The nursing profession is uniquely diverse in terms of educational requirements for licensure at various levels, practice settings, and areas of specialization. Still, among the most disparate things in the field of nursing are the salaries these healthcare professionals earn.
From advanced practice clinicians, to those in high-profile nonclinical roles in administration, public health and policy, informatics and education, the highest salaries are reserved for nurses who have achieved a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or higher.
MSN-educated nurses fill many specialized roles, the majority of which pay salaries comparable to other higher-level medical professionals. The Advance for Nurses 2012 Salary Survey shows the overall average among MSN-educated nurses in their various roles by regions of the US:
- Northeast – $85,974
- Mid-Atlantic & Lower Great Lakes – $81,546
- South – $77,370
- Midwest – $77,090
- West – $87,933
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Salaries for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), all of whom must possess an MSN or higher as required by state licensing boards, serve in specialty clinical roles and are compensated at a much higher rate than staff RNs with undergraduate degrees.
Due to an aging nursing workforce, an increasing elderly population, and changes in our nation’s healthcare system, the demand for APRNs is expected to increase significantly in the coming years. The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of APRN jobs is expected to increase by 31 percent between 2012 and 2022.
As of May 2012, the highest paid APRNs worked in hospitals, followed by those in independent practice, physicians’ offices, and outpatient care centers:
- Hospitals: $101,990
- Offices of other health practitioners: $98,260
- Offices of physicians: $97,600
- Outpatient care centers: $92,270
Salaries for advanced practice nurses in the four recognized roles (nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist) are shown here:
According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, NPs earned an average, annual salary of $94,050, as of 2011.
A 2013 national survey of nurse practitioners and physicians assistants conducted by ADVANCE for NPs & PAs reported that the average salary for a full-time nurse practitioner was $97,817, a nearly $6,000 increase in earnings from 2012.
The US Department of Labor reported a median, annual salary of $92,670 for nurse practitioners, as of May 2013. Nurse practitioners earned the highest salaries in the following settings, according to the BLS:
- Personal care services: $117,300
- Specialty hospitals: $109,850
- Grantmaking and giving services: $107,350
A full analysis of nurse practitioner salaries by state is shown here (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013):
Certified Nurse Midwives:
Certified nurse midwives earned an average, annual salary of $114,152, as of 2010, according to the American College of Nurse Midwives. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that nurse midwives can earn as much as $90,000 per year in their first year, with nurse midwives in the Northeast and West earning higher salaries than their counterparts in other areas of the country.
The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median, annual salary of $92,290 for certified nurse midwives as of May 2013. The BLS also reported that nurse midwives that worked in the following settings earned the highest salaries:
- Home health care services: $101,420
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $97,730
- Employment services: $95,880
- Outpatient care centers: $94,470
- Offices of physicians: $91,370
A full analysis of nurse midwife salaries by state is shown here (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013):
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists:
According to a survey conducted by Becker’s Hospital Review in 2011, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earned an average salary of about $169,000.
A 2010 article from a leading nursing magazine found that certified registered nurse anesthetists earned the highest average salary among all APRN roles, making an average of $135,000 that year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual, median salary of $151,090 as of May 2013.
The BLS reported that certified registered nurse anesthetists earned the highest salaries when working in the following settings:
- Offices of dentists: $179,570
- Specialty hospitals: $174,850
- Outpatient care centers: $169,770
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $165,340
- Offices of other health practitioners: $158,930
A full analysis of nurse anesthetist salaries by state is shown here (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013):
*These figures represent hourly wages that are at least $90.00 per hour or annual salaries that are at least $187,199. These are the maximum salaries reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for Michigan.
Clinical Nurse Specialists:
CNN Money ranked clinical nurse specialists number two in their list of “Best Jobs in America in 2013.” The median salary among nurses working in this APRN specialty was $86,500, while the top earners made an average of $126,000 that year.
In comparison, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists reported that salaries for clinical nurse specialists can range from anywhere between $65,000 and $110,000, depending on the region of the country in which they practice and their practice specialty.
A leading nursing industry publication also ranked the clinical nurse specialist number eight in its “Top 10 Highest Nursing Salaries,” reporting an average, annual salary of $76,000.
MSN Salaries for Non-Clinical Nursing Professionals
RNs that possess MSNs also often choose to serve the nursing profession in a non-clinical capacity. The two most likely professions for MSN RNs in a non-clinical capacity are nursing administrators and nursing educators:
Salaries for nurse educators vary significantly, depending on setting and educator experience. One of the biggest issues facing the supply of nurse educators is that colleges and universities are not able to offer salaries that are competitive with what would be earned in clinical settings, as was revealed in a report released by the National League for Nursing. This means that those drawn to nursing education do so for the love of the profession and because they prefer the classroom to the high-stress atmosphere of the clinical environment
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a mean, annual salary of $65,940 for nurse educators, as of May 2013. It also reported that nurse educators in the following settings earned the highest salaries during the same period:
- State government: $88,340
- Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $86,610
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $81,810
- Colleges, universities, and professional studies: $72,590
In contrast, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that as of the 2012-13 academic year nursing professors earned an average salary of $102,399.
A 2011-12 survey conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources reported the average, annual salaries for healthcare educators:
- Professor: $98,415
- Associate professor: $77,032
- Assistant professor: $65,165
- New assistant professor: $66,049
- Instructor: $54,199
A full analysis of nurse educator salaries by state is shown here (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013):
Nurse administrators, often an umbrella professional term used to describe nurses in executive leadership roles, are usually at the top of the pay scale among nursing professionals. The three job titles most common among nurse administrators are: director, manager, and chief nursing officer/chief nursing executive.
The American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), in their 2013 salary and compensation study, revealed that more than half of all nurse administrators earned between $80,000 and $130,000 per year. Just 14 percent earned less than $80,000.
The top 30 percent of nurse administrators earned more than $130,000, with the top 13 percent earning between $150,000 and $200,000. Nurse administrators with senior-level titles like director or manager earned the most, reported the AONE, with salaries for these nursing executives ranging between $80,000 and $160,000.
Among the AONE geographic regions, nurse administrators in Region 9, which includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, earned the highest salaries, at $120,000 or more.