5 States with the Highest (& Lowest) Nursing Salary

5 States with the Highest (& Lowest) Nursing Salary

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
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Like many other industries, compensation for nurses varies by location. It is not just because of standard cost-of-living adjustments, but also a matter of supply and demand. Amid a national nursing shortage leaving hospitals starved for talent, compensation packages are becoming increasingly more competitive, along with other incentives like hefty sign-on and retention bonuses.


According to Zip Recruiter,( as of February 2023), the median annual RN salary is $106,030 per year, and approximately $50.98 an hour, $2,039/week, or $8,835/month. Travel registered nursing salaries currently range between $80,000 to $127,500 depending on location and specialty, with top-paying nursing jobs in the top 10th percentile making $150,500 annually. The average RN salary pays comparatively well when considering other occupations in the United States.

Whether you want to try out a new location with a travel nurse gig or increase your income, you may want to consider a contract in one of the states with the highest registered nurse salary. Health Carousel Travel Nursing has identified the states with the 5 highest paid nursing jobs and the 5 lowest-paying registered nursing salaries.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 5 highest nursing salary by state includes:

California $ 124,000

Hawaii $ 106,530

Oregon $ 98,630

District of Columbia $ 98,540

Alaska $ 97,230

California and Hawaii have a significantly higher salary than the national average for RNs. They also has a high cost of living, which can offset some of the higher salaries.

The 5 lowest median annual salary states largely include the south and midwest:

South Dakota $60,540

Alabama $61,920

Mississippi $63,130

Iowa $64,990

Arkansas $65,810

The average annual salary for RNs in South Dakota is significantly lower than the national average for RNs. All of these states are either significantly lower or below the national average . If you are looking for assignments with the highest paid nursing jobs you may want to avoid working in these states.

Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, has the lowest-paying registered nursing salaries at $35,690. There is a wide range in the median annual RN salary in many states throughout the United States.

It's important to note that these salary figures can vary depending on a nurse's specialty, level of experience, and location within the state. For example nurse midwives make significantly more than med-surg nurses. Additionally, factors such as cost of living and demand for healthcare services can impact overall job opportunities and earning potential.

When considering a travel nursing contract in one of the highest paying states, you should also carefully consider the amount of money needed to cover essentials, including housing, transportation, utilities, taxes, food, and childcare.

While future employment prospects for nurses remain promising, some states offer better job opportunities, higher salaries, more favorable work environments, and a better quality of life.

By comparing salaries, employment opportunities, and cost of living, you can choose the best fit for your professional and personal needs.

What to Consider Before Becoming a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses require similar credentials and qualifications as staff registered nurses. Before becoming a travel nurse, it's important to consider education and licensing requirements, nursing experience, salary, and personality. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering becoming a travel nurse:

  • Education and Licensing Requirements: Travel nurses must hold an active RN license in the state where they plan to work. They should also have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, although some facilities may still accept an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Most nurses are eligible to have a certification exam administered in their specialty with 2-3 years of experience. Becoming certified in your specialty will help acquire the highest-paid nursing jobs.
  • Professional Experience: Most travel nursing agencies require a minimum of one to two years of professional experience working in a clinical setting before becoming a travel nurse. Travel nurses do not receive extensive orientations and must be able to practice independently. They are expected to be able to step into a new facility right away.
  • Personal Qualifications: Travel nurses should be adaptable and able to work in various clinical settings. They should also have excellent communication and critical thinking skills. You will need to be comfortable with change and be able to adapt quickly in new environments.
  • Lifestyle: Travel nursing requires a willingness to move frequently and live in different cities or states for extended periods. It can be an exciting opportunity to explore new places, but it may also require significant flexibility and independence to travel and live alone. You will need to be comfortable with frequent travel. Your travel nurse recruiter will help you find housing and the logistics of travel but you will need to be willing to get to know new cities every few months. Consider how traveling fits into your overall lifestyle and long-term career goals. Some nurses travel with their family, you will want to plan for how you will balance your work and family/personal life.
  • Contract Negotiation: Travel nurses are employed through a travel nursing agency, so it's imperative to understand the terms of your travel nursing contract before accepting a position. Consider factors such as pay rates, benefits, housing, and the length of the contract. Travel nursing agencies usually offer benefits, such as health insurance but paid time off and retirement plans often vary depending on the agency and individual contract. Speak to your travel nurse recruiter to find out what benefits are available to you and how that will affect your professional career and retirement planning.
  • Legal Considerations: Travel nurses may need to acquire additional licenses or certifications depending on the state or facility where they work. The legal requirements for practicing nursing vary in different locations. Your travel nurse recruiter can help you with all the logistics and requirements of your travel assignment contract.
  • Salary: Travel nurse salaries can vary based on factors such as cost of living, demand for nurses, and local labor markets in the area. Research the median annual salary in the location that you are interested in before accepting an assignment. Decide whether having one of the highest paid nursing jobs is more important to you versus the location to be able to explore.

