Nurse Lifestyle

Top 10 Highest Paying States for Nurses

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Are you a nurse looking to maximize your earning potential while providing exceptional patient care? You’re in the right place! In this article, we’ll explore the highest-paying states for nurses in the United States.

Whether you’re an experienced RN or just starting your nursing career, understanding which states offer the most competitive salaries can be a game-changer. Join us as we unveil the most lucrative destinations to increase your annual salary.

Factors that Affect Nurse Salaries

Your Nursing Degree

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses with a master’s degree in fields such as Nurse Anesthetics, Nurse midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, had an estimated income for 2022 of $125,900 per year, or $60.53 per hour. That makes them among some of the highest-paid nurses.

In contrast, Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses had an estimated income of $54,620 per year, or $26.26 per hour. Nurses with an LPN or LVN license typically have an associate’s degree or less.

As you can see from the examples, the more specialized your education, the higher the average salary. Therefore, an Associate Degree Nurse will usually earn less than a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In addition, a BSN-prepared nurse has less earning power than a Master’s prepared nurse.

Your Nursing Specialty

Different types of nurses command different nursing salaries. Some nursing specialties pay more than others. For example, critical care settings such as the intensive care unit (ICU), emergency room (ER), or critical care unit (CCU) will often make more per hour. This can have a big impact on a nursing salary.

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Your Experience

In addition to specialization, gaining years of experience is a great strategy to increase your annual wage. In addition to being able to list this work experience on your resume, you’ll have many opportunities to make good professional connections. These connections can provide referrals and references to help you apply for higher-paying positions.

Your Employment Status

Nurses employed in a traditional nursing role as full-time staff at a healthcare facility, often command the lowest salaries. In contrast, nurses who pursue travel nursing, agency nursing, PRN (or per diem) nursing can increase their salaries drastically.

The State You Work In

States can be ranked according to the average wage. Still, you must also consider the cost of living. These factors include the cost of housing, food, transportation, child care (if you have kids), medical insurance, and entertainment, just to name a few. The cost of living can vary greatly from state to state. Obtaining a higher quality of life comes from a balance between the cost of living of where you are located and your earning power.

For example, even though nurses in New York City might earn over $100,000 a year, the average 1-bedroom apartment is $4,195. In contrast, a nurse could work in Tennessee and earn $65,000 a year, but a 1 bedroom apartment is only $1660 a month.

Workload and Responsibility

Something you should evaluate when looking for higher pay is the responsibilities and workload of every job you are applying for. Be sure to evaluate your skills and ability to cope with stress or fast-paced environments to be successful and healthy while performing the job’s tasks.

Interests and Vocation

You want the most pay for the best quality of life. So it’s best to attempt to maximize your salary by doing something that you enjoy. This will help you stay motivated and committed. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable working in an OR around blood and guts, you probably shouldn’t pursue a career to become a Nurse Anesthetist, even if this job has one of the highest rates in the market.

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Current Average Wage for a Nurse

According to the following data, nurses can earn between $61,150 and $129,400 per year, depending on their level of education, nursing certifications, experience, and the state in which they work.

Percentile 10% 25% 50%
(Median)
75% 90%
Hourly Wage $ 29.45 $ 32.06 $ 39.05 $ 48.60 $ 62.21
Annual Wage  $ 61,250 $ 66,680 $ 81,220 $ 101,100 $ 129,400
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2022.

Recent nursing graduates typically earn salaries in the 10th percentile in their state. In contrast, nurses with more years of experience and specializations can reach closer to the 90th percentile.

Top 10 Highest Paying States for Nurses

Rank State Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
1 California $64.10 $133,340
2 Hawaii $54.43 $113,220
3 Oregón $51.26 $106,610
4 Massachusetts $50.07 $104,150
5 Alaska $49.67 $103,310
6 Washington $48.88 $101,670
7 New York $48.14 $100,130
8 District of Columbia $47.23 $98,230
9 New Jersey $46.48 $96,670
10 Nevada $46.3 $96,310
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2022. In this source, you can also find a list of the top-paying metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.

Before moving to a different state, and accepting a job offer there, I advise you to ask about the possibility of signing bonuses, relocation assistance, and comprehensive healthcare packages to make the move worth your while.

The Cost of Living in The Top 10 States

As we’ve already outlined, sometimes, a high-paying state comes with higher living expenses. The following data can be helpful to compare basic expenses versus full-time nurse job earnings.

The rank of higher payment State Livable wage* Cost Index Living Ranking**
1 California $21.82 4
2 Hawaii $21.99 1
3 Oregon $19.51 8
4 Massachusetts $21.88 3
5 Alaska $16.72 6
6 Washington $18.54 13
7 New York $21.99 5
8 District of Columbia $23.13 2
9 New Jersey $20.57 15
10 Nevada $16.24 20
Source: WiseVoter

*Estimated living wage for one adult without a child (hourly rate).
** Rank of the cost of living among all the states, being #1 the most expensive. The cost of living uses over 60 goods and services collected at the local level.

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As you can see, these numbers show that perhaps Nevada is becoming more attractive to the healthcare industry. It’s important to remember that most of those states ranked as the highest paying states for nurses are also categorized as having the highest cost of living, and that’s why the pay rate is higher there.

Promising States with Anticipated High Demand for Nurses

In addition to job outlook, another critical factor to consider is the number of employers actively seeking nurses in each state, which can translate into more job opportunities. According to data from Projections Central, the following states are poised to offer the most promising employment prospects, signaling a substantial surge in demand for nurses from 2020 to 2030:

  • California: Projections indicate an impressive growth of 21,200 nursing positions.
  • Texas: Anticipates a substantial increase of 16,210 nursing positions
  • New York: Expects to see a significant addition of 14,430 new nursing positions.
  • Florida: Forecasts a substantial demand increase of 13,250 nursing positions.
  • Pennsylvania: Envisions a notable growth of 9,280 nursing positions.

The Highest-Paid Nurse Jobs

In my article What are the Highest Paid Nurses, you can find an explanation of some of the highest-paid nurse jobs, including executive jobs for nurses, clinical jobs for nurses, and administrative jobs for nurses with their corresponding salary range.

Remember that the more specialized you become, the more you can earn. If you are not able to relocate, changing your specialty may be an option. Some of the highest-paying nursing careers are:

  • Healthcare Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • Chief Nursing Executive (CNE)
  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)
  • Informatics Nurse
  • Nursing Administrator
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • General Nurse Practitioner
  • Pain Management Nurse
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Neonatal Nurse

If you are a recently graduated nurse or have years of nursing experience, I hope this information serves you and opens a range of new possibilities in your nursing journey.

Choose wisely and analyze all the factors that involve accepting a new job. Your annual salary is not the most important thing about your time in the nursing profession. Your quality of life, your interests, the possibility of planting roots in that state, and proximity to family and friends are also critical decision factors.

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