October 6, 2017

How much nurses make—and where they make the most, according to Medscape

Daily Briefing

RNs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) saw increases in compensation between 2015 and 2016—after a slight decline in nurse salaries between 2014 and 2015, according to Medscape's latest RN/LPN Compensation Report.

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For the latest report, Medscape surveyed 10,523 nurses—5,072 RNs and 2,034 LPNs—between June 13 and Aug. 2. Respondents were asked about topics such as salary, practice setting, level of education, and union membership. 

How much nurses make—and where they make the most

According to Medscape, fulltime RNs in 2016 reported annual average earnings of $80,000, up from $78,000 in 2015, while LPNs reported average earnings of $46,000 in 2016, up from $43,000 in 2015. For both RNs and LPNs, the most common reasons cited for the increase was having received a salary adjustment, followed by working more hours.

However, earnings varied substantially by practice setting, Medscape found. Among RNs, the practice settings with the highest average annual earnings in 2016 were:

  • Occupational health ($84,000);
  • Inpatient hospital care ($84,000); and
  • Hospital-based outpatient settings or clinics ($80,000).

The practice settings for RNs in 2016 with the lowest average annual earnings were:

  • School/college health services ($65,000);
  • Public health setting ($68,000); and
  • Non-hospital-based medical offices/urgent care clinics ($69,000).

Meanwhile, among LPNs, the practice settings with the highest average annual earnings in 2016 were:

  • Inpatient hospital care ($46,000);
  • Hospital-based outpatient setting or clinic ($44,000); and
  • Insurance/health plan industry ($59,000).

And practice settings for LPNs in 2016 with the lowest average annual earnings were:

  • School/college health services ($38,000);
  • Public health setting ($42,000); and
  • Non-hospital-based medical offices/urgent care clinics ($42,000).

Other factors influencing earnings

According to MedScape, earnings varied by educational attainment. For instance, in 2016, RNs whose highest degree was a master's degree reported average annual earnings of $87,000, while those with only a bachelor's degree reported average annual earnings of $80,000. Meanwhile, RNs with only an associate's degree reported average annual earnings of $77,000.

In addition, the survey found that union membership correlated with higher earnings. RNs in unions—accounting for about 12 percent of RNs—had average annual earnings of $90,000, while non-union nurses' had average annual earnings of $79,000. Meanwhile, LPNs in unions—accounting for about 7 percent of LPNs—had average annual earnings of $50,000, while non-union LPNs' had average annual earnings of $45,000.

The survey found regional differences in RN and LPN earnings. Among RNs in 2016, those in the West reported the highest average annual earnings at $103,000, while those in the North Central region had the lowest average annual earnings, at $71,000. Among LPNs, the highest average annual earnings were reported in the Northeast, at $55,000, while the lowest were reported in the North Central, at $41,000. According to Medscape, these regional differences can likely be ascribed to differences in cost of living as well as the higher rate of union membership for nurses in certain areas.

Pay disparity persists

The Medscape survey affirmed a continuing disparity in pay between male and female nurses. According to the survey, male RNS and LPNs reported higher annual gross income in 2016—at $84,000 and $49,000 respectively—compared with $80,000 and $46,000 among female RNs and LPNs.

According to Medscape, the question of whether men are being paid more for the same work is "complex." Factors that might explain the gap in part include:

  • Differences in work characteristics between male and female RNs;
  • Differences in work setting; and
  • Men being more likely to work overtime and take on additional work to supplement their income (Lowes, Medscape, 10/4; Stokowski et al., Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2017, 10/4).

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