Nurse.com’s 2020 Nurse Salary Research Report takes the pulse of the nursing job market during one of healthcare’s most turbulent times, the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 7,400 RNs, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), and licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) from across the U.S. responded to our online nurse salary survey from late March through May 2020. Most of the nurses surveyed in 2020 were employed in hospitals and acute care settings, followed by ambulatory and outpatient settings.

The survey reveals what nurses want and how they’re thinking about their jobs and careers.

Many Nurses Actively, Passively Looking for New Jobs

nurse salary

Kate McCann

According to the report, nearly half of nurses surveyed in 2020 are actively or passively looking for new jobs. Specifically, 11% of nurses are actively looking, and 38% are passive job seekers who are not actively looking but are open to new opportunities.

Male nurses are slightly more likely to be actively or passively looking to change employers. And more APRNs are actively seeking new roles compared to RNs.

It’s not only new jobs that nurses are seeking. Some want new careers. About 11% of nurses surveyed indicated they were thinking about leaving the nursing profession. Stress and low job satisfaction topped nurses’ reasons for wanting to get out of nursing entirely. Next on the list of reasons for exiting nursing: the pandemic and disregard for employee safety.

Some employers have made employee safety a focus during COVID-19.

“We have found that nurses are willing to move for the right opportunities but have been more cautious if the health system has had lay-offs or furloughs due to the pandemic,” said Kate McCann, Senior Vice President/Chief Human Resources officer at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). The university-based regional healthcare system has acute care and specialty rehabilitation hospitals in urban, suburban, and rural communities in 13 Maryland counties.

Four other large healthcare systems in the immediate region make for a competitive recruiting environment, according to McCann.

“During the pandemic, UMMS’s key strategic advantage is our clear message of putting the safety of employees first and keeping our employees at work,” she said. “Through the development of our emergency float pool and partnership with the state in staffing a field hospital, we have attracted many excellent caregivers.”

Overall, McCann said UMMS has experienced a slowdown in applications, which she attributes to families’ changing needs and job security.

“We have also seen pockets of nurses leaving the organization for highly compensated traveling contracts to COVID-19 hotspots,” McCann said. “UMMS continues to monitor the recruitment market for trends, how these trends align with our current programs, and whether they can meet the needs of our organization.”

Top States for Relocation

Relocation isn’t out of the question for many, despite the pandemic. The top three states for potential relocation for RNs were Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. California, Colorado, and Arizona round out the top six states nurses desire for relocation.

68% of respondents are willing to commute up to 29 miles for a job.

Besides Better Nurse Salary, What Do Nurses Want?

Nurses’ priorities post-pandemic have shifted to include an even more substantial emphasis on safe work environments, according to McCann.

“In the pandemic era, we have found candidates have an increased focus on safety protocols and policies that keep them and their families safe,” she said. “Beyond safety concerns, candidates continue to look for programs to support growth in their education and support for existing school loans.”

According to the Nurse.com survey, top benefits nurses want but do not have are bonuses, followed by tuition reimbursement, paid continuing education, and profit sharing.

About 40% of RNs, 25% of APRNs, and 25% of LPNs/LVNs indicated their employers offered tuition reimbursement. But only 5% of RNs, 8% of APRNs, and 4% of LPNs/LVNs reported that their employers paid 100% of their tuition expenses. Many employers covered less than 10% of total tuition expenses.

Among those surveyed, 19% of RNs, 34% of APRNs, and 17% of LPNs/LVNs get bonuses in their current jobs. Far fewer, 6% of RNs, 9% of APRNs, and 4% of LPNs/LVNs have profit sharing.

Pursuit of Higher Education

According to the 2020 survey, salary increases with increasing educational preparation. About 56% of male and 49% of female nurses are considering pursuing higher education, certification, or training to boost their salary potential.

Specifically, 26% of RNs, 22% of APRNs, and 35% of LPNs/LVNs are considering additional degrees. Eleven percent of RNs, 6% of APRNs, and 15% of LPNs/LVNs want to start degree programs in the next six months, according to the report.

Among nurses who plan to pursue further education, the factors they consider most important in a program are cost and a flexible schedule. Most prefer online education over on-site programs.

Salary by Gender, Race, and U.S. Region

Today’s average primary salary for RNs is $75,293, according to our report. Salary ranges by role, from an average $53,800 for school nurses to $150,000 annually for an executive role.

And male nurses are more likely to be more satisfied with their salaries, but they’re also more likely to be paid more than females. For example, the average salary for a male RN is $80,000 compared to $72,703 for female RNs.

The gender pay gap is not a new finding. In a previous Nurse.com nurse salary report, male RNs often made more than females. Our 2020 report revealed the pay gap remains, even though male nurses report less education than their female nursing peers and are less likely to be certified. But men are more likely to negotiate salaries than their female counterparts.

Average nurse salary appears to vary by race, with non-white nurses making more. But according to the survey, white nurses tend to work fewer hours compared to other races.

The highest paying region of the country for nurse salaries is in the West — including Alaska, Hawaii, California, Washington State, Oregon, and Nevada — with an average nursing salary of $88,156. The lowest is in the South — including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina — with an average nurse salary of $62,193.

Putting the Data to Use

Alisha Cornell, DNP, RN, Clinical Implementation Consultant at Relias and a nurse leader in the acute care setting, said she sees the 2020 report as a benchmark that helps leaders evaluate an organization’s strategy for recruiting new nurses and retaining those nurses over time by offering education assistance and the opportunity to earn more money through retention programs aimed at personal growth and professional development.

“I’d like to tie in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with two key findings from the report: First, as education preparation increases, so does salary and, second, salary per U.S. region,” Cornell said. “I consider these as key performance indicators for a recruitment and retention strategy for new graduate nurses or novice nurses. Using Maslow’s definition of psychological safety, I understand that nurses are willing to travel for more pay, which I interpret as they are willing to move to an area with a higher salary in order to feel comfortable paying their bills.”

For example, Cornell lives in a relatively high-paying region, located near areas where the pay is lower.

“First, I would want to focus my recruiting strategies in those areas because I can attract nurses graduating from school with a new opportunity for better pay,” she said. “Second, I live in a richly educated region. There is a need for my organization to develop strategies to connect with nursing schools, especially those offering online education. The [key performance indicators] mentioned would pour into my organization’s overall growth strategy.”

Cornell said as an organization hires new nurses and provides education and training, the organization could accept higher acuity patients and increase patient safety.

The findings from this survey provide the baseline analytics for big decision making by chief nursing officers and chief nurse executives for retaining nurses. And, according to Cornell, it helps to answer the question: “What is our strategy for increasing our growth?’”