Employment for nurses is growing rapidly, and schools are marketing their nursing programs heavily to fill demand in the industry. This means there are more and more nurses with at least a Bachelor of Science in nursing, and staying competitive for the top jobs in the field will require a higher level of training. Today, a graduate can complete the move from BSN to Master of Science in Nursing via online and accelerated programs without leaving their current job. Nurses with advanced degrees such as an MSN or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can earn higher salaries and have more control over the type of work they do daily and the broader direction of their careers.
Employment Growth for RNs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers the most up-to-date information about registered nurses’ salaries and employment opportunities. In 2008, RNs held about 2.6 million jobs in hospitals, physicians’ offices, home health care services, nursing care facilities, government agencies, social assistance agencies and in educational services. While the overall employment outlook for RNs is excellent through 2018, those opportunities may vary by employment and geographic setting.
Employment growth for nurses is being driven by two main factors. The aging of the baby boomers is causing a spike in the number of people seeking medical treatment for chronic and acute problems, some of which can be treated by nurse practitioners who provide primary care. The population of nurses is also aging, and many will retire in the coming decade, leaving a talent and experience vacuum in the field that needs to be filled by well-trained nurses. Innovations in medical treatment, medical information storage and communications are also driving up demand for nurses. Overall, nurses are increasing their emphasis on preventative medicine, and more advanced nurses are acting as primary care providers in underserved areas, and this combination of factors is creating space for new nurses at a rapid pace.
The RN who completes a master’s degree in nursing has the opportunity to earn more than the RN with a BSN degree. The following roles are filled by RNs who have a graduate-level nursing degree:
- Advanced Practice Nurse (APN): Advanced practice nurses have specialized roles that vary depending on what they focused on in graduate school.
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS):The CNS assists patients and families to navigate a complex healthcare system from wellness through acute states of illness to a peaceful death.
- Nurse Administrator or Manager: Administrators and managers plan, direct, coordinate, and supervise the delivery of healthcare.
- Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): These nurses administer anesthesia, monitor patient’s vital signs, and oversee patient recovery from anesthesia.
- Nurse Consultant: This is a specialty area that can branch out into various capacities, even legal nurse consultation.
- Nurse Educator: Unlike health educators, nurse educators teach nursing topics and are in high demand. Qualified applicants to nursing schools are being turned away because of a shortage of nursing faculty.
- Nursing Informatics: Nursing informatics is the sub-discipline of health informatics that applies information technology to the skills and work of nurses in healthcare.
- Nurse Midwife: Nurses who diagnose and coordinate all aspects of the birthing process, either independently or as part of a healthcare team.
- Nurse Practitioner (NP): Nurses who provide primary health care and nursing services in clinics, schools, employer health units, or community health organizations. Other services may include: providing primary care for trauma cases, including suturing; planning and conducting a clinic, school, or employer health program; or studying and appraising community health services.
- Nurse Researcher: This type of nurse plans, researches, develops, and implements new or modified techniques, methods, practices, and approaches in nursing care.
Employment opportunities in the roles listed above are growing, exactly as they are for the RN with a BSN. In comparison with an RN with a BSN, the MSN salary typically reflects advanced specialized training, experience, and certification. All advanced practice specialties, especially clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and nurse anesthetists, will be in high demand.
The U.S. government is trying to increase the number of nurses working in underserved areas such the inner city and rural communities, so job growth in those areas is likely to be high, too. Although faster employment growth is projected in physicians’ offices and outpatient care centers, RNs may face greater competition for these positions because they generally offer regular working hours and more comfortable working environments.
Special nurse practices can vary in salary depending on the type of facility, location within the U.S. and whether or not the job is urban or rural. The average salary for an RN was $62,450 in 2008; however, the map below shows that nurse income varies widely by state:
The light blue states averaged between $31,620 and $56,500 per year, while the dark blue states show an annual salary range between $75,320 and $87,480 per year. Some specific average annual salaries for a few states are as follows:
- Rhode Island: $70,640
- South Dakota: $54,730
- Massachusetts: $84,990
- Mississippi: $57,940
- Kentucky: $58,130
These numbers are representative of RNs overall, as The BLS doesn’t publish specific salaries for niches within nursing. Most nurses are in their career for more reasons than just the good pay, though. While high demand areas like rural communities might be an easy place to get jobs, the salaries in those locales probably won’t be as high. Providing medical treatment in an area where its availability is limited can be its own reward, though.
Average salaries for RNs in the lightest blue areas ranged between $19,590 and $54,430. The darker blue areas include salaries that ranged from $71,500 and $116,150. Some of the highest-paying metropolitan areas include:
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $116,150
- Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division: $100,900
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division: $97,600
- Salinas, CA: $97,450
- Napa, CA: $97,090
Many employers also offer benefits to lure RNs to work, including flexible work schedules, childcare, educational benefits, and bonuses. The dollar amount of those benefits is not included in the salaries shown above.
Improve Your Employability
Nurses who have completed their NCLEX-RN exam can improve their employment opportunities and their salaries by furthering their education and focusing on a specialty. If you started working as an RN with less than a BSN degree, you can enter accelerated programs that will earn you a BSN and MSN faster than you could earn them separately. These programs are available online or in a hybrid of online and in-person settings to make scheduling convenient and to match the learning needs of a diverse pool of students.
Specializing is one of the biggest ways that a nurse can pump up his or her credentials and potentially earn more money. Certain fields of nursing, such as anesthesiology, require more training and credentials than some advanced nursing fields, and the added qualifications make it easier to ask for a higher salary.
Always Be Working
Work experience is another factor that hospitals and clinics look at when hiring nurses, so taking on an internship or volunteer opportunities is always a good idea. Employers who see that a nurse has dedicated personal time to working in the field in addition to getting their education will be impressed.
Ultimately, the way to grow your salary and career opportunities in nursing is the same as in other occupations: keep going. Returning to school every few years to update your education, and always pursuing opportunities to learn new skills or polish old ones, are foundational behaviors for any career. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing can provide some of the skills you need, but only if you are also willing to put in the years of work once you’re done to become a true expert in the field. If that sounds like you, it is probably time to start applying to schools. The list below features only accredited online schools with high quality BSN to MSN programs. The pricing and availability of accelerated courses differs between these schools, so the best way to find out whether a particular school has what you’re looking for is to ask. Click on a school below to have them send you information about the programs you are interested in.
Understanding accelerated MSN nursing programs
Accelerated nursing programs are designed to help students complete their degree programs at a much quicker pace. These programs provide a way for individuals with undergraduate degrees or training in nursing to get a head start on higher-level degrees.
Online nursing programs are a viable alternative for students who are working or are unable to take classes on-site. We’ve featured a variety of these options below to help you fit schooling into your schedule:
Colorado Technical University
Grand Canyon University
Nova Southeastern University
Sacred Heart University