Few workers have been under the microscope in recent years like nurses. As the pandemic fundamentally altered most everything about the way we live and work over the past two-plus years, nurses in hospitals, health clinics, and doctor’s offices around the country have largely stood by, working long shifts, and bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s horrors.
Here’s what nurse salaries look like in 2022BY Sam BeckerAugust 11, 2022, 2:47 PM
It’s been extremely difficult for many of them, too—too difficult, in many cases. In fact, health care workers, including nurses, quit their jobs between February 2020 and October 2021, according to the results of a 2021 survey conducted by Morning Consult. And another 31% of nurses polled had considered quitting. That’s led to fewer health care workers across an array of roles, including nurses, and many hospitals and clinics that were already struggling with a nurse shortage have had to scramble to attract and hire people.
Hospitals paid $24 billion more in labor costs during the pandemic and saw worker overtime hours increase by 52%, while the use of agency and temporary labor increased by 132% as of September 2021, per data from PINC AI.
In effect, the increasing scarcity of nurses, supercharged by the pandemic, has served as the primary catalyst for a boost in nursing salaries in recent years. For prospective nurses who are considering a difficult but potentially lucrative career path, a relevant question is: What do salaries look like this year and beyond? Here’s what some experts told Fortune.
Nurses are coming off a strong year for salaries in 2021
The median annual wage for registered nurses was $77,600 in May 2021, according to the most-recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurses in the 90% percentile of earners were bringing in more than $120,000 per year.
“Nursing wages have increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Jason Shafrin, a senior managing director at FTI Consulting in the Center for Healthcare Economics and Policy, and the founder and editor of Healthcare Economist. “Wages of registered nurses have increased a little over 2%,” he says, citing a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs, adding that “for nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses, wages increased by more than 10%.”
BLS data indeed shows that median pay totaled nearly $124,000 per year in 2021 for various types of nurses, including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.
Of course, there are many variables that ultimately determine what any individual nurse will earn—including where they live and work, and their specialization. But for nurses currently working in the U.S., or students who are planning on becoming a nurse, the good news is that salaries are increasing. And an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) can open up more, higher-paying opportunities for nurses.
Factors affecting nurse salaries in 2022
There are two primary reasons wages are rising, according to Shafrin, and they both stem from the pandemic. “Nursing has become a more dangerous occupation, particularly in the hospital setting, and wages need to rise to take this risk into account,” he notes.
What’s more, the health care industry increasingly relies on traveling nurses, which “offer hospitals a more flexible labor force”—but at a cost. Traveling nurses often work for agencies that “charge hospitals more for this flexibility,” Shafrin adds.
Over the longer term, staffing shortages will likely remain the biggest factor influencing overall nurse pay going forward—and again, that’s an issue that precedes the pandemic. A 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projected that seven states would experience a shortage of registered nurses in 2030, while three would have a surplus.
“There’s such a need for nurses now between COVID and the great resignation,” says Mary Ellen Glasgow, a professor, and dean of the Duquesne University School of Nursing. “There’s a real demand for nurses.”
Nurses have additional earning potential through signing bonuses, and for fresh nursing school graduates, loan repayment plans, according to Glasgow. In Pittsburgh, where Duquesne is located, she says that some employers are offering sign-on bonuses of up to $10,000, and as much as $20,000 in loan repayment. For some nurses, that’s $30,000 in total incentives on top of increasing salaries.
Projections for nurse salaries in the years ahead
As mentioned, it’s expected that a nursing shortage will persist at least through the end of the decade, and it’s an issue that will, in all likelihood, be exacerbated by the pandemic. While higher average salaries do help make nursing a more attractive field, there’s a lot of work to do to shore up staffing needs at hospitals and clinics around the country.
Among nurse manager respondents, 71% reported an increase in open positions last year, and 76% said that “recruitment has become a greater challenge,” according to the results of a 2021 survey published by the American Nurses Association. However, salary was the most important single factor for the more than 4,500 respondents, meaning that they simply weren’t being paid enough. So, increased pay could put a dent in those open positions at many hospitals.
With a glut of open nursing positions, it’s prime time for nurses to ask for more money, or find a higher-paying position. Salaries may continue to increase in the coming years, but probably not at the rate seen recently. So, if nurses want a raise, now’s the time to ask for one.
That said, there will likely need to be more concessions made by employers than just salary increases, Glasgow says. “I think we really need to look at support for nurses,” she says, adding that especially following the pandemic, finances are becoming a secondary concern to their mental and physical health for many nurses.
“Psychological assistance would be helpful. Sabbaticals would be helpful,” she says. “It’s not all about money. Money is not going to fix burnout.”
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