While nursing salaries are on the upswing for most groups, the COVID-19 pandemic has led nurses to ponder whether they want to remain in the profession and under what terms.
Meanwhile, the gender pay gap for registered nurses has widened, perhaps due to male nurses being more likely to enter into salary negotiations.
Those were the key takeaways of the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report, produced every two years by job news site Nurse.com and its parent company, Relias, of Morrisville, North Carolina, which provides healthcare training and performance solutions to help organizations attract, hire and retain talent.
Relias and its research partner, Brandware, surveyed nursing professionals between Nov. 12, 2021, and Dec. 12, 2021. A total of 2,516 qualified nurses successfully completed the survey.
“The report is both a career handbook for nurses to understand the best ways they can further their careers and a guide for healthcare employers to understand disparities and inequities in salary across the nursing profession, giving them insights to address those concerns,” Felicia Sadler, RN, Nurse.com ambassador and patient safety and quality executive at Relias, told Fierce Healthcare.
In the survey, the median RN salary reported by respondents was $78,000, a significant increase over the median RN salary of $73,000 in 2020.
When nurses were asked whether the pandemic has affected their salaries, 25% of all respondents reported increases in their wages, and 9% noted decreases.
Meanwhile, the report indicated that “the pandemic has led to a precipitous increase in the number of nurses considering leaving the profession”—29% of the current survey’s respondents compared to 11% in the 2020 survey.
The rise in nurse salaries comes as hospitals are facing a labor crunch. Their capacities stretched to the breaking point, hospitals have turned to the temporary fix of hiring short-term travel nurses. And these short-term contract workers often make double or triple what their staff counterparts earn.
Median hourly wage rates for contract nurses increased slightly during the pandemic’s first year from $64 in 2019 to $71 in 2020 but shifted further upward to $103 in 2021 and $132 in the beginning of 2022, according to a report from Kaufman Hall.
The survey also found that for an RN identifying as male, the median salary of $90,000 is $14,000 higher than the median salary of an RN identifying as female ($76,000). This gap was lower—$7,297—in Nurse.com’s 2020 study. The current survey found that 40% of male RNs said they “always” or “most of the time” attempt to negotiate a higher salary, compared to 30% of women.
There were pay equity concerns among racial and ethnic groups. Nurses who identify as Black, African American, American Indian or Alaska Native reported the lowest levels of satisfaction with their current salary.
“Unfortunately, healthcare is not immune to many of the same pay disparity issues facing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) individuals that are present throughout the workforce,” Sadler, an RN for more than 30 years, told Fierce Healthcare. “There is a greater recognition among healthcare organizations that disparities exist and many of those organizations are taking steps to address it, but more needs to be done.”
As for changing employers, younger nurses were more likely to consider a move, with 23% of millennials actively looking to make a switch compared to 17% of nurses overall. The overwhelming majority (73%) of Generation Z nurses—those 24 years old or younger—are open to new opportunities.
“Younger nurses, including Generation Z and millennials, are placing a lot of value in work-life balance in addition to pay,” Sadler said. “With those goals in mind, these nurses are more inclined to change their work environments to support their mental health and alleviate burnout.” Better interactions with colleagues also factor into the decision, she said.
The survey found training opportunities are available, with 46% of nurses reporting that they plan to take advantage of them as a way to increase their salary, and 34% intend to pursue a degree. Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses are more likely to opt for additional education than nurses with other types of licenses are, with advanced practice registered nurses least likely.
Sadler noted that nurses’ interest in furthering their education demonstrates their commitment to the profession. She added that they recognize the value in upgrading their skills to attain higher salaries and seek greater leadership roles.
“As nurses contemplate what’s next for their careers, they’re in an ideal position to think through what they really want—and then ask for it,” Sadler said.