Have you ever wondered where nurses get paid the most, where there are the most jobs available, how many students are currently enrolled in nursing school, and if the industry is expected to grow? As one of the providers of nursing school education, it’s something we think about quite often at Grand Canyon University.
And with nurses handling more than their share of risk over the past year and a half as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s more important than ever to ensure the nursing industry is healthy itself and sees a continued stream of nursing school graduates join its ranks of healthcare professionals.
We decided to find the answers to these important questions backed by data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Using these publicly available sources, we collected data on the number of available nursing jobs in every U.S. state, hourly and annual median wage by state and by industry, and more.
Through our analysis of this data, we can see where nurses get paid the most, the job outlook for nurses, and more. Read on to see what we found!
The Top 10 U.S. States With the Highest Employment Level of Registered Nurses
We began our analysis by evaluating the employment level of registered nurses in every U.S. State. California and Texas employ the highest number of nurses, with 307,060 and 219,930 employed nurses, respectively.1 The next five states on the top 10—Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois—all have more than 100,000 employed nurses as well.1
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a loose association between the number of employed nurses and the state population. States with higher overall populations generally have higher populations of nurses. To eliminate overall population as a variable, we decided to find out how many nursing positions are filled compared to the number of jobs available in each state. To do so, we looked at states with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients for registered nurses based on employment levels per 1,000 jobs in every state.
Employment per 1,000 jobs is the number of jobs (employment) in the given occupation per 1,000 jobs in the given area.2 As a result, the top 10 states with the highest concentration of jobs for registered nurses changed drastically. South Dakota scored the highest with an average of 31.93 jobs out of every 1,000 jobs open to registered nurses.1 West Virginia came in second with 30.46 jobs out of every 1,000 and Rhode Island ranked third with 27.42 jobs out of every 1,000.1 Nebraska, on the other hand, is the state with the tenth highest concentration of jobs for registered nurses per 1,000 jobs—claiming 25.53 per 1,000.1
We see much less variance in this comparison than we did with the absolute employment level of registered nurses in the first graphic. But the unfortunate takeaway is that all of these numbers are low. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this study, but we encourage anyone with a passing interest in nursing to look into the profession as a prospective career.
Analyzing Education for Nursing
Typically, a three-year commitment after completion of an undergraduate program, making the call to attend nursing school is a big decision. So, who’s taking the plunge to see if nursing is the right career for them?
We quickly see that nursing is a female-dominated industry, with just 12.80% of baccalaureate students, 11.70% of master’s students, 10.50% of research-focused doctorate, and 14.20% of doctor of nursing practice students being male.3
The crown for the most popular nursing programs across the U.S. in 2020 goes to baccalaureate programs with 251,145 enrolled students. Research-focused doctoral programs had only 4,626 enrolled students in 2020.3
This isn’t surprising though, as the number of enrolled students in the programs we analyzed loosely matched the number of available programs themselves. While there were only 147 research-focused doctorate programs available in 2020, there were 805 entry-level baccalaureate programs.3
We love seeing so many students enrolling in the many available nursing programs across all levels of study, from entry-level baccalaureate to doctoral programs. But are students following through and graduating? Yes! According to the data above, more than 82,000 students attained baccalaureate degrees in 2020.3 Nearly 70,000 attained RN to baccalaureate degrees, and likewise, 51,386 students obtained master’s degrees.3
The relationship between these values is similar to what we saw when we measured the number of enrolled students in the same programs. That suggests that the decline in graduations for higher levels of education is more likely due to fewer students attempting the program rather than students dropping out.
Although we saw earlier that the number of available nursing jobs is much higher than the level of employment in 2020, things are looking up for the nursing industry. Every educational program we analyzed saw an increase in 2020 applications. Standouts include research-focused doctorate programs, which increased by 24.30%, and doctor of nursing programs, which increased by 14%.3 Additionally, the percentage of nursing school students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups saw a hefty increase across the board in 2020.
Overall, we are excited and hopeful for what the future brings to the nursing profession. We are seeing growth across the board on the tail end of a global pandemic that stretched us all — but especially frontline healthcare workers — to their limits, which means a lot for the industry.
In fact, as of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for registered nurses to increase by about 9% from 2020 to 2030, as fast as average, accounting for an estimated increase of 276,800 jobs in the field. Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 194,500 openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Overall, job growth is expected to concentrate in facilities that treat people with Alzheimer’s disease and provide long-term rehabilitation for head-injury and stroke patients.4
If you’d like to join the cause and learn how you can bring help and healing to your fellow citizens through a rewarding career in nursing, find out how to apply to GCU’s nursing program offerings within our College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.
1 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), Industry Profile for Registered Nurses as of May 2020. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may also impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the BLS. BLS calculates the mean using salaries of workers from across the country with varying levels of education and experience and does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as registered nurses. It does not reflect earnings of workers in one city or region of the country. It also does not reflect a typical entry-level salary. Mean income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. You may also wish to compare mean salaries if you are considering more than one career path.
2 Retrieved from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, in October 2021
3 Retrieved from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Highlights from AACN’s 2020 Annual Survey, in October 2021
4 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2020, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.