Nurse Salary Means Good Money and Job Growth

The typical nurse salary in the U.S. is $66,640. Nurse salaries go as low as $35,000 and as high as $128,000. Overtime is common for nurses and pumps in another 25%.

Nurses can earn more or less depending on where they live. California is the #1 state in the country for high nurse salary. The state has the top ten cities in America that pay nurses the most money. That said, it also has a very high cost of living. Generally speaking, higher or lower nurse pay by region will be offset by higher or lower cost of living.

There are about 1.3 million nurse jobs in the country and that number is growing by 16% per year. That’s well above the average career growth rate. Contrast that to nurse practitioners, which make an average of $103,000 per year but need a Master’s degree and only have 170,000 jobs nationwide to choose from.

Typical Nurse Salary

The typical nurse salary in the U.S. is $66,640. That number gives a good benchmark. However, it’s a big mistake to make the leap from typical salary info to “All nurses make about $67,000 a year.”

The typical nurse salary in the table below was figured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). To get the number, BLS took all the nurse salaries in the country and found the “middle of the road” number. That is, they found the salary where half the nurses in the country were earning more and half were earning less.

Median Nurse Salary
nurse BracketSalaryHourly
Typical nurse salary:$66,640$33
Highest nurse salary (San Francisco, CA)$128,190$64
Lowest nurse salary (South Dakota)$53,970$27

Also see: Firefighter Salary: The Truth Might Shock You

nurse salaryHow much a nurse earns depends heavily on where they are in the country. It also depends on seniority and overtime. A nurse in California will generally earn a lot more than a nurse in South Dakota.

Nurses in San Francisco earn an average of $128,190. Again, that doesn’t mean all nurses in California earn that much. There are some nurses in the Golden State that earn a lot more than $128,000, especially considering overtime. There are also quite a few nurses who earn a lot less.

In South Dakota, the average nurse salary is $53,970. That’s about $27 per hour. That’s the lowest average nurse pay in the country. For more information on how much money nurses make by region, check out the BLS’s map-driven nurse pay web page. The site gives info on average pay, top pay, low pay and job count by state, county and city.

Nurse Salary Facts

Nurse Salary Facts
Highest average nurse salary in the U.S. (including overtime)$176,261
Typical nurse salary in the U.S.$66,640
Nurse pracitioner salary (median)$102,670
CNA salary (median)$25,090
How much an employee can save on a typical nurse salary over a 40 year career$4.8 million
State with the lowest average nurse salarySouth Dakota ($53,970)
State with the highest average nurse salaryCalifornia ($98,400)
Typical nurse salary vs typical doctor salary1/3 as big
Number of nurse salary jobs in the U.S.2,751,000
Growth in number of nurse salary jobs per year16% per year (a lot faster than most careers)

median nurse salaryTo get a better idea how much money nurses make, check out the table above. San Francisco, CA has the highest average nurse salary in America. Including a typical amount of overtime, the city pays out $176,261 per year to the average nurse. That’s not even the pay of the nurses with the most seniority. The typical nurse in the U.S. makes $66,640 without overtime.

At that typical rate, a family with two spouse nurses earning the same salary can build a retirement fund of $4.7 million. That assumes typical spending and a moderate return on investments. See the table at the bottom of this article for details.

There are nearly three million nurse jobs in the United States, and that number is growing by an astounding 16% per year. That’s a lot faster than most careers. That means nurse pay is not only good and high compared to a lot of other popular jobs, it’s also a lot easier to land a job.

Also see: 5 Reasons to Publicly Share Your Salary

Nurse Salary Comparisons

nurse salary comparisonsHow does a nurse salary stack up compared to other in-demand careers? Pretty well. On average and without overtime, nurses make 45% more than firefighters. That said, some firefighter data is skewed because of the large number of “volunteer” fire departments in the country.

Nurses tend to make about a third as much as doctors, half as much as lawyers and 14% more than police officers. They make about the same pay as accountants and 19% less than physical therapists.

Nurse Salary VS Other Jobs
JobMedian SalaryNurse Salary Is...
Doctor$187,2001/3 as big
Lawyer$114,970Half as big
Firefighter$45,97045% bigger
Police officer$58,63014% bigger
Marketing manager$123,450Half as big
Dentist$154,640Half as big
Nurse Practitioner$102,67035% smaller
Software Developer$97,99032% smaller
Physical Therapist$82,39019% smaller
Accountant$65,940About the same

Nurses make significantly less money than software developers, nurse practitioners and dentists. They make half as much as marketing managers.

At first glance, it may seem like being a nurse could easily turn into a financial handicap. That’s far from the case however. The reason is overtime. Because of the ebb and flow nature of hospital work, it’s simply not possible for most hospitals to carry enough full time nurses to staff their busy times. Nurses therefore tend to log a lot of overtime throughout the year. That overtime translates to time and a half pay, which means the “median” or “typical” nurse pay listed in the BLS statistics is often anything but.

