For National Nurses Day, We Looked at Nurses’ Wages in 2020

Today, May 6th, is National Nurse’s Day. With the coronavirus rampaging through the United States, nurses have been more vital and more in need of appreciation than ever.

PayScale recently analyzed how wages have grown (or stagnated) across industries, occupations and major metro areas. Comprised of PayScale’s proprietary Crowdsourced salary data from Q1, this research looks at month over month changes in wages, which is particularly interesting from February to March when the coronavirus pandemic began upending business operations. The data is only going to get more interesting in April, which has been absolutely catastrophic for unemployment.

unemployment claims in April 2020 coronavirus

One of the most interesting areas for wage growth analysis right now is in the healthcare industry. From February to March, the healthcare industry as a whole saw an increase in wages of 2 percent. For profiles associated with new job offers, the increase in March was a little bit higher at 2.2 percent. For healthcare practitioners specifically, wages increased 0.7 percent in March and 1.7 percent for profiles evaluating job offers.

Some monthly fluctuation is normal and not always a good indicator of wage growth. When we look at wage growth year over year for healthcare practitioners in early April, we see that wages have slowed from 2.5 percent growth from last year to 1 percent growth this year. For new job profiles, wage growth is zero. This means that wages in healthcare have slowed or stagnated overall.

Given the number of coronavirus patients flooding hospitals, shouldn’t healthcare wages be rising or even surging upwards? Not necessarily. A flood of patients associated with the coronavirus pandemic does not necessarily translate into revenue. In the United States, healthcare is a market-driven business that depends on elective surgeries for the bulk of its revenue, especially in hospitals. Many of those elective surgeries have been cancelled or delayed. Thus, the healthcare industry has actually been struggling.

Indeed, many healthcare practitioners are seeing their hours reduced and their pay cut or have been furloughed or laid off as demand for revenue-producing procedures drop and financials are squeezed to combat the pandemic. Part of the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress is going to aid hospitals in this time of crisis.

But that’s for the healthcare industry as a whole. For National Nurses Day, we decided to look specifically at how nurses’ wages have fared in early 2020 — January to March, our most recent data pull — as well as how compensable factors impact nurses’ wages and how nurses are feeling about their employment in the current state of the economy.

Here’s what we found:

Nurses’ Wages Grew in Early 2020

Overall, nurses’ wages have seen an increase compared to last year, but a tepid one compared to two years ago. According to our Crowdsourced data, the median average pay for nurses was $57,100 in Q1 of 2018. Median pay then dropped to $55,100 in Q1 of 2019 and rose to $57,200 in Q1 of 2020.

Nurses Wages Increased in 2020

If these medians seem low, remember that the median pay for nurses includes salary data for all kinds of nurses in all kinds of working environments and locations, including assistant nurses and nurses in rural areas, which generally pay less. For a more accurate understanding of nurses’ median pay, it is necessary to analyze all compensable factors for each individual position and consult multiple data sources as part of an overall approach to modern compensation management.

To this end, we also analyzed salary data for nurses across different nursing titles and compared year-over-year wage growth. For example, Nurse Practitioners (NP) made a median salary of $105,000 in Q1 of 2019 and $110,000 in Q1 of 2020, which is a 4.8 percent increase. However, Registered Nurses (RN) in Critical Care have seen a decrease in median wages by 1 percent since 2019. Overall, most nursing titles have seen an increase, especially Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNP) which have seen a 6.8 percent increase in wages over last year and an even greater increase since 2018.

Wage Growth for Nurses Year over Year in 2020

Impact of Compensable Factors on Nurses’ Wages

Many companies rely on titles alone to set compensation ranges, but titles are rarely enough for a modern approach to compensation, especially for professions that require a high degree of education, specialization, experience, and unique skills. Therefore, in addition to nurses’ titles, we also looked at some of the compensable factors that influenced nurses’ wage growth in the first quarter of 2020.

Education, of course, has a huge impact on compensation in medicine. Unsurprisingly, nurses with more education are compensated more. For example, nurses with a health professional doctorate make $103,000 at the median while nurses with bachelor’s degrees make $70,600. Nurses with associate degrees make $59,000 at the median.

