Registered nurses (RNs) are the largest group of health care professionals, accounting for about 2.6 million jobs in 2008 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most RNs work directly with patients to carry out physicians’ orders for treatment. Their duties may include giving medications, starting and caring for an IV (intravenous) line, teaching patients about their conditions, monitoring vital signs, caring for surgical wounds or giving direction to licensed practical nurses and nursing aides.
To become a registered nurse you must first graduate from an accredited nursing program, then pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) exam.
Average Starting Salary
Depending on geographic location and type of employer, a new RN's starting salary will be between $38,386 and $52,152 per year ($19.62 to $25.09 per hour) in the United States. The midpoint of this range, while not a true "average," is $45,269 annually or $22.36 per hour.
A freshly minted RN can expect to start at the low end of the salary range in any location, but as of April 2011 the "lows" are highest in these seven cities: New York, New York, at $53,519; Houston, Texas, at $49,764; Los Angeles, California, at $49,528; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at $48,192; Dallas, Texas, at $47,898; Chicago, Illinois, at $46,110; and Atlanta, Georgia, at $45,607.
Pay by Experience
Like most other professions, nurses earn more as they gain experience. According to PayScale, experienced nurses reported the following salary ranges in 2011: one to four years at $40,517 to $59,028; five to nine years at $47,791 to $65,730; 10 to 19 years at $49,830 to $71,106; and 20 years or more at $51,121 to $73,879.
Pay by Industry
By far the largest number of RNs -- about 60 percent -- work in hospitals, where the average annual salary in 2009 was $67,740. Another 9 percent work in physicians' offices, earning an average of $67,290, and about 5 percent work for home health care services where the average salary was $63,300 in 2009.
Between now and 2018, hundreds of thousands of existing jobs will open up as nurses retire or leave the profession, and another 581,500 new nursing jobs will be created. Most of this growth will be in physicians’ office nursing (48 percent), home health care services (33 percent) and nursing care facilities (25 percent).
In short, the job outlook for registered nurses is excellent and set to stay that way for the foreseeable future.