Do Nurses Earn Big Money? You Decide.
The members of the public who are convinced that registered nurses earn huge salaries are like shrubs on the outside looking in because they do not know how much sweat and tears we shed for our educations, and they are unaware of the hazards many of us face during the course of a day at work.
Am I the only one who becomes at least mildly irritated whenever a random individual finds out that someone is a nurse and proceeds to say, "You're rolling in the big bucks!"
To keep things honest, I'll recall a few observations about the people who generally do (and don't) broadcast their feelings about nursing pay. In my personal experience, no doctor has ever told me to my face that I'm earning 'big money.' No engineers, attorneys, pharmacists, speech language pathologists, or other highly educated professionals have hooted and hollered about the supposedly 'good money' that nurses make once they discover that I am one. On the other hand, bank tellers, call center workers, clerks, and others who work at entry-level types of jobs have loudly made their feelings known about the incomes that nurses earn.
I was employed at two different fast food chains while in high school, and during my late teens, I worked a string of dead end jobs in the retail sector. From ages 20 to 23, I maintained employment at a paper products plant in high cost-of-living southern California as a factory worker and earned an income of about $40,000 yearly with some overtime. Of course I thought that nurses earned handsome salaries during my years in the entry-level workforce. After all, the average RN income of $70,000 annually far exceeded my yearly pay back in those days. Keep in mind that I paid virtually no taxes as a fast food worker because my income was so low. Also, I paid relatively little in the way of taxes as a retail store clerk.
Many of the certified nursing assistants (CNAs) with whom I've worked over the years have fallen into the trap of believing that the nurses are awash with cash. However, the ones that pursue higher education and become nurses themselves eventually come to the realization that the money is not all that it is cracked up to be. For example, Carla* is a single mother to three children under the age of 10 and earns $11 hourly as a CNA at a nursing home. Due to her lower income and family size, she qualifies for Section 8 housing, a monthly food stamp allotment, WIC vouchers, Medicaid, and childcare assistance. Moreover, Carla receives a tax refund of $4,000 every year due to the earned income tax credit (EITC), a federal program that provides lower income workers with added revenue through tax refunds. Much of Carla's CNA income is disposable.
Carla returned to school part-time, earned her RN license, and now earns $25 hourly at a home health company in a Midwestern state with a moderate cost of living. She nets approximately $3,000 per month after taxes and family health insurance are deducted as she no longer qualifies for Medicaid. She pays the full rent of $900 monthly for a small, modest 3-bedroom cottage because she no longer qualifies for Section 8. She pays $500 monthly to feed a family of four because she no longer qualifies for food stamps or WIC vouchers. She spends $175 weekly ($700 monthly) on after school childcare for three school-age children because she no longer qualifies for childcare assistance. Carla's other expenses include $200 monthly to keep the gas tank of her used car full, $300 a month for the electric/natural gas bill, a $50 monthly cell phone bill, and $50 per month for car insurance. Her bills add up to $2,700 per month, which leaves her with a whopping $300 left for savings, recreational pursuits and discretionary purposes. By the way, she did not see the nice tax refund of $4,000 this year since she no longer qualifies for EITC. During Carla's days as a CNA most of her income was disposable, but now that she's an RN she lives a paycheck to paycheck existence. I'm sure she wouldn't be too pleased with some schmuck proclaiming that she's earning 'big money.'
The people who are convinced that nurses earn plenty of money are like shrubs on the outside looking in because they do not know how much sweat and tears we shed for our educations. They remain blissfully unaware of the daily struggles of getting through our workdays. All they see are the dollar signs. I'm here to declare that I worked hard to get to where I am today and I deserve to be paid a decent wage for all of the services that I render. Instead of begrudging us, join us.
Further information to help readers decide (added by staff)Last edit by Joe V on Apr 20, '18
Poll: Do Nurses Earn Big Money?
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied workplace experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,034; Likes: 69,279
CRRN, now a case management RN; from US
Specialty: 11 year(s) of experience in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psychNov 26, '12I completely agree with this! I do not understand students who say they went into nursing for the money. I have always understood nursing is a solid middle class career and we all know where the middle class stand in this country. =]Nov 26, '12I'm probably make the most in my circle of friends, including those with non-nursing degrees/diplomas. I make $50K a year part time. And I work hard for every last penny.
