You can’t choose how much experience you have (all you can do is keep working!), but you certainly can choose your educational level, clinical setting, and even your geographical location – and choosing wisely can take you up the salary ladder quickly.
First Step to Financial Freedom: Get Your BSN
Without question, nurses with a BSN degree earn more money than their counterparts with less education. At almost every level of experience, the BSN is literally worth its weight in gold.
The exception? The entry level. According to Payscale.com, nurses with less than one year of experience earn about the same salary -- $60,000 per year – regardless of whether they hold an associate degree or a bachelor’s.
After the first year, though, BSN salaries begin to quickly outstrip their ADN counterparts. Removing all other variables, such as clinical setting, the BSN degree alone confers a higher salary even as experience levels increase.
Here’s how average BSN and ADN salaries compare over the course of a career:
One to four years experience
ADN = $61,000
BSN = $69,000
Five to nine years experience
ADN = $66,000
BSN = $74,000
10 to 19 years experience
ADN = $69,000
BSN = $80,000
20 years or more experience
ADN = $71,000
BSN = $83,000
Clearly, earning a BSN degree pays off over the long run. Based on these figures, a nurse who enters with a BSN should out-earn her ADN counterpart by at least $175,000 over a 20-year career.
Step Two: Work for Uncle Sam
Nurses who work in a military or government setting earn the highest salary of any clinical milieu, according to the Medscape RN/LPN Salary Report 2016. Based on reports from over 10,000 nurses, the survey ranked “Military/government” as the top-paying practice setting, with an annual salary of $84,000. Civilian inpatient hospitals followed closely in the #2 spot, at $82,000 per year.
Not interested in working for the government or in an acute-care hospital? The other top three clinical settings for high pay were:
Hospital-based outpatient setting or clinic = $78,000 per year
Academic setting (faculty) = $76,000 per year
Skilled nursing facility/other long-term care = $74,000 per year
Third: Go Where the Money Is
Your geographical location can affect your salary in the same way as your clinical practice setting. Just as you can choose to practice in a high-wage setting like a government hospital, so can you choose to live in a state that pays a premium for nurses. To earn the biggest bucks, head for one of the states with the highest nursing pay according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- California = annual mean wage $102,000
- Hawaii = $97,000
- District of Columbia = $90,000
- Massachusetts = $89,000
- Oregon = $89,000
And Don’t Forget to Pursue a High-Paying Specialty
The highest-paying nursing specialties all require an advanced degree:
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): average salary $133,000 per year
Certified Nurse Midwife: $102,000 per year
General or Gerontological Nurse Practitioner: $95,000 per year
But you can begin pursuing some lucrative specialties right away with your BSN. With this approach you gain valuable experience while you get started on a master’s degree. The top-earning specialties that you can start with a BSN degree include:
Informatics Nurse: Pay may be similar to a regular RN salary at first, but with a master’s degree may rise to $100,000 or more*.
Critical Care Nurse: Being an ICU nurse doesn’t require an advanced degree, and you can make upwards of $80,000 with experience***.
You probably went into nursing to care for other people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also take care of your own financial health. Starting an RN to BSN program today can put you on the path to great earnings as you provide care to others during your career.
Learn more about the online RN to BSN program at the Madison School of Healthcare: Talk to an admissions advisor today!