Nursing jobs follow the general rule of more education or training leads to higher pay. Other factors, such as seniority and geographic cost of living factors, do come into play in determining nurses' salaries; however, nurse job categories with greater educational requirements typically have higher base pay rates than those with lower requirements. Licensed vocational nurses are at the bottom of the nurse pay scale, with registered nurses in the mid-range and advanced practice nurses and nurse practitioners earning the most.
Education for Nurses
Licensed vocational or practical nurses have typically completed a one-year training program at a vocational school or community college. Registered nurses either have an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). Advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives and nurse anesthetists, have earned a master's in nursing or equivalent. Most APN graduate programs require at least a couple of years of nursing experience to be admitted.
Licensed Vocational Nurses
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, LVNs earned a median wage of $41,540 in 2012. LVNs employed at junior colleges earned the most, garnering an average wage of $49,320. Those employed in doctors' offices earned the least, only taking in an average wage of $38,980. LVNs living in Connecticut came out on top of the pay scale, earning $53,560 in 2012.
The BLS reports that registered nurses earned a median wage of $65,470 in 2012. RNs working in specialty hospitals earned the most, with an average wage of $73,210. Those employed at nursing care facilities earned the least, only making an average wage of $61,220. California-based RNs garnered the highest salaries nationwide, earning a comfortable $94,120 on average in 2012.
Advanced Practice Nurses
Advanced practice nurses, or nurse practitioners, earned a median wage of $89,960 in 2012. APNs employed by specialty hospitals earned the highest wages, taking in $104,550 on average. Those working in home healthcare services earned the least, only garnering an average wage of $82,300. APNs living in Alaska made the most on a per state basis, earning an average wage of $112,090 in 2012.