Younger nurses eye education and training to boost salaries

More than half of Generation X and nearly 80% of millennial nurses plan to pursue education and training to boost salary potential, according to’s salary report.

The survey reflects responses from 4,520 RNs from 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Salary is the most important aspect of job satisfaction, according to 72% of all nurses surveyed.

Younger nurses’ emphasis on education and training comes as no surprise, said Connie Zak, DNP, MBA, FNP-BC, associate dean for online programs at the school of nursing at Purdue University Global.

Connie Zak, RN

“Nursing has evolved as a profession and nursing education has evolved into higher and higher degrees,” Zak said.

As more nurses seek BSN and higher degrees, those degrees become the standard, according to Zak.

The youngest of the nurses surveyed in the report were the most likely to have a BSN as their highest completed degree, at 63%. By comparison, 47% of Gen Xers and 35% of baby boomers surveyed have BSNs.

Baby boomers were slightly more likely to have their masters and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) than younger generations of nurses.

Education does seem to make a difference in nurses’ pay. ADN nurses surveyed made an average $67,162, while nurses with BSN degrees made an average $73,995.

Nurses with PhDs command the highest salaries, at an average $106,820. DNPs make an average $84,410 — less than the $90,288 average salary among master’s-prepared nurses.

While millennials, ages 19 to 35, and Generation Xers, ages 36 to 56, seem driven to advance their nursing education in the name of a higher earning potential, less than a quarter of baby boomers, ages 57 to 74, plan on doing so, according to the survey.

Certification and training can raise pay, too

Some organizations compensate their nurses for a specialty certification, according to Theresa Mazzaro, RN, CHCR, senior talent acquisition specialist at Suburban Hospital, part of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and a member of the board of directors of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment (NAHCR).

“Getting a certification proves via an evaluation and exam that you are competent and certified as a specialty nurse,” Mazzaro said. “This may result in a differential or bonus from an organization.”

When controlling for education and number of hours worked, researchers noted a significant relationship between nurse salaries and certifications.

Half of the nurses surveyed in the report indicated they were considering pursuing not only higher education, but also certification or training to earn more money.

In the case of certifications, however, baby boomer nurses were most likely of the generations to be professionally certified, at 43%, compared to 31% of millennial and 40% of Generation X nurses.

Certifications and training help make nurses more valuable employees — whether they are at the bedside, teaching or in leadership roles.

When we interviewed Zak, she was taking the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Leadership for Academic Nursing Program (LANP). The course, she said, would help her evaluate and improve her leadership skills.

“And it will help me in the ultimate goal, which is the next step, the deanship,” she said.

The survey findings send a clear message to employers and recruiters: For especially millennial and Generation X nurses, tuition reimbursement and paid or reimbursed continuing education are important job benefits.

Still, less than half of nurses surveyed reported receiving tuition reimbursement from their employers. Less than 40% said employers covered their continuing education.

Finding job satisfaction is a balancing act

nurse salary - Woman is taking out money from walletEducation and certification can increase nurses’ salaries, but there are other factors to consider if increasing one’s salary is the goal, according to Zak.

Other considerations include where nurses work, regionally, and if they’re in a rural, suburban or urban setting.

The survey confirmed that nurses make different salaries in different regions of the U.S. While the average salary for nurses in California is $97,708, it’s $64,050 in Florida.

Zak, a baby boomer, says achieving a high salary, career goals and true job satisfaction is a balancing act.

Finding that balance might come with time. While Zak made more money working for a managed care company, she said she’s happier making less but working in a job she loves in academia.

“It’s a balance, right? We all have bills to pay,” Zak said.

And the message that higher education is better shouldn’t sway people who start their careers with an ADN, Zak said.

There is no guarantee that having a BSN will help new nurses command a higher salary initially because that’s largely employer-dependent, according to Zak. The BSN, however, will give the nurse more opportunities during his or her career, she said.

Students pursuing the ADN should consider viewing the degree as a good first step. These students should have a three-to-five-year plan of how and when they will pursue the BSN, Zak said.

“It’s very important that nurses are lifetime learners,” she said. “That not only increases their ability to be more effective in the clinical area and in the healthcare system, but also their ability to increase their salary potential.”

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