As a recent nursing school grad, the world is at your feet. You’re in demand, and because people need healthcare — and nurses — you have the option to move almost anywhere. Are you an adventurer?
Want to move closer to family? Interested in the highest paying states for nurses? The good news is that you have many, many options in front of you. The bad news is that you will have to narrow it down somehow! While many factors may influence your decision to relocate, if pay caught your eye, we did the hard part for you. Qualified nurses are in demand across the country, making it a great time to be a travel RN. You can choose opportunities that match your career goals and travel interests and work in the highest-paying states for travel nurses. States offering the best pay for RNs are among the most expensive places to live in the country, but luckily, travel nurses can offset some costs with benefits such as free housing and travel reimbursement.
What kind of salaries do nurses earn?
The average annual wage for nurses in the United States is $75,510, according to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but this varies by state from $58,340 to more than $106,000. The difference is due to factors such as cost of living and local supply and demand for nurses. Salaries also vary within each state based on a particular facility’s budget, the nursing specialty and your experience and qualifications. Here are the country’s five highest-paying states for travel nurses.
Here are five states, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, where nurses can earn the highest salaries.
California’s gorgeous scenery and climate make it an optimal destination year-round. You can hang out in cool, vibrant cities or explore beautiful beaches, forests, deserts and mountains.
Nurses in the Golden State earn an average annual salary of $106,950, the highest in the country. A travel med-surg nurse in San Francisco can earn up to $42 per hour. A travel pediatric nurse in Los Angeles earns about $50 per hour and a travel OR nurse in Fresno can top $60 per hour.
California is ranked seventh-best in the nation for healthcare by U.S. News and offers rewarding opportunities for RNs. A job at a respected facility such as UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco or UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles looks great on a resume.
If you’re an RN looking to move to or stay on the west coast, you might hit two birds with one stone by picking the Golden State as your residence. California ranks number one in annual registered nursing pay and usually has a slew of job openings. San Francisco has almost as many healthcare jobs as tech jobs. And if you’re a travel nurse, you can bet your best pair of scrubs there will be a job for you in California (LA in particular).
Pros: California truly has something for everyone. You will be a hop, skip, and a jump away from the avant garde culture of San Francisco, the glamorous draw of LA, and the beauty of Big Sur. The weather is hot to temperate, depending on where to you live, and the attractions and events are too numerous to mention, which will keep you and your family very busy on the weekends.
Cons: Traffic is a nightmare (again, depending where you live) and could affect your daily commute. Some areas, like LA, are plagued by air pollution, and the cost of living is above average there, and nearing New York-levels in San Francisco.
Hawaii boasts the country’s best healthcare system based on access, quality and overall health of the population. Most of us dream of living in Hawaii. It’s the ultimate vacation destination because of its blue waters, trade winds, and comfortable temperatures (minus the rain season). You’re never more than a few miles from the beach, and every island has a lush, tropical side. Best of all, nurses in Hawaii can enjoy a higher average salary than most of their continental counterparts
RNs in this state earn an average of $98,080 per year, the second highest in the country. Travel nurses in Hawaii earn in the range of $30 to $42 per hour in specialties such as med-surg, oncology, telemetry and the ER. An RFNA or case management nurse may earn up to $47.50 per hour.
It’s easy to love the lifestyle in this picture-perfect destination. You can go snorkeling, diving, parasailing and fishing. When you’re ready to relax, set up a blanket under the palm trees and watch the sunset.
Pros: It’s beautiful, secluded, and warm with marine life and beaches for miles! Your friends and family would love to visit, and the state ranked #1 on the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. That means Hawaii may be home to the happiest people in America — or at least the largest percentage of them.
Cons: Hawaii can seem picture perfect, but the view is a little obscured by the cost of living. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center reported that, as of 2015, Hawaii is one of the most expensive states in which to live. It’s not surprising, considering most food and goods need to be imported.
Ranked as one of the top eight states in the country to live in, Massachusetts offers a little of everything. You can hit the slopes at a ski resort, enjoy the sea breeze on the coast, discover vibrant city living and explore charming rural towns. As a registered nurse, Massachusetts might not be on your radar, especially if you’re not from the east coast.
It’s also one of the highest-paying states for travel nurses. Staff nurses earn an average of $92,140 per year. Travel nurses in Massachusetts can earn about $31 to $48 per hour. Hospitals such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General consistently rank highly.
Massachusetts has pending legislation for the Nursing Licensure Compact, meaning RNs may soon be able to practice there with a multistate license.
Pros: Massachusetts is one of the oldest states in the U.S., officially admitted into statehood in February 1788. With its age comes a lot of culture, lovely architecture, history, and diversity. Its citizens are very passionate about their sports teams, so if you love a good baseball game, you’ll feel right at home…as long as you’re not a Yankees fan.
Cons: If you prefer surf over snow, Massachusetts might not be the state for you to move to as a nurse. While Bostonians enjoy warm summers, their winters can be cold and snowy, with an average snowfall in Boston of about 43.8 inches. (Snowfall in Springfield, Lowell, and Worcester areas can reach as high 43.2,51.9, and 64.1 inches a year, respectively.)
Alaska is known for its vast wilderness, diverse wildlife, and function-over-fashion lifestyle. If you’re champing at the bit to leave the city life behind, you’ll be happy to note that the mean salary for nurses is $85,740. If you’re looking to expand your horizon and become a nurse practitioner, Alaskan laws also favor NPs, who have more freedom and autonomy over prescribing, diagnosing, and treating patients than other states.
Pros: Your high nursing salary will receive a boost after you’ve lived in Alaska for a full calendar year. Called the Permanent Fund Dividend, Alaskans receive an extra $2,000, give or take, every year. Additionally, if you’re tired of over-congested cities, Alaska might be your safe haven, where there’s one person per square mile.
Cons: Speaking of population, there are fewer than 10 cities in Alaska with a population of over 10,000 people. Small, rural towns, a high cost of living, and a lot of cold days and nights are the norm here, which could be a blessing or a curse depending on your lifestyle. Also, they don’t call it the “Land of the Midnight Sun” for nothing!
The fifth highest-paying state for nurses is Oregon, with an average annual salary of $91,080. Travel nurse salaries in Oregon range from $32.50 to $35 per hour for a med-surg nurse in Medford, $35 to $40 per hour for an L&D nurse in Seaside and $50 to $55 per hour for a PACU nurse in Portland.
Travel nurses who enjoy the outdoors can spend time exploring the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood, Crater Lake and beautiful towns along the coast. Oregon has a bustling healthcare community, and cities like Salem, Springfield-Eugene, and Portland have seen considerable growth in nursing demand in the past few years.
Considering that the cost of living in the majority of the state (Portland as the exception) is relatively low, you can carve out a pretty good living in Oregon as an RN.
Pros: With the ocean and beautiful mountains in close proximity, not to mention hikes and bike trails galore, Oregon is a mecca for those who love the outdoors. Portland is a buzz with arts, music, food, and, of course, everything weird.
Cons: The rain. So much rain.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget about all that Utah has to offer! It’s a beautiful place to live and lay down some roots. Utah didn’t make the cut among the five highest paying states for nurses, but the job market in Utah is strong, it’s a safe place to raise a family, and you can get a quality nursing education in as little as two years.