Nurses Tell All! Salaries, Benefits, and Whether They'd Do It Again

Carol Peckham

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November 17, 2015

In This Article

Nurse Education: What Degree Should They Earn?

The higher salaries paid to RNs with advanced degrees compared with those with associate's degrees or diplomas are expected. Those with a doctoral degree average $96,000, master's degree $87,000, a BS or BA $79,000, and an associate's degree or diploma program $73,000. About one half of nurses with a doctoral degree would choose the same educational preparation again, whereas a third would go for a master's degree again. Far fewer with lower degrees would take the same educational route again. In this survey, 37% of APNs, 51% of RNs, and 60% of LPNs would seek additional educational opportunities.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for a goal of 80% of the nursing workforce to have a BSN by 2020. For RNs, the cost for a BSN degree can be up to $100,000 more than the cost for an associate's degree, although the annual salary difference, a least in this survey, is only $6000.[17] Nevertheless, without a BSN, it is becoming increasingly difficult for an RN to find a job.[18]

In her 2015 Medscape interview,[9] ANA President Pam Cipriano said, "The longstanding debate about education comes from the fact that we were very reactive to nursing shortages years ago. We would start on a journey to increase the educational requirement, but whenever a nursing shortage appeared, we tended to back away, believing that production of new nurses was more important than boosting the education of nurses." She went on to point out that although it is unlikely that the IOM goal will be achieved by 2020, at this time more than half (51%) of nurses have this degree. Dr Cipriano observed that many RNs avoid the burden of a 4-year college degree by starting work with an associate's degree and then going back to school to complete their BS degree.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing now recommends that the minimum educational preparation for APNs be at the doctorate level by this year.[19,20] Although at this time a master's degree is the predominant pathway for APN entry into practice, a number of nursing schools are now offering a direct BSN-to-DNP degree. Costs, however, are a key barrier for many nurses.[21] It is not clear yet whether the salary difference between a doctorate and a master's ($9000 in Medscape's survey) compensates for the added educational cost (as much as $50,000) to earn a doctoral degree.[20] One nurse who responded to the survey asked, "For those APNs who have their [doctoral] degrees, I would ask if they feel this degree has actually helped their career/income/status?"

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