Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for registered nurses across the country has exploded. Even though the pandemic has started to cool off, and many places are returning to pre-pandemic life, the need for registered nurses is only getting hotter. Along with the increased demand have come pay increases for nurses. What has contributed to this pay increase, and what does the future of nursing look like?
Registered Nurses Are Getting Better Salaries In 2022 than the Previous Year
Nurses are getting better paydays than they did a couple of years ago. 2020 was The Year of the Nurse, according to the World Health Organization. They developed this message to highlight the need for nurses, not just in the United States but across the globe. If 2020 was the year of the nurse, 2021 and 2022 should be “The Year of the Nurse Pay Increase” due to the expansive increase in nursing salaries.
Labor statistics show the current median RN salary in 2022 is $77,600 or $37.30 an hour. This salary is an increase from 2020, which was $75,330 or $36.22 an hour. A median salary means 50% of nurses make more than this and 50% make less. The nursing pay scale ranges from $28.58 to $57.81 an hour.
In 2019, the median RN salary reported was $71,730; compare this to 2022, and registered nurses are making, on average, $5,870 more annually in just three short years. That is quite a difference.
What exactly are the reasons for this increase? There are a few key factors that led to this salary growth.
What are the key Factors Affecting the Salaries of Registered Nurses In 2022
Nurses have benefited from these pay increases, but what caused them, and are they likely to stay?
Here are some of the contributing factors to the registered nurse pay increase.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, there was a shortage of nurses due to the aging population needing more nursing care and the number of older nurses retiring outnumbering nurses entering the profession. Studies predict this trend of increased elderly and more nurses retiring will worsen over the next ten years.
This prediction came before the pandemic.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, causing an immediate nursing shortage due to the vast number of hospital patients sick with COVID-19. During the first three months, New York City had 203,000 confirmed COVID-19 patients and 18,600 deaths. These numbers demonstrate the vast scale of patients needing care. It was not just the patients who were sick but the nurses who cared for them as well.
At the beginning of the pandemic, COVID positive nurses were put in an immediate two-week quarantine, even if they showed no symptoms. Therefore, the number of nurses unable to go to work increased. Nurses sick at home instead of at the bedside created a massive shortage during the pandemic’s peak.
As a result, travel nurses became extremely important to help fill these gaps.
The Saving Grace of the Travel Nurse
As COVID positive patients increased, so did the need for nurses. During the spikes in coronavirus cases, hospitals started paying more for travel nurses.
Travel nurses were the brave souls that chose to fight at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. They purposely signed contracts and went to high COVID-positive areas to help hospitals that were overrun with patients.
It was during the numerous spikes in COVID-19 cases that travel nurses made the most money. Some nurses were making $175 or more per hour. Pay depends on location, nurse specialty, and the need for certain nurse specialties. For example, the travel nurses with the skills to care for COVID-19 patients made the most money. Many of these nurses were critical care nurses.
As word got out about how much money COVID-19 travel nurses were making, it caused staff nurses to pause and examine their own situation. They were working alongside travel nurses taking care of the same types of patients yet getting much lower pay.
As a result, many staff nurses decided to leave their current hospital jobs and became travel nurses themselves. Not only did travel nursing allow them to make more money, but it also allowed them the freedom to choose their own schedule, take time off in between assignments, and experience new exciting locations. View our open travel nurse jobs.
Once healthcare leaders realized their staff nurses were leaving for better pay, they determined they must become more competitive in their own nursing salaries to keep their current staff. As a result, they offered raises, bonuses, and critical staffing pay.
Nurses get critical staffing pay when they pick up extra shifts on units that are critically below recommended staffing ratios. It is an incentive to try and get nurses to work extra hours. The additional pay and the competitive pay options ultimately increased the median RN salary.
As COVID-19 cases have decreased, so has the travel nurse pay, but the nursing shortage has only worsened. Not only have nurses left their staff jobs and turned to travel nursing, but many nurses have also left the bedside altogether. Therefore, hospitals have to stay competitive to attract new nurses.
Many hospitals can afford to pay extra money to their nurses due to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Cares Act).
COVID-19 Emergency Response Money
In response to the growing nursing shortage, Congress passed the Cares Act in March 2020. This bill gave hospitals and medical facilities money to help pay for COVID-19 testing and strengthen their workforce by hiring and paying for nurses.
