College students with an aptitude for math and business sometimes seek careers in the accounting field, but those interested in health care might lean towards nursing, since it is one of the higher-paying careers available with just an associate or bachelor's degree. Salaries in both professions are similar, and are affected similarly by factors such as employer and location.
The average salaries of registered nurses and accountants differ very little. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of accountants, as of May 2010, was $68,960. The bureau notes that there were a total of 1,072,490 individuals employed as accountants in 2010. By comparison, there were 2,655,020 individuals employed as registered nurses in 2010, earning an average annual salary of $67,720.
The pay scale in both the nursing and accounting fields also sheds some light on the similarities and differences between pay for accounting and nursing professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most nurses made somewhere between $52,980 and $79,020 per year, while the majority of those working in the accounting field made between $47,990 and $81,290. Median salaries for both professions were comparable. Accountants made a median salary of $61,690 in 2010, while nurses pulled in a median salary $64,690. The best-paid nurses made over $95,130 annually, while the top accountants made $106,880 or more.
Location also provides some insight into the pay of nurses and accountants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the highest-paid nurses worked in California making an average of $87,480 per year, while the highest-paid accountants worked in New York and made $85,230. The state of Massachusetts was common to the top-five list for both professions. Massachusetts accountants averaged $75,030 per year, while registered nurses there made $84,990, as of 2010. Nurses and accountants in Maryland were also among the highest-paid in their professions, at $76,450 and $75,030, respectively.
The industry a nurse or accountant works in also effects the average salary for both. According to the bureau, the highest-paying sector for accountants was the U.S. federal government, which paid an average salary of $89,310 to accountants in 2010. Nurses, on the other hand, primarily worked in hospitals and surgical centers, averaging $68,610 per year. Nurses who did work for the federal government did, however, earn an average of $79,530 per year.