A nurse can be a licensed practical nurse or licensed vocational nurse, a registered nurse or an advanced practice nurse. Although each group has similar duties in some ways, especially as those duties relate to direct patient care, their annual incomes may differ by as much as $100,000. A nurse with more education and more responsibilities generally earns the best wages and may have additional income-generating possibilities such as working as an independent contractor or starting her own business.
Licensed Practical Nurses
Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses perform the same duties; the titles differ according to the state in which they work. They are the least-educated of all nurses and normally attend only 12 to 18 months of school before they obtain a license. An LPN provides direct patient care in a hospital, clinic or nursing home or in home care. LPNs are not independent practitioners and must be supervised by an RN or doctor. LPNs earn the lowest wages of all nurses, with an average annual income of $42,040 in May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
RNs are considered the first level of professional nurses. They may be educated as diploma nurses at hospital-based nursing schools or may have either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. This group functions at many levels within the health care system. A registered nurse may provide direct patient care in a hospital, clinic or outpatient care center or in home health. Many RNs with baccalaureate degrees advance into the first stages of nursing management. RNs in the United States earned an average annual salary of $69,110 as of May 2011, according to the BLS.
Advanced Practice Nurses
Advanced practice nurses are the best educated of the group; a master’s degree in nursing is the minimum requirement for advanced practice. This group includes nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse anesthesiologists and clinical nurse specialists. Nurse practitioners provide direct primary care to adults and children. Certified nurse midwives provide direct care services for women from adolescence to post-menopause, including obstetrical care. CRNAs administer general anesthesia. Clinical nurse specialists may provide direct care or act as educators or clinical liaisons in complex health-care organizations.
Earnings for Different Specialities
The BLS does not track salaries for advanced practice nurses separately from RNs in general, but an article from the HealthECareers website on June 13, 2012, reports an average annual salary ranging from $83,000 to $94,050 for nurse practitioners. These figures included data from 2011 and 2012. The average annual salary for a clinical nurse specialist as of July 2012 was $50,000 to $100,000 according to the Explore Health Careers website, while a certified nurse midwife earned an average annual salary of $114,152 in 2010, according to the American College of Nurse Midwives.
The Highest Nursing Wages
CRNAs generally top all other nurses who provide direct care, with an average salary of $189,000 in 2009, according to a Merritt Hawkins salary survey. The only other nursing group that comes close to CRNAs is nurses who have a doctorate, but their salaries vary from $50,000 for assistant professors to close to $200,000 for the limited number of nurse executives in university medical centers. CRNAs as a group are most likely to earn the highest wages in the nursing profession.