 an hour, according to the latest data from the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
. A
U.S. News & World Report
analysis on nurses’ salaries suggests that the highest paid 10% of RNs earned more than $102,990, versus the lowest-paid 10% who made less than $47,120. Salary ranges for RNs can change dramatically according to city or state. For example, San Francisco is the best paying city for RNs and pays nurses an average $136,610. And nurses tend to make the highest average salaries in California, followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska, according to U.S. News & World Report. Comparing apples to apples might require nurses to drill down further.
, for example, reports on nursing salaries, allowing nurses to search for average salaries by employer size and a nurse’s years of experience. And although nurses’ salaries in California, for example, might look enticing, the
Nightingale College
offers nurses a way to look up salaries that are adjusted for the cost of living. California, which lists as having an average RN salary of $94,120, is $60,331 adjusted for cost of living.
Ready to negotiate your nursing salary?
As important as salaries are to nurses, they’re not always prepared to negotiate when going to interviews. Armed with all the available information and with as important as salaries are to nurses, one would think many go to interviews ready to negotiate. According to’s survey, where only about half of respondents indicated they “do not” or “rarely” negotiate salaries. Baby boomers were the most likely generation to “always negotiate” salary at 24%. Interestingly, they were also the generation most likely to “never negotiate” salaries at 33%. “I can tell you, 30 years ago, the [nurse’s] salary was non-negotiable,” said Pedulla, who has been a nurse for 33 years. It’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that nurses have had the power to negotiate, according to Pedulla. And today they can negotiate whether they’re looking for work in organizations or private practice, she said. Still, negotiating isn’t always easy, according to Angelis. “Nurses tend to be told that everyone starts at the same rate of pay, especially at large institutions,” Angelis wrote. “The bias exists that someone already asking for vacation or trying to get a higher salary is going to be trouble.”
How to boost your salary potential
Many of the nurses surveyed said education was their ticket to higher salaries. Although the survey found nurses are 50-50 overall on using education to boost salary potential, nearly eight in 10 millennials said they plan to use salary to increase salary, versus about 20% of baby boomers. The thinking that salary will improve income is sound, according to statistics. “With further education, RNs can become nurse practitioners or physician assistants and bring home an average salary of $104,610 and $102,090, respectively,” according to U.S. News & World Report.
Salary is more than dollars
Angelis writes nurses have to look beyond the dollar amount when computing a job’s true salary. For example, schedule flexibility is increasing as a variable. And factors such as commute time can make a difference, according to Angelis. “[That’s commute time] not only from home to hospital, but do you have to park in Nova Scotia and take a shuttle to reach your nursing unit?,” Angelis said. “There are many subtle ways that employer policies increase or decrease how lucrative a job is.” When interviewing with an organization, nurses also need to look at an employer’s turnover rate, acuity and how many patients that nurse will be expected to see, among other things, according to Pedulla.
Recruitment and retention strategies
Based on the Salary Survey’s findings, offers these strategies for addressing nurses’ emphasis on salaries for job satisfaction:
  • Offer nurses fair-market salaries when hiring.
  • Offer millennial and Generation X employees tuition reimbursement and paid or reimbursed continuing education, as both generations plan to further education, certification or training to boost their salaries.
  • Ask new hires and existing staff about their interest in advancement opportunities, then offer potential options or pathways for nurses to work toward. 
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Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.
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