East Coast vs. West Coast: Which Pays Better RN Salaries?
By Anita Wong, contributor
Nurses are in demand across the United States, providing opportunities to work all over the country. Some of the highest nursing salaries are in the coastal states. Whether you're drawn to the vibrant energy of New York, the seaside charm of Rhode Island, the beaches of Oregon or California's wine country, see how your travel RN salary compares. Discover where you can earn some of the top wages in the nation.
Is West the best?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the average RN salary in the United States as $75,510 per year or $36.30 per hour. Using this as a benchmark, there are 14 states which have an average RN salary above the national mean.
Nurses in sunny California come in at the top of the list, earning an average of $106,950 per year. California is popular year-round for its artsy beach towns, dramatic natural landscape and lively urban centers, but it's also home to prestigious hospitals such as the UCLA Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Stanford Health Care, providing diverse career options for travel nurses in all specialties.
If the gorgeous Oregon coastline or natural wonders of Washington beckon you instead, you can head further north and still find lucrative wages. In fact, all of the states in the Pacific region offer compensation that's higher than most of the rest of the country:
- Oregon: $91,080
- Washington: $82,670
- Hawaii: $98,080
- Alaska: $89,310
Keep in mind that these are averages, and that your specific salary depends on factors such as the demand for nurses in the region, the facility's needs and your experience and qualifications.
High-paying Metropolitan Areas on the West Coast
With California leading the nation in RN wages, it's not surprising to find that the top 10 metropolitan areas for nursing salaries are all in the Golden State.
The average RN salary in San Francisco is second highest in the country at $128,990 per year or $62.01 per hour. The Bay area features distinctive neighborhoods, spectacular views and iconic landmarks and is also home to renowned research and teaching hospital, UCSF Medical Center.
The average annual income for a nurse in other popular California destinations include:
- Salinas: $131,710 (highest in the country)
- San Jose: $128,610
- Sacramento: $120,530
- Los Angeles: $99,930
- San Diego: $98,440
Registered nurses earn an average of $93,570 per year in Portland, Oregon, and $85,840 in Seattle, Washington.
What About States on the East Coast?
While the West Coast offers an enticing array of salaries, there are many lucrative opportunities for registered nurses on the other side of the country as well.
The northeastern United States is brimming with rich history, coastal beauty and world-class museums and theaters. There's also an abundance of professional opportunities at renowned institutions such as Mount Sinai, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Massachusetts General and Boston Children's Hospital.
Massachusetts tops the best-paying states in the East with an average RN salary of $92,140 per year. Other areas with competitive salaries are:
- District of Columbia: $92,350
- New York: $85,610
- New Jersey: $82,750
- Connecticut: $81,220
- Rhode Island: $78,420
- Maryland: $76,820
High-paying Metropolitan Areas on the East Coast
Nurses in Boston enjoy the highest mean earnings on the East Coast. The average RN salary in Boston-Cambridge is $95,270 per year. However, many other urban centers also offer top pay for nursing skills, with average annual salaries as follows:
- New York-Newark-Jersey City: $91,160
- New Haven: $83,250
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria: $81,470
- Hartford: $80,240
- Atlantic City-Hammonton: $80,000
- Providence-Warwick: $78,300
Travel Nursing Lets You Explore Both Coasts
If you can't decide which coast to work on, try both.
Travel nurses are needed all across the country. If you're willing to take on travel assignments, you can earn a travel nurse salary that typically pays more than a staff position. Choose the locations that appeal to you the most and gain experience in different clinical environments. When you're off work, explore the area as if you're on holidays.
Search current opportunities for travel RNs by specialty and location. To receive more tips and information about how to use your nursing skills on the road, sign up for our newsletter.