This year, National Nurses Week is May 6-12, so it’s time to celebrate those unsung heroes who help keep us well and take care of us when we’re sick or injured.
Nursing is a demanding job, but nurses in some areas of the country are better compensated than others. Nationwide, the mean hourly wage for a registered nurse is $36.30, and the mean annual RN salary is $75,510. In some cities, however, they can earn considerably more, often because the cost of living is higher or there’s a shortage of nurses in the area. Here are the average annual salaries for registered nurses in 30 metropolitan areas so you can see where it pays to be a nurse.
30. Denver: $75,340
Denver is home to UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Other local hospitals include the Medical Center of Aurora and Porter Adventist Hospital. Denver is the only area in the top 30 cities where nurses are paid less than the national average. The Denver metro area includes Aurora and Lakewood.
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29. Charleston, South Carolina: $75,780
Nurses in Charleston make slightly more than the national average, but the cost of living is also 4% higher than the U.S. average, so you might not want to pack up and move there if you’re a nurse looking to build your savings. Charleston is home to Roper St. Francis Hospital and MUSC Health — University Medical Center.
28. Philadelphia: $77,680
Nurses in Philadelphia earn about 3% more than the national average. It will cost you about 17% more than average to live in the City of Brotherly Love, however. This metro area includes Camden and Wilmington, plus New Jersey and Delaware, and surrounding towns in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. Hospitals in the area include the Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania — Penn Presbyterian and the Nemours Children’s Health System.
27. Chicago: $77,710
If you’re working as a nurse in Chicago, you’re making about 3% more than the average nurse in the U.S., but you’re also paying about 23% more to live in the Windy City. The greater Chicago area includes Naperville, Elgin and surrounding towns. Major hospitals include Northwestern Memorial, Rush University Medical Center and University of Chicago Medical Center.
26. Baltimore: $77,920
In Baltimore, nurses make about 3% more than average, but the cost of living is 17% higher. Hospitals in the Baltimore area include the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center, both of which are well-respected teaching hospitals. The area includes Columbia, Towson and surrounding towns.
25. Phoenix: $78,080
Phoenix is home to the Mayo Clinic-Phoenix, an outpost of the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Nurses in the Phoenix area are paid 3.4% more than the national average, and the cost of living is 5% lower than average, so Phoenix is a win-win choice for nurses. The greater Phoenix area includes Mesa, Scottsdale and other nearby towns.
24. Providence, Rhode Island: $78,300
Nurses in Providence earn 3.7% more than the national average, but the cost of living is 22% higher. The greater Providence area includes Warwick, Rhode Island and surrounding towns in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. The area is home to Butler Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Southcoast Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts.
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23. Madison, Wisconsin: $79,810
In Madison, the average salary for an RN is 5.7% higher than the national average, and the cost of living is 7% higher. Hospitals in Madison include UW Health University Hospital.
22. Houston: $80,160
Nurses in Houston earn 6.1% more than the national average, and the cost of living is 2% lower than average, making the city appealing to nursing professionals. Hospitals and medical centers in the area include Houston Methodist Hospital and Baylor St. Luke’s Hospital. The metro Houston area includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land.
21. Hartford, Connecticut: $80,240
The average nurse’s salary in Hartford is 6.2% higher, but the cost of living is also 17% more than the national average. Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center are large employers in the area.
20. Springfield, Massachusetts: $80,370
The Springfield metro area includes towns in western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut. Major hospitals in the area include Baystate Medical Center, Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children. Nurses in this area earn 6.4% higher salaries than the national average.
19. Washington: $81,470
With an average nursing salary that’s 7.9% higher than the country as a whole and a cost of living that’s 39% higher than average, the nation’s capital might not be a bargain for nurses. However, you’ll find notable hospitals such as MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Virginia Hospital Center and Holy Cross Hospital — Silver Spring. The Washington metro area includes Arlington, Virginia; Alexandria, Virginia; and surrounding towns in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.
18. New Haven, Connecticut: $83,250
New Haven is home to Yale University, and Yale New Haven Hospital is a highly regarded teaching hospital. It’s the main teaching facility for the Yale School of Nursing and the Yale School of Medicine. Nurses in New Haven earn 10.2% more than the national average.
17. Bridgeport, Connecticut: $83,290
Nurses in Bridgeport earn 10% more than the national average, and the cost of living is just 4% higher, so this is a good area for nurses. Greater Bridgeport is home to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Stamford Hospital and Silver Hill Hospital. The Bridgeport metro area includes Stamford and Norwalk.
16. Minneapolis: $83,520
It will cost you 5% more than the national average to live in Minneapolis, but if you’re in the nursing profession, you’ll get paid 10.6% more than your average colleague. Major hospitals include Abbot Northwestern and Mercy Hospital, as well as the Mayo Clinic, which is a 90-minute drive from the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis metro area includes St. Paul, Bloomington and surrounding towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
15. Seattle: $85,840
Nurses in Seattle earn 13.6% more than the national average, but the cost of living is also 49% higher there. You’ll find hospitals such as Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and University of Washington Medical Center. The Seattle metro area includes Tacoma and Bellevue.
