Registered nurses are an integral part of the health care community. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that there are approximately 2.6 million jobs for registered nurses, making it the largest occupation in the health care industry. Registered nurses must complete a prescribed course of instruction, pass a national qualifying examination and be licensed by the state before they can practice. Pay rates for registered nurses can vary based on such factors as experience.
The average annual compensation for registered nurses nationwide ranged from less than approximately $44,000 to more than $93,000 as of May 2009, according to the BLS. The median annual wage was $63,750. The mean hourly wage for registered nurses during that time was $31.99. Figures compiled by the BLS include registered nurses at all stages of their careers from those fresh out of nursing school to advanced practice nurses. Starting salaries for registered nurses are usually significantly less than the national averages for all nurses.
Experience plays an important role in determining how much money a registered nurse will make. Starting wages for registered nurses ranged from $19.58 per hour to $25.10 per hour as of January 2011, according to PayScale.com. Registered nurses can expect an increase in pay as they gain more experience. The hourly pay rate for registered nurses with more than five years experience ranged from approximately $23.76 to $31.59, while those with more than 20 years on the job may command more than $36.00 per hour.
Where a registered nurse practices can have a significant impact on her earnings. California had more registered nursing jobs than any other state in the Union, and offered the highest average wage as of May 2009, according to the BLS. Registered nurses in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland and California earned a mean hourly wage in excess of $36.00. Registered nurses working in Ohio and Florida may earn as little as $22.00 per hour, according to PayScale.com.
There are three primary educational pathways that can lead to a career as a registered nurse. Candidates may complete a traditional course of instruction leading to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from a four-year college or university. Candidates may complete an associate's degree in nursing from a two-year community college. Candidates may complete a two-to-three year diploma program from a qualified program at a teaching hospital. Each course of instruction will prepare the candidate to take the National Council Licensure Examination, which is required for state licensure. Starting salaries for registered nurses are similar regardless of the nurse's educational background, but the BLS notes that registered nurses who hold a BSN degree may have an advantage during the hiring process, and may advance more quickly than those who do not hold a bachelor's degree.