Honorable Mention - Registered Nurse (RN) – While not among the very top-paying jobs, RNs are well-paid. Additionally, becoming an RN is somewhat of the “gateway” milestone along the way to achieving higher-paying advanced practice nursing jobs. Completing an RN opens many doors and provides nurses with many more options for advanced degrees and more lucrative nursing roles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average (mean) income for RNs nationally as of 2019 (the most recent BLS data available) is $37.24 per hour which translates to $77,460 annually, assuming a full-time schedule of about 40 hours per week.
Of the nearly three million RNs employed nationwide, the highest earners are those who work in outpatient care centers or hospital settings, with an average hourly income of $40.73 ($84,720 annually), and $38.20 per hour ($79,460 annually) respectively.
Where you work as an RN also impacts your hourly wage and annual income. California and Hawaii are the top-paying states for RNs, with hourly rates of $54.44 and 50.03, respectively, followed by Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, and Oregon as top-paying states, where the cost of living is also higher.
Other ways nurses may increase their annual income
In addition to high-paying clinical nursing careers, another way to grow your nursing career and annual income is to shift into leadership, administration, or teaching. Nurse administrators such as hospital CNOs, medical directors, etc. earn more than $100,000, and nurse instructors earn an average of $83,160 annually and up to $133,000 in the 90th percentile.
Changes in supply and demand can also factor into nursing salaries, causing pay fluctuations in either direction. For example, critical care nursing is in unusually high demand in 2020-2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is causing pay rates in some areas to quadruple, as demand also grows by a reported 400-500%, multiple experts report. Switching practice areas may be a more feasible career change than obtaining a new advanced degree for some nurses.
If none of the above are an option, another way for nurses to potentially grow their annual income is to consider trying out a new part-time side-gig for a few extra hours a week. This may be a more realistic method to increase earnings for nurses who are unable to shift full-time into a new, higher-paying nursing career.