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Want to get a rise out of grassroots RNs? Bring up nurse salaries
We shouldn’t be surprised that salary is such a hot button issue for nursing or any other healthcare profession. Whether you became a nurse mainly to take care of people or primarily to earn a living wage, you expected an equitable paycheck.
Whatever motivation edged you into nursing, assumedly you still needed money to meet your needs. Even nurses who feel an almost religious calling to the profession have to eat.
When I wrote “We work hard for the money: My perspectives on nurse salaries,” I figured I’d get responses. But the level of vehemence, controversy and attack surprised me. In the blog, I said that many nurses make six-figure salaries. Some readers countered that they didn’t make that much, didn’t know anyone who did and if such people existed, those nurses could only be administrators. They questioned the veracity of my claim.

One colleague wanted to know where I work because she didn’t make anywhere near six figures as a floor nurse. Thankfully, a few high-paid bedside nurses, including one who makes about $150,000 per year, responded in my defense, directing the nurse who said, “On what planet [do nurses make six figures]?” to planets California, Texas and New York.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, is OnCourse Learning's executive vice president and chief clinical executive, and founder and CEO of the Forum for Shared Governance. As an editor for Nurse.com, Hess has penned several editorials on career topics. As a presenter at professional conferences, Hess often addresses participants on how to find the right job and steps for building a successful career.
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In general, the current mean salary of a U.S. nurse is $68,450 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — a figure not necessarily due to the whims of employers but to forces of politics and the market. Is that enough money? Many nurses don’t seem to think so.

In this salary-focused digital edition, we address central salary issues that affect us all, including basic wages, peripheral perks and regional and career-stage differences — all vital considerations. Here we stress that regardless of salaries, nurses are making intense, meaningful contributions to society, and one couldn’t find a better profession, although better-paying ones exist.
We have articles that examine differences in salary due to geographical regions, as well as educational credentials. We tell you how to negotiate your salary and what benefits you can expect in small versus large healthcare organizations. Look for trends in healthcare; for where healthcare goes, salaries follow. And speaking of going, you might change your practice after reading our account of travel nursing.
Remember, it’s perfectly all right to enter nursing to make money — and you can —although seasoned nurses warn that if you don’t have altruistic motivation as well, you might not last. Always consider that salary is just a piece of total compensation. Another part is the soulful satisfaction of changing the world, one patient at a time.
Whatever motivation edged you into nursing, assumedly you still needed money to meet your needs. Even nurses who feel an almost religious calling to the profession have to eat.”
- Robert G. Hess Jr., RN
Debate continues about whether nurses get paid enough
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By Robert G. Hess Jr.
PhD, RN, FAAN Executive vice president and chief clinical executive
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