Nursing Salary Levels and Career Trends

Nurses who hold a master’s in nursing degree are sure to have exciting futures. With salary and job prospects on the rise, graduates have good reason to be optimistic. The healthcare field is in need of nurses, plain and simple. The demand for skilled professionals is on the rise due to a large percentage of the nursing population approaching retirement age. The government predicts that by 2030 the registered nurse shortage will be at 500,000 positions. A shortfall of that size would be significant in any industry, but it is especially alarming in the medical field. Hospitals, clinics, and other health centers need qualified staff to provide needed care. The chart below illustrates the projected nursing shortage in New York state alone:

As in most industries, greater demand for qualified people equates to higher salaries. These wage increases, especially for MSN holders, has encouraged more nurses to pursue graduate training. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that, “half of RNs have achieved a baccalaureate or higher degree in nursing or a nursing-related field in 2008, nearly doubling since 1980.” Registered nurses transitioning from a BSN to a nursing master’s degree have much to gain by returning to the classroom. Career advancement and higher wages has encouraged many nurses to strive for continued professional growth.

With a rosy job outlook and higher wages, future earning potential for MSN holders looks promising. Pay varies by specialization and geographic region, but MSN students can expect starting salaries of $60,000 upwards to $90,000. When you factor in benefits and signing bonus and relocation assistance perks, the medical uniform has never looked better. If you are considering an MSN, review our comprehensive salary guide to help determine your earning potential.

Career Options and Salary Information

Nurses who graduate with an MSN degree, with a focus on clinical care, are called Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN). APRN is an umbrella term which encompasses four distinct career paths: nurse practitioner, certified nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, and certified nurse mid-wife. However, an MSN degree can also prepare students for jobs in nursing education, research, and healthcare business management. These careers often include such titles as Clinical Nurse Leader, Nurse Administrator, Nurse Educator, and Nurse Manager.

These areas of specialization offer unique opportunities in healthcare and provide graduates with a wide range of employment possibilities. Below you will find information on each practice’s potential salary and job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics earnings chart shows the average hourly wages for healthcare professionals based on education and training. This will help you better assess how to utilize your MSN degree.

  • Nurse Practitioner: A nurse practitioner (NP) receives advanced academic and clinical training. Nurse practitioners make up the majority of the medical care community. They often specialize in either family practice or child pediatrics with board certification confirming their area of focus. What is unique about NPs is how closely they work with doctors and patients. Depending on the scope of practice NPs can earn as much as $113,000 annually.
  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist: A certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA) specializes in the administration of anesthesia. CRNAs must be certified by the National Board on Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists. With proper training and certification, CRNAs prepare the prescribed solutions, administers anesthetic, and monitor patients’ vital signs. CRNAs can assist anesthesiologists, surgeons, general physicians, and dentists. Salaries range from $100,000 to $155,000.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) play a unique role in the healthcare field. In addition to specializing in certain types of diseases, they work alongside other nurses to provide training and clinical expertise. This role is the most versatile of APRN careers and offers the greatest flexibility when it comes to practice. A CNS can work in an operating room, the ER, critical care, and many other practice areas. Annual salaries for a CNS typically starts around $80,000.
  • Certified Nurse Mid-Wife: A certified nurse mid-wife (CNM) focuses on both nursing and midwifery while pursuing their MSN degree. These professionals works closely with expectant mothers in hospitals, medical clinics, birthing centers, and also assist during at-home births. The annual expected salary for a CNM is about $90,000.
  • Clinical Nurse Leader: A clinical nurse leader (CNL) is a new role in the healthcare field. This position focuses on the coordination of care for a specific patient group. Other duties may include overseeing nursing staff and the day-to-day operations of all clinical services including assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating patient care. CNLs have reported annual salaries around $80,000.
  • Nurse Administrator: A nurse administrator assumes the role of head nurse. Duties under this title include supervising nursing and administrative staff and recommends policy and procedural changes for the department. Nurse administrators also serve as instructors and mentors to new nurses. The salary range for this position can range from $60,000 to $90,000, depending on the size of the facility and number of staff members.
  • Nurse Educator: This position is designed for MSN degree holders with a passion for teaching and public outreach. Nurse educators are responsible for preparing students for careers in the medical field. They can also be found working in the community, conducting health seminars in schools and clinics. The average annual salary for a nurse educator is roughly $70,000.
  • Nurse Manager: A career as a nurse manager is similar to that of a nurse administrator with a few key differences. Unlike nurse administrators, the fundamental responsibility of a nurse manager it to recruit new nurses and maintaining patient medical files as well as balancing the department budget. Nurse managers can expect to earn around $70,000 a year.

In the chart below, The Bureau of Labor Statistics researched the average hourly wages for healthcare professionals based on education and training. Earnings for registered nurses, ranged from $18.79 per hour at level 5 to $59.53 per hour at level 12. This range reflects both the wide variety of duties performed by RNs at different skill levels as well as how valuable an MSN degree can be. BSN holders might see a wage increase of almost $40 an hour by earning their MSN degree. Opportunities are endless and the salary benefits speak for themselves.



Other Factors That Influence Salary

  • How many years on the job: Like most professions, experience often means higher wages. The longer you work for an organization and the more experience you have means the larger the paycheck. Putting in your time gives you seniority and leverage when requesting a raise or negotiating salary. It pays to accrue as much on-the-job training as possible.
  • Are you unionized? Some states require RNs to join the local nurses’ union. Being part of a union usually means higher rates of pay, especially when it comes to overtime. However, a union also adds additional levels of management so be sure to research the union status of each hospital to which you consider applying.
  • Where you work: Nurses who live in larger metropolitan centers often earn more than those in smaller cities. With more patients to see and a higher cost of living, nurses in New York or Los Angeles tend to earn higher salaries. Research each state’s salary data to determine how geography impacts your potential earnings.
  • What time you work: Employers reward nurses willing to work the night shifts with higher wages. While the graveyard shift is often less desirable, putting in a few years of late nights will work to your advantage when employers conduct performance evaluations.
  • Who you work for: Hospitals in larger cities tend to pay more than most other employers. Nurses working in nursing homes or smaller clinics earnings can expect to earn less. Hospitals often demand longer hours and greater flexibility from their employees which can mean nurses need to be available at all hours of the day.
  • What you specialize in: Specialized work typically commands a higher rate of pay. For example, a nurse practitioner who focuses on neonatal and pediatric care will often make more than a nurse practitioner in general practice. Having a very specific focus can also make a nurse irreplaceable.

Going back to school to earn your master’s in nursing degree requires an intense level of commitment and focus. Many decide that the long term benefits are rewarding enough to justify the additional effort. Higher salaries and challenging career opportunities combined with favorable market conditions all point to bright futures for MSN degree holders. With the advancement of online education, nurses interested in graduate study now have the option to continue working and caring for their family while attending class. There is no better time than now to add another level of expertise to your repertoire.


Scroll to Top