I may make more than they do but they have a better quality of life.
They finish their shifts and leave, no hanging around for narcotic counts to be straightened out, no waiting for the world's longest report to finish. They don't get screamed at by patients or visitors, nobody's ever spilt an ostomy bag on them, vomited on them or assaulted them.
I've always said I'd work fast food before I returned to LTC and I dream of working in a bookstore or library.Nov 26, '12That totally grates my nerves. I'm not rolling in money.
Just because I make more than "you" doesn't make it big bucks and I agree with the comment of we earn every single cent of our checks and then some.
That ranks up there close with the comments of how we will always have jobs.
Of those in upper management and with advanced degrees are doing well salary wise but the general public thinks staff nurses are making fat checks.Nov 26, '12I work FT, I am on 24/7 call and make far less than 70,000/yr. I am grateful for the job, however, as so many don't have one. I am struggling with burnout, but know it could be much worse.Nov 26, '12She did not have "dispoable income" as a CNA. She was getting handouts from the govenment. Now she has a job that gives her enough to pay her own bills so I don't have too. Sorry, but that whole paragraph with the income breakdown is a big fat welcome to the real world and grow up.Nov 26, '12Have just one word - AMEN.
Couldn't say anything better. Again, kudos to Commuter for spot-on commentary.Nov 26, '12Quote from DSkelton711When I brought up the $70,000 figure in the article, I forgot to mention that's the average annual RN pay for nurses in the state of California. Some earn a whole lot more in that state, while masses of other nurses earn much less.I work FT, I am on 24/7 call and make far less than 70,000/yr. I am grateful for the job, however, as so many don't have one. I am struggling with burnout, but know it could be much worse.
I live and work in Texas. I earned an average of $40,000 per year as an LVN, and now that I'm an RN, I've seen a substantial bump in my pay. Since I'm single with no children, car payments, or compulsive spending patterns, I can live comfortably on the money that I earn.
However, it is very possible for the nurses who are single parents with several young children to raise and no family support to be living a hand-to-mouth existence (read: flat broke), even when their lifestyles are frugal and not wasteful.Nov 26, '12Thanks Commuter for an excellent article.
I've made decent middle class income in my 6 years of nursing - but after all the co-pays for anti depressants, talk therapy, psychiatrists and chiropractors due to work related stress, culmulatively I'm probably just above the poverty line. Ha.Nov 26, '12Quote from deann52I once read a statistic that 70 percent of lower income workers in the U.S. receive one or more forms of public assistance in the form of food stamp cards, childcare assistance, Section 8 housing, etc.She did not have "dispoable income" as a CNA. She was getting handouts from the govenment. Now she has a job that gives her enough to pay her own bills so I don't have too. Sorry, but that whole paragraph with the income breakdown is a big fat welcome to the real world and grow up.
I totally agree it is best for society as a whole if the single mother in my aforementioned example is self-sufficient enough to support herself and her children without public assistance.
However, the focal point of the paragraph with the income breakdown was to illustrate to the unwashed masses that many nurses are not fountains of endless cash. Once the reasonable bills (housing, food, gas, electric, childcare, insurance) consume a person's income, the 'good money' ain't looking so good after all.Nov 26, '12I walked past a resident's room one morning and heard her crying. I went in to ask her what was wrong. There she sat with the newspaper in hands, reading the sports page with an article about the latest guy signed to a Patriots' contract. I asked her why that upset her so much. She looked at me and said, "It just isn't right. He's a big, stupid man who can knock people down. YOU are smart and save lives every day and he makes way more money than you." Amen sister.Nov 26, '12Folks who enter nursing for no other reason than financial security usually make lousy nurses.Nov 26, '12Quote from RNFionaThen again, I've met more than a few substandard nurses who claim that they were 'called' to the nursing profession by some intangible higher power. Although money was not their primary (or even secondary) motivation for becoming nurses, their love of humankind and proclamations of a calling still do not render them safe to practice.Folks who enter nursing for no other reason than financial security usually make lousy nurses.
Some sloppy nurses are solely in it for the money. Some sloppy nurses were 'called.' Also, excellent nurses are cut from both types of cloth. It takes all types to make the world go 'round.
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