Congress allocated $175 billion dollars for medical facilities to pay for travel nurses and increase the pay of staff nurses, but this money will not be there forever.
Hospitals and medical facilities can not afford to lose any more nurses. They will need to keep their wages competitive to keep safe staffing ratios.
Salary Projections for Registered Nurses In The Coming Years
It is difficult to predict the future salaries for registered nurses. One thing is clear: the nursing shortage is not going away. Studies indicate it to get worse before it gets better. As a result, nursing pay will only go up in the coming years, not down.
The cost of staffing for hospitals has increased dramatically for medical facilities across the country. Healthcare leaders and government officials will need to take a hard look at their budgets and figure out how to pay for the increased cost of nursing. To keep and attract quality nurses, medical facilities will not be able to return to pre-pandemic pay rates.
Nurses have always been the backbone of the healthcare industry, but in the past two years, it has become clear just how essential nurses are.
What about licensed vocational nurses or licensed practical nurses (LPNs)?
Unlike registered nurses who attend nursing school for two to four years, LPNs only go for 12 to 16 months. They also do not have the same responsibilities as a registered nurse and usually work under a registered nurse; therefore, they work primarily in nursing homes or doctor’s offices, but just like registered nurses they have also seen a pay increase.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2019, the average LPN salary was $48,500 per year. In 2022, that increased to $51,850, a 9.3% increase. We can expect their salary to increase by 17.15% in the next five years.
The need for LPNs is just as great as RNs. Since nursing homes have many patients 65 and older, staff cared for many COVID-19 patients. Staff also endured weekly COVID tests and were sent home if COVID positive. With the added demands of caring for COVID-19 patients and the short staffing due to COVID-positive staff, many LPNs left their jobs due to burnout. As a result, there is a significant need for LPNs.
Also, due to the critical shortage of nurses in the hospitals, many medical facilities are considering hiring more LPNs back to the bedside. Research predicts the projected employment growth for licensed practice nurses and licensed nurses to be 6% over the next ten years. Before the pandemic, hospitals were moving towards hiring only RNs, but healthcare leaders realize this is not a sustainable practice. They need more help in the hospital, and LPNs could be the perfect answer.
What about advanced practice nurses?
Advanced practice nurses have returned to school for a master’s or doctorate in nursing practice. With these advanced degrees, they can see patients the same way a doctor would. In many states, nurse practitioners still work under a doctor’s supervision but are able to diagnose patients and prescribe medications.
Nurse midwives deliver babies as well as care for pregnant and postpartum women. Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses who work in operating rooms providing sedation and anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery.
In the last decade, a healthcare provider shortage has occurred, meaning there are not enough doctors to care for everyone. Just like with nursing, the demand for doctors and healthcare providers like nurse practitioners has increased since the pandemic. Studies project that the employment growth for advanced nurses will go up by 40% over the next ten years. As a result, their pay should increase as well.
In 2019, the average salary for advanced practice nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $111,840; in 2021, that increased to $118,040. That is about a 7.2% increase.
The demand for nurses has increased over the past two years, not for just registered nurses but LPNs and advanced practice nurses as well. For employers to attract these nurses to their hospitals and medical facilities, they have to be competitive by offering higher wages. This trend will be around for a while.
Ever thought about becoming a nurse? Now is the best time to dive in. Already a registered nurse? 2023 looks like it will be a promising year. Even with the overall pay raise, there are ways registered nurses can increase their pay and ensure it stays high, even if the travel nurse’s salaries decrease.
5 WAYS RNS INCREASE THEIR SALARIES
#1: GET YOUR BSN (OR ADVANCED DEGREES)
The most surefire way to increase your pay as an R is to make yourself a valuable asset to any facility or team by completing your nursing degree. A BSN will prepare you for the future of healthcare: you’ll be better at identifying preventative care and be able to practice in more settings than the traditional inpatient role. Hiring managers and facilities are also aware of the benefits of a BSN degree — research has shown that BSN nurses have lower incidences of post-surgical mortality and hospital-acquired infections.
If you are an LPN, it pays to go back for your RN. Many nursing schools offer a transition program for LPNs, meaning they can complete their RN degree in a shorter amount of time. Getting your RN nursing degree will open doors for higher pay, a broader range of bedside nursing and nurse leader positions, and give you a larger selection of travel nurse positions.
