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Salary Survey Highlights Region, Union Membership

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By Christina Orlovsky, contributor

If you’re looking for ways to increase your pay, you might want to consider changing locations. According to the 2005 Earnings Survey, published by the professional journal RN, the region in which you work significantly affects the money you make.

“There is always variation across the country, but it’s interesting to note that those in the Far West and in New England saw surges in salary by 20 percent, while those in the south stayed flat,” explained Marya Ostrowski, editor of RN.

Average hourly pay for nurses in the Far West states—California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska—reportedly earn an average of $36.45 per hour, the highest in the country. Earnings in these states rose $8.25 per hour from 2003. Average earnings in New England totaled $36.00 per hour, an increase of $7.50 per hour from 2003.

Earnings and increases in other states were significantly less, with nurses in the Mid-south region—Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky—averaging $23.30 per hour, $2 less than in 2003.

Overall, this year’s survey, which reported statistics from 1,884 respondents, found that the mean annual income of RNs across the country was $54,745, reflecting a 10 percent increase from 2003.

One significant finding, said Ostrowski, was that nurses paid by the hour—typically bedside nurses—saw a 13 percent increase in pay, up to an average annual salary of $53,595, while nurses on salary—typically those in managerial roles—remained stagnant at an average $65,065 annually.

Salary by Specialty

According to the 2005 Earnings Survey, OR nurses, traditionally the highest-paid RN specialty, saw a 9 percent increase in pay, or a raise of $2.35 per hour, from 2003.

This list shows the average hourly pay of nurses in six specialties:

Specialty Average Hourly Rate
OR $29.40
Ambulatory surgery/outpatient $28.80
ICU/CCU $28.45
OBG/newborn $28.00
Med/surg $27.30
ED $27.05
SOURCE: RN October 2005, Volume 68, Number 10

Additionally, this year’s survey highlighted a disparity between the income of union and non-union nurses, as well as an atypical increase in union membership.

“In this country, union membership has been on the wane, but it went up to 16 percent in 2003 and climbed to 20 percent in 2005,” Ostrowski said. “Union nurses made 11 percent more this year than their non-union counterparts.”

The survey shows that union nurses average almost $60,000 per year, $6,100 more than non-union nurses. This difference could also account for the varying salaries by region, Ostrowski said, as union membership is far greater in the Far West and New England. In the Southwest, for example, only 4 percent of respondents reportedly belonged to a union. In the Far West, by contrast, 55 percent of nurse respondents were union members; 46 percent of nurses in New England are unionized.

“The other thing I’d call attention to is the difference in pay between full-time and part-time workers,” she added. “Part-timers have historically made more than full-timers, likely because they’re not always getting benefits, but now the gap is widening.”

In fact, part-time employees are reportedly making $2.50 more per hour than their full-time counterparts.

“It seems that hospitals want to get people at the bedside, so they’re paying their staff and part-timers quite well, trying to fill these holes with wage,” Ostrowski added.

Across the board, of the 44 percent of respondents who reported that their facilities were employing tactics to retain nurses, slightly more than half cited pay raises as the main retention method. However, when it comes to retention, money typically isn’t the only thing that buys workplace happiness—a fact Ostrowski said future surveys will hopefully address.

“It will be interesting to watch to what extent facilities are using salary to retain nurses and how effective it’s going to be,” Ostrowski said.

“Money can only go so far,” she added. “Most nurses didn’t go into the profession for the money; they did it to care for people. It will be interesting to see what strategies facilities employ to make nurses feel appreciated for the wonderful work they do.”

For more information, visit the RN Web site.

For more salary information, visit the PayScale Web site.

© 2005. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.