10 Ways to Make More Money as a Registered Nurse

nurse holding credit card happy to be making more money
Written by
Crystal Shoaie
September 18, 2023

Table of Contents

Nurses are people with a passion for caring. Registered nurses (RNs) join the profession to make life better for many people in meaningful ways: to care, cure, and comfort—while also being able to earn a decent income. However, there are many ways to make more money as a registered nurse (RN).

An unknown author left us these famous words, “Not all angels have wings … some have scrubs.” However, these angels in scrubs live here on earth and have the same financial challenges and aspirations as other mortals. You can 

use your passion to establish a strong financial basis for yourself and your family without losing sight of your inspiration—rather, strengthening it with financial security. Read on to learn how to find well-paid, full- or part-time “nursing jobs near me.”

True Story: From $41,000 to $70,000 in the First Year

RN Jon Haws shares his story of how he climbed from a base salary of $41,000 to $70,000 in his first year of nursing while staying close to home. To support his family with two children, he consciously and strategically took advantage of five opportunities he spotted in the system.

  • Differentials: He worked night shifts and weekends, immediately raising his pay to $55,800. 
  • Incentives: He embraced his hospital’s incentives. The retention program landed him a raise of $1 per hour after the first six months and another $1 per hour raise at the one-year mark. 
  • Preceptorships: His commitment to professional growth and excellence soon led to preceptor opportunities, each of which added to his income. 
  • Overtime: Although overtime can be a burden, especially when unexpected and right after an exhausting shift, it can also be a financial boon. Pay for extra shifts at his facility started at $7 per hour on top of all other differentials, and all hours worked in a week over the first 40 hours were paid at time and a half. Furthermore, if critical needs arose within the hospital, the bonus pay would go up to $10 per extra hour. That means that during a bonus shift, he could make as much as $600 – $700 (about $50 per hour), substantially boosting his earnings.
  • Balancing work and rest: You might think, “Wasn't it all work and no play?” However, he wrote his story in the middle of an 18-day hiatus from work, and it wasn’t the first time he had taken extended breaks. With thoughtful planning, nurses can orchestrate a schedule that accommodates lengthy, relaxed vacations.

This example is a real-life experience in a particular state, city, and hospital. Other advantages are available to RNs who can relocate or pursue advanced degrees. 

Real Life: From $50,000 to $157,000 in Six Years

Let’s take a look at the case of a 29-year-old RN who, in just six years, saw her annual salary soar from $50,000 as a new graduate to a remarkable $157,000—not counting her per diem side gigs. Here are some key decisions she made:

  • Relocation: She relocated from Canada to Arizona, securing an intensive care unit (ICU) RN position that boosted her income from $50,000 to $79,000, with an additional $5,000 relocation bonus. Despite higher-paying alternatives, she chose this job for its ICU exposure and financial support for further education.
  • Pursuit of her dream job: She transitioned to her dream job in the operating room (OR), accepting a day shift role that reduced her pay to $68,000 due to the loss of night shift differentials. This move was pivotal for her career satisfaction.
  • High-paying metropolitan area: Her boyfriend's job relocation landed her in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the highest-paying metropolitan regions in the country. She secured a Staff Nurse II position in the operating room, commanding a remarkable salary of $141,000, with the potential for $1,000 to $5,000 in overtime each month.
  • Leadership roles: She took on roles as a relief charge nurse and preceptor nurse, earning an extra $3 per hour whenever she assumed charge responsibilities, pushing her income up to $145,000 with monthly overtime.
  • Proximity to home: Eventually, she sought a job closer to home to alleviate the three-hour round-trip commute, which was affecting her family life and well-being. She found a position ten minutes from home and was offered an additional $6 per hour. As a Staff Nurse III in the operating room, her salary reached the impressive amount of $157,000, growing even higher with overtime and her per diem work.

Her decisions and actions were based not only on opportunities to increase her income but also on her love for her family and her own professional dream. She brought it all together and made it work.

How Much Do Nurses Make? 

As you know, the RN pay scale varies from state to state and from one metropolitan area to another, ranging from a mean of $31,680 way up to $164,760, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

10 Ways to Make More Money as a Nurse

These two true and inspiring experiences illustrate several real opportunities to make more money as a nurse, including the following:

1. Per Diem Nurse Jobs 

These jobs can pay up to twice as much per hour as staff positions since facilities do not have to pay for employee benefits.

2. Differentials 

Working night shifts, weekends, or holidays generally adds 10 to 20 percent to average hourly pay.

3. Incentives

Taking advantage of incentives, including both one-time sign-on or relocation bonuses and periodic per-hour raises as part of a retention program, helps build up income.

4. Working Overtime 

Working overtime in the form of extra shifts has a better pay scale; beyond 40 hours a week, pay is usually raised by 50 percent.

5. Preceptorships 

Preceptorships are periods of structured transition when an experienced clinician guides newly qualified nurses joining a workplace, and the preceptor receives an addition to their hourly pay for this period.

6. Charge Nurse Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a charge nurse involve leading an entire nursing unit during a shift or specific time period, making assignments, coordinating admissions, checking safety, and, in general, exercising leadership capabilities, as well as clinical and managerial skills. Many facilities add an hourly plus to the regular pay for this work.