#2: WORK OVERTIME
The availability of bedside nurses to pick up extra shifts is abundant. When considering picking up a few extra hours, look for the critical staff pay or any bonuses you might be able to get. Make your extra hours worth it.
If you can’t find extra shifts at your hospital or medical facility, look into getting a PRN or per diem assignment at another hospital. PRN or per diem means you don’t have to work full-time hours. You only have to work a few hours a month. Often, these positions pay more than staff positions because PRN or per diem staff don’t get benefits.
You could also look for a local travel assignment. Some hospitals hire travel agencies to help them find new nurses locally. Like a travel assignment, you will probably sign a temporary contract to cover 13 weeks. This assignment is a great way to take the first step into travel nursing.
#3: GET RELEVANT CERTIFICATIONS
By getting certified in your specialty, you’re showing that you’re a valuable addition to a team due to your in-depth knowledge. Here are a few certifications that will make you more in demand:
CNOR: This certification is great for OR nurses. It shows your dedication to providing the highest quality care for operating room patients.
TNCC: It’s a good move for ER nurses to get this certification! This certification will help nurses guide trauma patient care and will open many doors in the future.
AWHONN Intermediate/Advanced Fetal Heart Monitoring: This certification is excellent for L&D nurses and will make you a valuable asset to any L&D team.
Certifications are a great way to increase your pay by making you more attractive to hospitals due to your increased knowledge as a nurse. Multiple surveys have shown that certified nurses consistently earn more than their uncertified peers.
#4: BECOME A TRAVEL NURSE
If you feel ready to take the dive, the best way to make the most as a nurse is to follow the money. Even though travel nurses' pay is no longer $175 per hour, that does not mean the demand for travel nurses has decreased. Travel nurses are still making significantly more money than staff nurses.
By becoming a travel nurse, you can travel to parts of the country that need nurses the most (and pay the most for your skillset!). You can negotiate new contracts with every assignment, ensuring you won’t be stuck in a low-paying contract forever. You’re also free to turn down offers that don’t meet your standards since travel nurses are so in-demand.
As a travel nurse, you can also work with a recruiter who can help with contract negotiations and advise you on the highest-paying assignments available. Your trusty recruiter sidekick will be invaluable as you start your travel nursing adventure!
#5: GET YOUR COMPACT LICENSE
Getting your compact license is a great way to make yourself marketable as a nurse. If you only have a license in one state, you’re limiting yourself to working with facilities in that state. If you have a compact license, you’re free to work in over 30 states across the US. With the nursing shortage affecting states differently, healthcare facilities may compensate you differently based on your state. Colorado, Texas, and Arizona are all compact states and some of the best states in the country for nurses!
If you are currently a registered nurse, you have probably noticed the increase in your salary over the past two years, but even with this pay increase, the current economy and inflation could potentially make all your hard work useless. Even though the salary increase is likely a trend that will continue, you can take steps to ensure your salary will increase and overcome any inflation cost.
Talk with a travel nurse recruiter today about your options.
How much do nurses make?
Currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median RN salary reported is $77,600.
What is the difference between licensed practical, registered, and advanced practice nurses?
Licensed practical nurses go to school for around 12-16 months. They work in long-term care facilities and hospitals but are limited in the type of care they can provide. They usually work under a registered nurse. Registered nurses can have an associate’s degree, which takes two to three years to get or a bachelor's degree that can take four to five years to get. Registered nurses can work in various medical facilities and usually make more money than licensed practical nurses. Advanced practice nurses have advanced degrees such as a master’s or doctorate. Depending on their type of advanced degree, they can work in doctor’s offices with the supervision of a doctor diagnosing patients and writing prescriptions. They can make the most money depending on their specialty.
What about certified nursing assistants (CNAs)?
A CNA works under a registered nurse and helps with patient care tasks, such as baths, feeding patients, and getting vital signs. Depending on their school, they can complete their training in 4-12 weeks. Their salary has increased 20% over the past five years, and studies predict their projected salary growth will go up another 22% in the next five years.
Leslie Catalano has been a registered nurse since 2005. With travel nursing, she has been able to work in several different cities and experience various specialties. She is originally from the midwest.
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