Registered nurses are the backbone of the North American health-care industry, providing patient care in almost all clinical settings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a total of over 2.7 million registered nurses as of 2010, making them the largest health care profession in the country. The Canadian government reported 273,051 RNs serving that country's much smaller population. In both countries, registered nurses are well-paid and highly respected professionals.
Canadian RN Pay
Canada's health-care system operates on a publicly funded, single-payer model. Each province runs its own system, with all citizens holding a provincial medical care card that covers the majority of basic health care. Nursing unions negotiate contracts directly with the province, laying out standardized pay grades at varying degrees of training and experience. A 2011 summary chart compiled by the Canadian Federation of Nurses' Unions showed registered nurse wages averaging $30.30 per hour at minimum, and $38.73 per hour at the maximum rate.
U.S. RN Pay
The situation for registered nurses in the U.S. is considerably more fluid, with a wide variance in wages between employers and workplaces. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers comprehensive national figures in its 2011 Occupational Employment Statistics, reporting a national average of $33.23 per hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent of RNs reported wages of up to $21.62 per hour, with the top 10 percent earning $46.46 per hour or more. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, pay for U.S. nurses varies by workplace. For example, RNs in nursing homes averaged $29.25 per hour, while those in specialty hospitals averaged $35.73. RNs in the United States work for many different private and public employers.
Although the two countries differ in their health-care systems, both show significant regional variations in RN pay. Some areas offer higher pay because they're more affluent, because cost of living is higher, or because there's greater demand for skilled caregivers. For example, in the United States, California's nurses have the highest average wages in the country, $43.68 per hour. Their colleagues in North Dakota are at the opposite end of the scale, with an average wage of just $27.69. In Canada, wages for general-duty RNs range from a low of $21.81 in Quebec to a high of $45.03 in Alberta. The rates also depend on experience and seniority.
A number of other factors can affect nurses' compensation on either side of the border. For example, advanced nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists can expect to earn significantly higher incomes, often reaching or exceeding $100,000 per year. Nurses at all income levels can often earn incremental increases when they're on call, working overtime or performing training duties. In Canada, nurse contracts often include percentage or dollar-amount bonuses for seniority, usually beginning at the 20-year milestone.
Employment prospects for registered nurses are very strong in both countries. Between 2010 and 2020 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 26 percent growth in demand for registered nurses, or over 711,000 new jobs. Over the same interval, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada projects 40 percent job growth for registered nurses, or 65,048 new positions. Another 81,660 nurses are expected to retire during that decade, substantially increasing job vacancies. The number of new nurses is expected to fall well short of that total.
2016 Salary Information for Registered Nurses
Registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $68,450 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, registered nurses earned a 25th percentile salary of $56,190, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $83,770, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 2,955,200 people were employed in the U.S. as registered nurses.
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Nursing
- Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions: Overview of Key Nursing Contract Provisions
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Registered Nurses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Registered Nurses
- Becker's Hospital Review: Compensation Plans for Advanced Practice Clinicians -- Implementing a Healthcare Model for the 21st Century
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses
- Career Trend: Registered Nurses
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.