What Does a Travel Nurse's Schedule Look Like?

A travel nurse's schedule can vary depending on their assignment and the needs of the facility they are working in. Travel nurses typically work 13-week assignments, although this can vary from 8 to 26 weeks. During this time, they usually work three 12-hour shifts per week, but shift hours and days of the week can vary depending on the facility's needs. Travel nurses may be contracted to work day, evening, or night shifts. The number of hours a travel nurse works depends on what was agreed upon in the contract, but most travel nurses work between 36-48 hours per week.

Some travel nurses prefer to take back-to-back assignments to maximize their median annual salary and minimize downtime. However, some travel nurses may take time off to travel or visit family and friends in between contracts. It's important to note that travel nurses often work on short notice and may need to be available to work overtime or fill in for other nurses who are sick or on vacation. They may also be required to work weekends, holidays, and night shifts. The schedule of a travel nurse can be demanding, but it also offers a great deal of flexibility and the opportunity to explore new places.

Learn More about Starting Your Travel Nursing Career

Health Carousel Travel Nursing offers full circle support to help travel nurses start their careers and improve their median annual salary. We offer comprehensive benefits packages and encourage our travel nurses to make smart financial investments. Health Carousel Travel Nursing recruiters are well-versed in what it takes to become a travel nurse, travel nursing salaries and which states offer the highest pay.

HCTN has created an On Demand app to make it easy to see how much you could earn each week with our travel registered nurse jobs. Download the app to view available contracts and create a profile to start your travel nursing career today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What state do nurses get paid the most?

The 10 highest paying cities are all in California, making it one of the highest-paying states. California has the highest paying median annual salary at an average annual wage of $124,000. Keep in mind that the cost of living is high in California, so while the salary is higher, your take-home pay may not be maximized in this state.

Which state pays nurses the least?

South Dakota is known to have the lowest nursing salary compared to any other state at an average annual wage of $60,540. The cost of living is low in South Dakota, so while pay is lower than in any other state, you may be able to maximize your salary there if it is an are that you are interested in checking out or living in.

What kind of nurse makes 100k a year?

The chances of making $100k as a nurse are very high when considering the median annual salary of a travel nurse ranges from $80,000 to $127,500. Registered nurses in California typically make 6 figures a year in the current labor market. Other nurses making 100k include clinical nurse specialists, legal nurse consultants, and advanced practice nurses. Travel nurses in the top 10th percentile are making about $150k in their registered nurse jobs, depending on where their assignment is located.

Consider becoming an advanced practice registered nurse if you want to further increase your salary. Nurse practitioners make anywhere from $100-200k a year. These types of advanced practice nurses have top-paying nursing jobs once they have a certification exam administered and apply for their nurse practitioner certification. Advanced practice registered nurses include oncology nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, cardiac nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurse specialists, general nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, pediatric nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners, neonatal nurse practitioners, and gerontological nurse practitioners. The highest paying nursing career is a certified registered nurse anesthetist with a salary often reaching $200k.

What is the best state to live in as a nurse?

The best state to live in varies for each nurse depending on their preferences and interests. Nurses may choose to live in states for reasons other than monetary gain. You may want to live somewhere because of the climate, culture, proximity to family or friends, or access to your hobbies and interests.

California is the highest-paying state and also has strict nurse-to-patient ratios making it one of the best states to live in as a nurse. The highest paying jobs for nurses offset some of the higher costs of living.

Nurse Bio

Lauren Rivera is a nationally certified neonatal intensive care nurse with over 15 years of experience. She serves as a nurse expert offering support and educational classes for women from preconception through childhood. Lauren is also a freelance health and wellness writer with works published on several nursing sites. She develops and curates content for various healthcare companies, and writes continuing education modules for other healthcare professionals.


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Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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