The Best States to Work as a Nurse

Submitted by Andrew Steger on Thu, 12/23/2021 - 20:44
A map of the united states and the best places to work as a nurse

Whether you wish to work in the ER or in a private clinic, the prospects for nurses are bright.

Currently, there are more than 3.8 million registered nurses—accounting for the largest share of the healthcare workforce. Despite the already existing nursing population, plentiful internship opportunities for future nurses, and programs like online ABSN programs that make becoming a nurse more flexible, there is still significant demand for nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7.2% career growth through 2029, which is faster than the average job labor expansion.

But where is the best state to be a nurse?

This guide will help you narrow down the best options.



What State Pays Nurses the Most?

The average annual salary for an RN is just north of $80,000. But that’s the median yearly wage. Certain states pay up to 50% more than that figure, whereas others fall below that registered nurse salary standard.

According to Incredible Health, the highest paying states for nurses are:

  1. California – Average hourly: $57.96; average RN salary: $120,560

  2. Hawaii – Average hourly: $50.39; average RN salary: $104,830

  3. Massachusetts – Average hourly $46.27; average RN salary: $96,250

  4. Oregon – Average hourly 46.26; average RN salary: $96,230

  5. Alaska – Average hourly $45.80; average RN salary: $95,270

That said, these salaries encompass a wide range of nursing roles and experience, and salary is not the end all be all. When asking which state pays the most, you also have to account for the cost of living index in relation to salary.

Once each state is adjusted for its cost of living index, the list changes slightly:

  1. New Mexico – Average (COL adjusted) RN salary: $84,770

  2. California – Average (COL adjusted) RN salary: $84,663

  3. Texas – Average (COL adjusted) RN salary: $83,478

  4. Nevada – Average (COL adjusted) RN salary: $82,491

  5. Michigan – Average (COL adjusted) RN salary: $81,656

So, a state like Hawaii—which pays well—drops down the list since it has a high cost of living. The cost of living is measured against factors like taxes, housing prices and demand, and the cost of goods.

Which State Has the Highest Demand for Nurses?

As mentioned, employment is projected to grow by 7% over the next decade. There are several reasons for this growth, including:

  • The aging Baby Boomer population

  • An increased emphasis on preventative care

  • More nurses are needed in long-term care facilities and outpatient care centers

  • Increased rate of chronic conditions—particularly, obesity and diabetes

But even as the entire industry faces potential shortages, not all states have the same current need for nurses. Although there are several ways to measure this demand, one way to gauge it would be to go by the nurse-to-state-population ratio.

Nationally, there are an average 12.06 nurses for every 1,000 citizens. The states with the lowest nurse-to-state population ratio are:

  • South Carolina, with an average of 7.89 nurses per 1,000 citizens

  • Nevada, with an average of 9.22

  • California with an average of 9.25

  • Texas with an average of 9.62

  • Georgia with an average of 10.23

Again, this singular metric doesn’t tell the entire story.

According to Registered Nursing, Alaska actually tops the list in terms of looking at the demand projected to be hit in 2030: “Alaska, projected to be short 5,400 RNs, will have the largest percentage of the workforce missing—more than 22% of the needed 23,800 registered nurse positions will be unfilled.”

When taking into account other factors, such as demand, states like Alaska, South Dakota, and New Jersey all enter into the conversation of states that will be eager to hire nursing professionals.

Which State Is the Best for Nurses’ Satisfaction and Happiness?

When considering the best place to work, you must also consider where you want to live and work. For that, a state’s quality of life and overall quality of hospitals — as viewed by nurses themselves — can help rank the most attractive places to be:

  • Minnesota – Quality of life ranking #2, Overall hospital rating by nurses 86%

  • Wisconsin – Quality of life ranking #3, Overall hospital rating by nurses 88%

  • Oregon – Quality of life ranking #18, Overall hospital rating by nurses inconclusive

  • Alaska – Quality of life ranking #19, Overall hospital rating by nurses 78%

  • Colorado – Quality of life ranking #10, Overall hospital rating by nurses 85%

What Are the Three Best States for Nurses?

Now that we’ve accounted for these critical factors, we can begin to rank the best states for nurses to work and live in.

Here are our top 3:

  1. Nevada – The low cost of living, no state income tax, and high projected nursing demand makes Nevada the most desirable state for nurses.

  2. California – Nurses in California not only get paid the highest average nurse salary, they also have an extensive diversity of landscape and living that makes the Gold coast an attractive destination.

  3. Minnesota – With some of the best-ranked hospitals and one of the highest quality of life rankings in the country, Minnesota nurses get paid the national average, which is more than enough when you adjust for a relatively low cost of living.

Nurses’ First Step Toward a Fruitful Career

Does a nursing career interest you? There are plenty of opportunities for people who want to make a difference.

If you already hold a bachelor’s in another field, you can get started in nursing through an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. By enrolling in an online ABSN program at a respected university, you can expedite your journey of becoming a nursing professional and embark on your rewarding career.




Learn more about the job outlook and salary prospects for becoming an RN in our state-highlight blogs:


The content published on our blog is reviewed by credentialed healthcare professionals to give you the most up-to-date and professionally accurate information. This particular article was professionally reviewed by Colleen Sanders, RN, FNP-BC on December 22, 2021.