These differences also align closely to job title. For example, Nurse Practitioners (NP) are paid more than Registered Nurses because Nurse Practitioners are more educated, generally needing at least a master’s degree in nursing while Registered Nurses receive an associate degree in nursing. By definition, a Nurse Practitioner is able to open and manage a practice, meaning they are able to assess patients, order and interpret diagnostic and laboratory tests, diagnose disease, and prescribe treatment.  Becoming a Nurse Practitioner requires a four-year degree and an additional two to four years of schooling to obtain either a master’s or a doctorate as well as several years practical experience.

Nurses’ wages are also impacted by certifications. Of course, the impact of certification depends on the baseline of the nurse’s education and area of specialization. Nevertheless, certifications can make an impact in a nurse’s median pay.

Here’s a list of the top certifications that have impacted nurses’ wages so far in 2020:

Top Certifications Impacting Nurses PayThe most impact was seen with a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) certification, which has a median impact of 8.8 percent on pay. The certification with the least impact was a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). However, this certification does see an average impact of 3.8 percent on an already highly paid profession.

Note: It might be interesting to observe that according to our Gender Pay Gap Report for 2020, female anesthesiologists make only 83 percent of what male anesthesiologists do and that female nurses make 98 percent of what male nurses do despite making up 90 percent of the nursing workforce.

Another important compensable factor that influences nurses’ wages are the work environment where nurses are employed. For example, nurses working for health insurance companies have the largest median salaries collectively ($73,700) while nurses employed at extended care nursing homes have the lowest median salaries ($37,500). In the middle are nurses working in doctor’s offices ($66,700) and general hospitals ($66,100).

Lastly, nurses’ wages are influenced by particular skills. PayScale’s compensation management software utilizes machine learning and predictive analytics to provide employers with recommendations on which skills impact wages. We call this our Skills Differentials Engine. In analyzing which skills have had the most impact on nurses’ wages in 2020 using our Crowdsourced data, we can see that Utilization Management (UM) tops the list at 7 percent, followed by Obstetrical Anesthesia at 6.1 percent and Quality Assurance (QA) at 5.8 percent.Top Skills Impacting Nurses Pay in 2020


So how do nurses feel about their employment and the future outlook for their jobs right now? This is a question that many employers have, especially in a time of crisis. It is also a question we ask nurses who fill out compensation profiles with PayScale.

Note: Want to know how much you’re worth when all compensable factors are considered? You can also contribute to the accuracy of our database on nurses’ compensation. Fill out a profile with PayScale now.

When we analyzed the data, we found that the majority of nurses are not satisfied with their employers.

For example, in looking at nurses’ job satisfaction in Q1 of 2020, only 47 percent of nurses (all titles) either agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied working for their employer. Only 39 percent said that they felt appreciated by their employer. Around 50 percent felt that their employer had a bright future and 45 percent felt that there was good two-way communication between management and employees. Nurses’ satisfaction with their direct managers was a bit higher at 59 percent.

How Nurses Feel About Their Jobs

However, these responses are not necessarily a reflection of the impact of Covid-19 or the current state of the economy. Indeed, these numbers have not changed substantially over time. When we compare the data year over year going back two years, we find that employee sentiment among nurses has fluctuated but not changed significantly as a result of the coronavirus outbreak through the end of the quarter in March.

How Nurses Feel About Their Employers

Whether employee sentiment changes in April and into the future of 2020 remains to be seen.


Given the volatility of the present situation, it’s impossible to guess at the overall impact that the coronavirus will have on nurses’ wages over time. We are likely to continue to see fluctuations as the healthcare industry struggles to allocate resources and retain employees without straining the ability of the business to stay operational. Although the future is uncertain, we do think it is important to continue to track wage growth fluctuations. We also think that employers would be wise to invest in mature compensation strategies and communicate aggressively with employees around compensation decisions… especially for nurses occupying critical roles and for whom we want to show our deep appreciation.


Additional Resources:

Promotion: Free Salary Data Now Available in MarketPay

Whitepaper: The Impact of the Current Economy on Wage Growth

Whitepaper: How to Perform Compensation Benchmarking and Set Salary Ranges

Blog Post: Which Jobs Have Seen the Most Wage Growth and Which the Least

Blog Post: How Should Hospitals Pay Non-Clinical Staff?

Blog Post: How to Use Skills to Price Jobs

Webinar: Using Crowd and Company Sourced Data to Navigate Ahead

Data Report: The Gender Pay Gap Report for 2020

Data Report: Our Annual Compensation Best Practices Report for 2020

Interested in learning more about PayScale’s compensation management software? Contact us for a demo.