Although nurses don't make as much money as doctors, nurse salaries have increased significantly over the last couple of decades. In fact, U.S. nurses are among the highest paid worldwide. Like most medical professionals, nurses can count on gradual salary increases to match the cost of living, and increasing demand for primary care providers due to the Affordable Care Act is likely to keep upward pressure on salaries.
Current Nurse Salaries
Licensed vocational or practical nurses are on the low end of the nurse pay scale. LVNs earned a median salary of $41,540 in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered nurses earn considerably more than LVNs. The BLS reports that RNS had a median salary of $65,470 in 2012. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have a master's in nursing or the equivalent. Most nurse practitioners earn 25 to 30 percent more than RNs. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $89,140 in 2012.
Future Nurse Pay
According to BLS data, RNs working at physicians' offices earned an average salary of $49,000 in 2002. By 2010 the average physician office RN salary had increased to $70,530, an increase of 30 percent. Furthermore, RN salaries increased by 6 percent from 2009 to 2010. Given the strong demand for RNs and nurse practitioners over the next few years, nurse salaries will almost certainly continue to increase.
Advanced Practice Nurses
Advanced practice nurses can diagnose conditions, prescribe drugs and undertake most primary care roles that doctors perform. Demand for less-expensive APNs has increased over the last several years, and that trend is certain to continue, given the ongoing rollout of the ACA. According to the BLS, APNs, including clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners, have excellent job and salary prospects. It projects that APNs will continue to be in high demand at least through 2020, especially in inner cities and rural areas, where relatively few doctors work.
Fewer LVNs at Hospitals
Although overall job prospects for LVNs are relatively good, they're unlikely to enjoy demand as high as RNs or APNs, mainly because fewer hospitals and acute care facilities are hiring LVNs, largely for liability reasons. LVNs increasingly are working at nursing facilities, doctors' offices and primary care clinics. This situation means LVNs might not be in the same position as RNs and APNS to enjoy significant demand-induced salary increases.