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November 4, 2016

Nurse salaries are on the decline, Medscape finds

Daily Briefing

    The annual average salaries of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) fell slightly in 2015 compared with 2014, according to Medscape's annual RN/LPN compensation survey.

    Approximately 4,000 RNs and 1,600 LPNs completed Medscape's online compensation survey between June 27 and August 31. Respondents answered questions on a range of topics, including their salary, work schedules, and level of education in 2015.

    According to the survey, average annual salaries for:

    • RNs fell from $79,000 in 2014 to $78,000 in 2015; and
    • LPNs fell from $46,000 in 2014 to $43,000 in 2015.

    However, the report found that salaries varied significantly by practice setting. For instance, among RNs, the highest-paying practice settings in 2015 were:

    • Military/government ($84,000);
    • Inpatient hospital care ($82,000); and
    • Hospital-based outpatient settings or clinics ($78,000).

    The lowest-paying practice settings for RNs in 2015 were:

    • School/college health services ($61,000);
    • Non-hospital-based medical offices/urgent care clinics ($68,000); and
    • Public health/occupational health settings ($71,000).

    Educational attainment was strongly associated with annual earnings. For instance, in 2015, RNs whose highest degree was a master's degree reported an average annual salary of $86,000, while those with only a bachelor's degree reported an average annual salary of $79,000. Meanwhile, RNs with only an associate's degree reported an average annual salary of $71,000.

    The survey also found geographic variations in salary. Among RNs in 2015, those in the West had the highest average annual salary at $98,000, while those in the North Central region had the lowest average annual salary at $70,000.

    The regional differences largely are attributable to differences in costs of living and the distribution of high-status institutions, according to Medscape. Regional differences in pay for LPNs were similar to differences among RNs.

    Key differences among LPNs and RNs

    In addition to annual salary, the survey highlighted other disparities between LPNs and RNs.

    For instance, 96 percent of RNs said their work offered health insurance, compared with 90 percent of LPNs. And 38 percent of LPNs said there were still paying off student loans, compared with 26 percent of RNs. Fewer LPNs said they had access to paid parental leave (14 percent) than RNs (20 percent).

    The wage gap

    The Medscape survey also confirmed the well-known wage gap between male and female nurses. On average, male RNs and LPNs reported higher annual salaries in 2015, at $83,000 and $47,000 respectively, compared with $78,000 and $43,000 for female RNs and LPNs.

    According to Medscape, several factors may have influenced the wage gap, including male nurses working more overtime, night shifts, and holidays (Thielking, "Morning Rounds," STAT News, 11/2; Yox/Stokowski, Medscape, 11/2). 

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