States with the Highest Nurse Salaries

California has, bar none, the highest nurse salary in the country. In fact, broken down by metro area, the top ten cities for high nurse pay are all in California. With an average nurse salary of $98,400, California tops the charts. The state also shines for number of nursing jobs, with 253,310. That’s the most nursing jobs of any state in the union.

Nurse Salary by State

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5 States with the Highest Average Nurse Salary
State RankCityAverage Nurse SalaryNumber of Jobs

One drawback to being a nurse in California is the cost of living. There are a lot of high-paying nursing jobs in the state, but California is also one of the most expensive states to live in. A lot of the extra money earned as a nurse in California is likely to get eaten up by housing costs. According to Zillow, the median home value in San Francisco is $1.1 million. That’s not the price of a mansion with three swimming pools and a butler either. In fact, we found a three bed, two bath home for about that price sandwiched between two other buildings with not a blade of grass anywhere.

Unfortunately for nurses, the other four top paying states for nurses are all cost of living hogs too. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska and Oregon all rank near the top for housing costs. Trying to get ahead as a nurse simply by changing location just may not play out.

Also see: A Teacher Would Need 2000 Years to Match Hillary Clinton’s Wealth

States with the Lowest Nurse Salaries

When it comes to the low end of the nurse salary game, South Dakota takes the prize. $53,970 is the state’s average, with the state’s low-end salary at about $40,000 and their top at $73,000.

South Dakota has been ranked #28 for cost of living in the country. According to stats site, the state is 31% less expensive than New York. In many ways the lower nurse salary gets made up for by cheaper housing and other expense costs.

5 States with the Lowest Nurse Salary
State RankStateAverage Nurse Salary
1South Dakota$53,970
3West Virginia$56,390

Other states with low nurse salaries are Iowa, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas. The relatively lost cost to live on those states offsets their low nurse pay somewhat. Overtime almost certainly boosts those average nurse salaries by about 25%.

Kathy Zerkle of West Virginia has a unique perspective on working in one of the lowest paid states in the nation for nurses.

“I love living in West Virginia but it is disheartening that nurse pay is on the low end of the spectrum,” says Zerkle. “I used to be a nurse in Washington DC. The pay and benefits were great, but I felt like my life was all about work. In WV I have more balance. Recreation is easily accessible right in my backyard. I also enjoy working in a small community hospital. My patients are my neighbors and I feel good about taking care of people I know.”

Other Kinds of Nurse Salary

registered nurse salaryA typical nurse salary of $66,640 stacks up well compared to a CNA salary of just $25,000 a year. CNAs need less education than nurses, so at first glance it’s easier to get a CNA job. However, there aren’t that many more CNA jobs than nurse jobs (1.5 million vs 1.3 million). CNA jobs are only growing at a rate of a half a percent per year. Compare that to 16% job growth for nurse jobs.

Nurse practitioners make a lot more money than nurses. They enjoy a median salary in the U.S. of $103,000. That said, they most likely get less opportunity for overtime than nurses. They also have a lot harder time getting a job. The position requires a master’s degree and only offers about 170,000 positions nationwide. That said, nurse practitioner jobs are growing even faster than nursing jobs at a breakneck 31% per year.

Other Kinds of Nurse Salary
Nurse Practitioner Salary (median)$102,670
Nurse Pracitioner Salary (high end, Columbus, IN)$146,450
Certified Nurse's Assistant Salary (CNA, median)$25,090
CNA salary (high end, San Francisco, CA)$39,940

All in all, being a registered nurse seems to be the position of choice for nursing school graduates. Nurses make a lot more money than CNAs and a bit less than Nurse Practitioners. They need a bachelor’s degree, which is challenging but not prohibitive. Nurses get the opportunity to boost salary with overtime pay. They also have a fairly easy time finding work, with about 1.3 million nursing jobs nationwide.

How to Be a Nurse Millionaire

nurse millionairesIs it possible to be a millionaire on a nurse salary? Definitely, though not before retirement. A nurse earning the typical salary of $66,640 can sock away $4.7 million or more by age 65.

We did the numbers in the table below. Our calculations assume a spouse earning a similar salary. We also assumed the typical cost of living in the U.S. of $64,000 per year for a family of four. We figured in a $300,000 home with interest and two college educations at $120,000 each. We also figured the couple wouldn’t invest anything at all for the first ten years thanks to mortgage payments.

Lifetime Nurse Salary and Earnings
Number of years earning typical nurse salary40
Typical nurse salary$66,640
Lifetime earnings on nurse salary$2,665,600
Typical annual family budget$64,000
Lifetime household cost of living$2,560,000
Lifetime savings (nurse salary + similar spouse salary)$2,771,200
Lifetime savings with 6% investment income$4,339,251

By the figures above, it’s definitely possible for someone on a nurse salary to become a millionaire. The key is saving as early and as much as possible. The table above assumes a conservative but steady 6% interest earned on investments.