Ask anyone in the industry, and they’ll tell you nursing—and any healthcare career, for that matter—is more than a career. It’s a calling, a way to connect to—and care for—others.
As a profession, a nurse’s work life is anything but a walk in the park. Certification requires years of intense education and specialized training, and the job itself is full of demanding challenges that require skill, strength and poise constantly. The payoff? The sense of satisfaction that comes from helping others (which is priceless) and a rather attractive paycheck (because, hey, we’ve all got bills to pay).
But did you know exactly how attractive that paycheck winds up being depends on where you live? That’s right. Nursing salaries differ big time from state to state depending on several factors, including the cost of living.
Read on to learn which U.S. states have the highest—and lowest—paying salaries for nurses.
Which state has the highest paying salary for nurses?
Much like the country itself, a nurses’ salary variation in the U.S. is, in short, vast. For example, sparsely populated South Dakota’s pay grade for nurses is 11% lower than the national average, while sunny California pays its nurses, on average, 20% more than elsewhere in the country.
Because we’re all for paying people what they’re worth, we’re going to cover the 10 highest nursing salaries by state. We’ll focus on two major career paths: licensed practical nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN). Each salary section is listed from lowest to highest, with data drawn from indeed.com.
Here are the 10 U.S. states with the highest licensed practical nurse (LPN) salaries:
|State||Average LPN Yearly Salary||Average LPN Hourly Wage|
Interestingly, the top 10 states for registered nurse (RN) salaries differs a bit:
|State||Average RN Yearly Salary||Average RN Hourly Wage|
|District of Columbia||$86,658||$40.60|
What is the average salary for nurses?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses is $48,820. Government-adjacent LPNs win the coveted spot as top earners in this category, with their wages sitting at $51,700. LPNs employed by physician offices earned the least, at $44,830 per year.
The average annual salary sits at $75,330 for registered nurses (as of May 2020). Government workers once again rake in the highest earnings at $84,490. At the same time, educational services sit at a sobering $64,630.
What types of nurses make the most money?
If you’re looking for a high-paying nursing job, keep in mind that registered nurses earn significantly more than licensed practical nurses. However, to open up your nursing career to a more lucrative RN salary, you’ll first need a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN), followed by a Master’s of Science in Nursing.
In comparison, some LPN jobs only require an associate’s degree.
Also, your income can fluctuate from year to year based on new company policies, the changing cost of living and current events. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the demand for LPNs, general RNs and nurse practitioners. We can’t predict the future, but it’s fairly safe to say nurses needn’t worry about job security.
Other nurse salary factors to consider
While the cost of living in the state where you practice will affect your pay, there also are other factors to consider.
The general rule of thumb is the longer you study, the longer the string of zeros at the end of your paycheck. BSN holders can expect a higher average salary than those with an associate’s degree, and the same goes for nurses with MSNs compared to those with BSNs. The particular area of expertise also comes into play, as some disciplines require further education (thus increasing your educational trajectory and, in turn, your wages).
The type of nurse you become
Beyond your license to practice, think about what nursing specialties interest you. Will you be a NICU nurse or an ER nurse? What about outpatient care nurses, nurse anesthetists or nurse-midwives? Each career path brings slight variations in pay, along with different duties and benefits, whether you pursue those high-paying RN jobs or not. (Either way, you’ll need to stock up on quality nursing uniforms that will have you looking and feeling great on the job.)
Years of experience
Not surprisingly, the salary you earn as a newly licensed nurse who’s fresh out of school won’t be the same as someone who’s been on the job for years. Like many professions, in nursing, seniority plays a major role in determining your paygrade. Generally speaking, the longer you’ve been practicing, the more money you’ll make.
Cost of living
The cost of living around the country varies greatly, and it can affect your decision on where to live and what kind of education you pursue. Suppose you want to practice in California, where that cost is among the highest in the U.S. You’ll need a salary that offers adequate compensation—something that allows you to live comfortably while still being able to afford workplace supplies like nursing scrubs, treat yourself (or your favorite colleague) with the occasional nurse gift and pay back those student loans.
Find the right healthcare career for you
Nursing is a challenging profession, but it can bring a feeling of fulfillment and financial stability to your life. If you’re ready to embark on this career path, be sure to read up on everything you need to know about nursing school entrance exams, and check out our vast selection of nursing student discounts, too.
Now, go make that money, honey!