7. Relocation 

Relocating to higher-paying areas can increase your income by as much as 100 percent; however, beware of the cost of living, which is also significantly higher in the locations with the most competitive pay levels.

Here are the five top-paying states for RNs—all with a yearly average salary of over $100,000 for registered nurse jobs:

8. Further education

Earning an advanced degree can significantly increase a nurse’s salary. This step implies making a major investment, but often large facilities or healthcare systems will pay the tuition or provide scholarships for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), as well as for certifications. 

Actually, many successful nurses recommend getting an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and then looking for a job in a healthcare organization that provides tuition reimbursement for further education.

How much does the average nurse salary rise with each advanced degree? As you can see in the table below, with each level of education, the average pay scale increases.

Table of Nursing Degrees: Nurse Average Salary Based on Level of Education

Degree Mean Annual Salary
ADN $84,000
BSN $85,000
MSN $96,000
DNP $99,000

Source: Nurse Salary Guide: Understand How Much You Can Make as a Nurse (Most recent data as of September 2023)

Evidently, the biggest leaps in salary come with a Master's or a Doctorate. However, all these salaries vary greatly within the same level due to the specialty, location, healthcare industry, and years of experience. The scholarships and financial support available through many healthcare organizations can help you make the leap in income.

9. Certifications 

Pursuing certification validates your experience, education, and expertise by meeting set requirements and passing standardized exams. Common certifications include the Certified Emergency Nurse certification, which is open to ER nurses, the Critical Care Registered Nurse certification for nurses caring for critically ill adult patients in high-impact care settings, and the Informatics Nursing Certification. The American Nurses Association (ANA) provides a listing of valuable certifications here.

10. Opening a Business

Nurses can also consider opening a business, such as a medical spa, a home care agency, or an intravenous infusion center (if they have the corresponding certification). 

How Much Can RNs Earn?

RNs earn up to $62 an hour in the highest-paying locations and positions. This hourly rate can be even higher in per diem registered nursing jobs near you. 

According to national estimates for RN salaries released in April 2023, the national mean hourly wage is $42.80, ranging from $29.45 in the tenth percentile to $62.21 in the 90th percentile, and the mean annual wage is $89,010, ranging from $61,250 up to $129,400.

This is a wide range, determined to a great degree by location and education level—as explained above—as well as nursing specialties.

Which Are the Higher-Paid RN Specializations?

The highest-paying nursing specialties require advanced degrees and specialized certifications. Nurses with master's or doctoral qualifications can attain licensure as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). APRNs can choose from four main career paths, including Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs), Certified Nurse Specialists (CNSs), and Nurse Practitioners (NPs). Notably, the most highly-paid nursing positions fall within these four areas of the most advanced nursing licenses.

However, RNs without advanced degrees can also be certified to work in specialized areas with greater compensation. These areas include the emergency room (ER), the intensive care unit, and pain management.

Nurse with earned money in her hands
How to earn more money as an RN

ER Jobs

In the hospital environment, where many emergency room nurses are employed, the average income is approximately $85,020 yearly, or $40.88 per hour, a little higher than average RN salaries. Furthermore, a limited number of RNs with ER certifications can work in non-scheduled air transportation at an impressive $112,630 yearly. ER nurses can also boost their earnings through travel nursing assignments or per diem opportunities. 

To qualify for ER jobs, certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) is generally required, and other certifications are advantageous. 

ICU Jobs

Valuable certifications to get ICU jobs include Acute/Critical Care Nursing (adult, pediatric, neonatal), Acute/Critical Care Knowledge Professional (adult, pediatric, and neonatal—not providing direct patient care), and Tele-ICU Acute/Critical Care Nursing (for those working in remote jobs for RNs at tele-ICU locations). 

In 2023, the annual salary for an entry-level ICU nurse is $78,000 on average, but with five years of experience, this national average rises to $84,000 and continues to scale. 

Pain Management Jobs

In recent years, the number of individuals and patients grappling with opioid addictions and dependence has skyrocketed. Data from the American Society of Addiction Medicine reveals that among the 20.5 million individuals affected by substance use disorders, a staggering 2 million were specifically entangled with prescription pain medications. This widespread crisis has prompted healthcare providers to explore alternative and safer approaches to managing pain. Nurses working in this area have a significantly higher pay scale, around $100,000 annually.

What Nursing Specialty Commands the Very Highest Salaries? 

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn by far the highest nursing salaries; with an impressive $195,610 in annual income, they top the nursing salary charts. CRNAs are highly skilled nurses—with advanced degrees, critical care experience, and national certification—who prepare and administer anesthesia and work closely with surgical teams, anesthesiologists, dentists, and other healthcare professionals to ensure patient comfort and safety.

How to Find Nurse Jobs Near Me

Today’s job hunt is digital and much more efficient and easier for both nurses and facilities with virtual marketplace platforms such as Nursa for per diem RN jobs that help nurses make more. Remember, per diem jobs for nurses generally have a much higher pay rate regardless of educational level or location. Find per diem RN jobs near you from the comfort of your couch.

Crystal Shoaie
Blog published on:
September 18, 2023

Meet Crystal, a contributing copywriter for Nursa who specializes in writing topics that help nursing professionals navigate the world of finances, education, licensing, compliance, equality, and ideal locations for per diem jobs.

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