14. Worcester, Massachusetts: $86,420
Nurses in Worcester earn 14.4% more than the national average, and the cost of living is 18% higher, so this is a fairly decent area for nurses. The greater Worcester area, which is home to UMass Memorial Medical Center, includes central Massachusetts and north-central Connecticut.
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13. Las Vegas: $87,920
Nurses in Las Vegas earn 16.4% more than the national average, and the cost of living is just 3% higher, so it’s a good location for those professionals. The Las Vegas metro area includes Henderson and Paradise.
12. New York: $91,160
Nurses in New York earn 20.7% more than the national average. The Big Apple is home to Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, New York Presbyterian Hospital — Columbia and Cornell. The New York metro area includes Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey, as well as surrounding towns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
11. Bakersfield, California: $92,110
In Bakersfield, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, nurses earn 22% more than the national average. Hospitals in Bakersfield and the surrounding area include Adventist Health Bakersfield, Bakersfield Heart Hospital and Kern Medical Center.
10. Portland, Oregon: $93,570
Nurses in Portland earn 23.9% more than the national average. The greater Portland area includes Vancouver, Washington, Hillsboro, Oregon and surrounding towns in Oregon and Washington. Area hospitals include OHSU Hospital and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.
9. Boston: $95,270
Boston is a mecca for healthcare, and nurses can work at well-respected hospitals like Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Nurse pay is 26% above the national average, but the cost of living is also 48% higher. The Boston metro area includes Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Nashua, New Hampshire.
8. Fresno, California: $96,900
Compared to many other cities in California, Fresno is relatively affordable. The cost of living is just 6% higher than the national average, and nurses are paid nearly 28% more than average. This makes Fresno a smart choice for nurses.
7. San Diego: $98,440
Nurses in San Diego earn 27.7% more than the national average, but you’ll pay 44% more to live in this city compared to the average cost of living in the U.S. Besides beautiful weather and beaches, San Diego boasts hospitals including Scripps La Jolla Hospital and UC San Diego Health — Jacobs Medical Center.
Who wouldn’t want to live and work in beautiful Hawaii? Nurses are well-paid here, at 32% more than the national average, but the cost of living is 88% higher. Honolulu is home to Hawaii State Hospital and Queen’s Medical Center.
5. Los Angeles: $99,930
Coming in at just under $100,000, the average nursing salary in Los Angeles is 32.3% higher than the national average. However, the cost of living in Los Angeles is also 43% above the national average. Notable hospitals in the City of Angels include UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
4. Riverside, California: $101,830
Nurses in Riverside earn 34.9% more than the national average. Hospitals in the area include Loma Linda University Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center. The Riverside metro area includes San Bernadino and Ontario.
3. Sacramento, California: $120,530
Earning 59% more than the national average for a nurse’s salary, RNs at Mercy General, UC Davis Medical Center and other healthcare providers in the Sacramento area do well. When you factor in the cost of living — which is just 17% higher than the national average — you can see that this area is a win-win choice for nurses. The Sacramento metro area includes Roseville and Arden-Arcade.
2. San Jose, California: $128,610
Nurses at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Stanford Health Care, El Camino Hospital and other medical centers in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and surrounding towns earn nearly 70% more than the average nurse in the U.S. This area has a high cost of living at 49% more than average, but nurses looking to relocate would be wise to consider San Jose.
1. San Francisco: $128,990
Nurses in the San Francisco area earn 70% more than the national average. But before you pack your bags, you should know that the cost of living is 80% higher than the national average. The greater San Francisco area includes Oakland, Hayward and surrounding towns, and hospitals in the area include UCSF Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center.
How To Make More Money as a Nurse
If you’re a registered nurse or planning to become one, here are some ways to maximize your earning potential:
Move to California
Of the 30 areas that pay the highest salaries for nurses, the top five — and seven of the top eight — are in California. The cost of living is also higher in the Golden State, but the average RN salary outpaces that. Surprisingly, Florida — even with all of its senior care and nursing facilities — doesn’t crack the top 30 at all.
Work In an Outpatient Care Center or Hospital
The mean annual salary nationwide for nurses who work in an outpatient care center is $79,230. For those who work in a medical surgical hospital, it’s $77,730. Those who work in skilled nursing care facilities make about $10,000 less per year, with an average salary of just $67,370.
Work per Diem
In order to keep hospitals fully staffed during busy periods — or because there’s a shortage of nurses in a particular area — many hospitals will hire nurses on a per diem, or by-the-day, basis. In high-demand areas like San Francisco, a nurse can earn $70-$100 per hour working per diem. These nurses typically don’t get benefits, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to work a certain number of hours. But many nurses who don’t want to work full time year-round will choose per diem work so they can earn the equivalent of a month’s salary for a full-time nurse in a week or less.
Keep reading to find out where nurses rank among the highest- and lowest-paying jobs in healthcare.
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Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States by population to find the 30 cities with the highest-paid nurses. GOBankingRates took the May 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics and filtered for the occupation title “registered nurses.” The final ranking was decided by ranking the mean annual wage for each metropolitan area.
About the Author
Karen Doyle is a Boston-based writer specializing in personal finance, technology, marketing, health and wellness, and parenting. She has over 20 years’ experience writing for publications including Property Casualty 360, National Underwriter, MD News, and others. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Boston College and worked as a financial advisor, with Series 7 and 63 licenses, for several years.