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Average Salary for a Nurse

by Eric Hebert

Remember the last time you had to go to the doctors? Or maybe you ended up in the emergency room? Or maybe you took a CPR class for work? In each of these instances, you probably ran into someone who is part of a very largely under-appreciated group of working class individuals who each and every day help make the world a better place. We're talking about nursing here, and, as with other unsung-hero professions like police officers and teachers, they are becoming more and more hard to find as younger generations decide to follow different career paths than their parents may have taken. So why are nurses so hard to come by in today's world? Well, one of the reasons may be the reputation that becoming a nurse does not bring a decent paycheck along with it. Most people perceive of nurses as those who work in a hospital. There are other degrees of a nursing profession that can bring in more income than one could imagine. Let's take a look at what it means to be a nurse today and discuss some of the factors in determining the average salary of the nursing profession.


Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) & Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN)

nurseLicensed Practical Nurses(LPN's), also known in some states as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN), is the first level of certification one can receive in their nursing careers. Usually one can achieve the title of LPN after 18 months - 2 years of technical education, usually resulting in an associate of science degree. At this point, students are required to go through a Clinicals program before they can be given the actual title of LPN. As with every factor of the nursing experience, each state does have its own rules regarding certification so other factors may apply. After becoming an LPN, nurses can continue their education in LPN-to-RN programs to help advance their knowledge and career.

As an LPN, for the most part you will be sort of in the middle of the nursing food chain. Job functions may include the supervision of orderlies and nursing assistants, but you will be directly under RN-certified nurses and Physicians. Duties carried out by the LPNs include basic bedside care, condition reporting, taking of different patent samples, and other general health tasks. Career paths for LPN nurses can vary from working in hospitals and health care clinics, educational and government institutions, or home and private duty health care. While RN-certified nursing is in demand and pay-scales obviously increasing, the LPN pay rate has pretty much remained the same, with the average salary at around $38,000. As with any technical job certification, wages differ based on geographic location and demand for LPN services.


Registered Nurses (RN)

nurseRegistered Nurses make up the majority of the nursing profession, and actually make up the majority of health care professionals, with 3 out of 5 jobs in hospitals carrying the RN title. RN's achieve their status usually either by first obtaining LPN status and continuing their education, or completing a four year Diploma of Nursing or Bachelor of Science degree. As with becoming an LPN, RN's also have to complete state-governed Clinicals and other qualifications. WIth an RN certification, you will have many opportunities in different aspects of healthcare work, especially as demand for RN-certified nurses continues to rise.

Generally, the main focus on a Registered Nurse's career is the continuing education of health to patients and families. RN's work very closely with patients very much like an LPN, but obviously in even more depth, as they often are the first to diagnose problems and are the liaison with doctors and other medical staff. Because of their skill level and knowledge, the opportunities for an RN certified nurse are vast, with many careers focused on a specific part of the health care industry. Examples of RN jobs include:

Critical Care nurses work in a high intensity environment that deals with human responses to life-threatening problems. Although not always mandatory, many critical care nurses need extra certification (and are known as CCRNs) due to the nature of work, mostly in the emergency/hospital setting.

Ambulatory Care refers to outpatient care usually performed in doctor's offices or "urgent care" centers. Ambulatory ("capable of walking") nurses deal with patents dealing with non-life threatening or non-emergency symptoms or disorders.

Emergency/Trauma nurses work in similar environments as critical care, and are responsible for responding to single or multi-trauma in a hospital emergency setting.

Holistic Nursing is a natural healing oriented type of nursing dealing heavily with touch, compassion, and self-care. Many work in either a Holistic clinic or have their own licensed practice.

Infusion Care is usually home-based nursing that allows patients to receive intravenous fluids and medications away from the hospital environment, which saves the patient money and saves hospital room for those who need it more.

Long-Term Care nurses deal with patients that have chronic medical conditions that need the services of a health care professional over a long period of time. Different conditions can call for either home duty care or special facilities. depending on the type of long-term care needed.

Perioperative Nurses assist doctors during surgery. They are usually responsible for preparing a patient for surgery and caring for them afterwards as well. These Surgical nurses tend to make it their job that the patient has a successful and healthy recovery after surgery.

Hospice nurses are responsible for assisting terminally ill patients. They provide general duties like assessment and medications while communicating with doctors and providing emotional support, one of the more difficult tasks involved with hospice care.

