Healthcare has changed in recent years and the pandemic has significantly impacted what registered nurses prioritize and how they choose jobs. Factors like burnout, staffing ratios, work/life balance, and location, can all impact where RNs want to work. Pay is also an important consideration for nurses when they are job searching.
As a registered nurse, there are permanent staff nurse positions, travel nursing opportunities, and short-term contract work like 13-week assignments and PRN. States will vary in their most in-demand nursing specialties, but RNs are generally needed wherever they go, so they have choices. Let’s look at some considerations to determine the best places to work as a registered nurse.
Registered Nurse Pay
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the more than 3 million registered nurses currently working, the average pay sits around $80,000 annually. Although income alone won’t determine where you want to work, here are the top states as far as hourly and annual wages.
Top 10 States for RN Pay
- California: $57.96 hourly, $120,560 annually
- Hawaii: $50.40 hourly, $104,830 annually
- Massachusetts: $46.27 hourly, $96,250 annually
- Oregon: $46.27 hourly, $96,230 annually
- Alaska: $45.81 hourly, $95,270 annually
- Washington: $43.90 hourly, $91,310 annually
- New York: $43.16 hourly, $89,760 annually
- Nevada: $43.15 hourly, $89,750 annually
- New Jersey: $41.21 hourly, $85,720 annually
- Connecticut: $40.79 hourly, $84,850 annually
Among the lowest paying states are Alabama, South Dakota, and Mississippi. They all clock in under $30 hourly and under $62,000 annually. On the other hand, some of these states may be considered much more affordable.
Most Affordable States for RNs
Top pay is not the only factor to consider when thinking about your paycheck. Many of the highest paying states are also the most expensive to live in. Nurses should consider what areas offer the lowest cost of living to offset how much they’ll need to spend on essentials like housing, groceries, and transportation. Here are the most affordable states according to Experian and the Cost of Living Index published by the Council for Community and Economic Research.
- Mississippi: 6 / 100 average cost of living
- Kansas: 8 / 100 average cost of living
- Oklahoma: 9 / 100 average cost of living
- Alabama: 1 / 100 average cost of living
- Tennessee: 5 / 100 average cost of living
- Arkansas: 8 / 100 average cost of living
- Georgia: 7 / 100 average cost of living
- Indiana: 8 / 100 average cost of living
- Missouri: 4 / 100 average cost of living
- Iowa: 4 / 100 average cost of living
The most affordable states are primarily in the Midwest and South, while the highest cost of living tends to be located on the West and East coasts.
Other Factors to Consider
Overall, nurses will need to think about both earnings and the cost of living to get an accurate understanding of where to look for jobs. Here are a few additional considerations that RNs should include in their research.
- Quality of Life: This can include but is not limited to affordability, infrastructure, public transit, educational system, crime rates, and average household income.
- Hospital Ranking: As a nurse, the reputation of a healthcare facility and the quality of care that patients receive there will factor into a job search.
- Nursing Demand: Although the nursing shortage makes almost everywhere an in-demand location for RNs, it’s definitely something to weigh on a pros and cons list when determining what city or state to work in.
- Licensing: Licensing requirements can impact a nurse’s decision to work in a certain state. Either the time and money it requires to obtain the state license, or whether or not it’s part of the majority of states in the Nurse Licensure Compact that offer reciprocity.
WalletHub recently released a ranking using 21 key metrics to compare nursing job opportunities across all 50 states. Their scores included factors such as opportunity, competition, and work environment. In addition to the states mentioned above ranked for highest pay and most affordable, nurses should also consider some of the top overall ranked states like Maine (#2), New Mexico (#3), Minnesota (#4), New Hampshire (#5). Hover over or click the map below to see WalletHub’s rankings for each state.
Best States Overall for Nurses
Registered Nursing Jobs
Although there is no magic formula to deciding on your perfect location, these lists should help get you started. If you’re ready to take your career to the next level, check out our job portal to see where our current opportunities are. Our expert recruiting team can help you decide what state is best for you to work in based on your individual needs, specialty, and licensing.
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