Do Nurses Earn Big Money? You Decide.

The members of the public who are convinced that 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.