Radiologic nurses provide for the physical and mental care of individuals who have to go through radiology tests, ensuring their understanding and recuperation of radiology procedures.

Occupational Health nursing deals very much with the health and safety of individuals in the workplace. Duties of an Occupational Health duties involve having knowledge of workplace hazards and employee health status.

Psychiatric nurses care for the mentally impaired or ill patients that are confined to a hospital or home health setting. They usually work with psychiatrists or psychologists to help individuals who have severe mental health problems in their everyday lives in the hope that psychiatric care will help them eventually lead normal healthy lifestyles.

Rehabilitation care involves caring for individuals who experience temporary or progressive disabilities that have hindered their ability to lead normal everyday live. As with many nursing professions, different forms of rehabilitation my have the nurse working in either hospital or home health care setting depending on the severity of the patient's condition.

nurseIn addition these specially healthcare services, RN-certified nurses can work towards other specialized careers dealing with a number of disease, ailment, or condition fields, including:

  • Addictions
  • Developmental Disabilities
  • Diabetes Management
  • Genetics
  • Oncology
  • Ostomy
  • Organ or Body System Specialty
  • Cardiac and Vascular
  • Dermatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Gynecology
  • Nephrology
  • Neuroscience
  • Ophthalmic
  • Orthopedics
  • Ortohinolaryngology
  • Respiratory
  • Urology

Finally, a few more areas of study and advancement include the specialized areas of preventive & acute care:

  • Neonatology
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics

These are just some of the many examples that showcase the dynamic nature of the RN certification. because there are so many different aspects to having such a title, the income potential for RN's can be dramatically different. National average salaries for RN certified hospital staff nurses is currently at $59,000. However, that certainly isn't the ceiling of potential for the nursing profession. Through additional learning , RN nurses have plenty of options to increase their income as we move into careers of advanced practice nursing.


Advanced Practice Nursing (APN)

nurseAdvanced Practice Nurses (APN) have unusually begun their careers at the LPN and RN certifications. After substantial experience and training, usually through completing a Master of science or Doctor of Nursing degree, can they achieve the title of APN. Advanced practice nurses are becoming more and more popular within the healthcare system because they can do much of the primary and preventive care usually performed by doctors at a fraction of the cost. Because of the obvious vagueness of the possible job duties an Advanced Practice Nurse is able to perform, regulation of duties for these types of nurses vary from state to state. Because of their education and job responsibilities, APN's can earn for more than regular RN certified nurses, earning upwards of 70,000 or more depending on their technical job specification and job title. Examples of some of the different types of APN careers include:

Nurse Practitioners (NP) have completed masters degrees in nursing or science and are certified to deal in diagnosing and treating an array of healthcare conditions. A Nurse Practitioner's duties are very similar to a doctors and  focus on treating patients on a very personal level in almost any kind of health care related setting.

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) are advanced nurses who have achieved their masters degree and are narrowly focused on five main aspects of nursing, including clinical practice, teaching, research, consulting, and management. Clinical Nurse Specialists usually take on managerial or educational roles because of their increased level of expertise in specific subject matter.

Certified Nurse Midwifes(CNM) are specialty APN's that focus on the delivery and care of newborn babies. Usually, Certified Nurse Midwives help prepare the mother for delivery and actually assist in the babies arrival, keeping the mother at ease while watching for any signs of delivery complications.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are responsible for administering most of the anesthetics given to patients in today's healthcare system. Nurse Anesthetists do not necessarily need masters degrees but do have to attend additional schooling and have adequate experience in order to achieve certification.

nurseAs you can see, there's a lot more going on in the nursing profession than you may have originally thought. In addition to the different levels of nursing certification and various health care professions out there to keep in mind, still other areas of the nursing profession exist outside of the conventional healthcare environment, including:

  • Case Managers
  • Forensics Nurses
  • Infection Control Nurses
  • Legal Nurse Consultants
  • Nurse Administrators
  • Nurse Educators
  • Nurse Informaticists

With all of these different career options available, it is difficult to pinpoint an average salary that a potential nurse can make in their career. When deciding career paths, especially if you have yet to enter school, it's probably better to instead focus on what areas of nursing you may be interested in. Health care can be a very difficult profession, one that can be very intense on not only the body but the mind as well. Research different nursing career options and find the right one for you. If you stay the course and continue to advance throughout your career, you're bound to find that the salary earned is no where near as important as the knowledge learned and the joy obtained from helping and healing others.