Top U.S. states to be a nurse in 2012

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Either you’re reading this article with a smug grin on your face (you just know you’re going to find your state listed here) or you’re suffering from a bit of “Grass Is Always Greener” Syndrome.

Whatever the case may be, we took a look at the data from all over the country about where nurses are faring best. From the highest salaries to most favorable nurse-to-patient ratios, we found out which of your neighbors are living the good nursing life. In fact, we’ve been conducting an informal poll on the Code Happy app to gauge where nurses are happiest! So far, we’ve heard from 941 “happy” and “extremely happy” nurses. Find out where they work and live!

Surf’s up! First of all, the salary can’t be beat for nurses in this sun-kissed state. According to Physician’s Practice, the average salary for registered nurses at all levels of experience is $61,283 per year. In addition, California is ranked number one in the nation for hourly nurse wages. California is also among the top five states expected to see job growth in the profession through 2020.

That’s all great, but what’s it like to work there? According to our Code Happy app, 14 percent of all nurses who reported to be happy are working in California. Part of the reason for the overwhelmingly happy results may have to do with the low nurse-to-patient ratios that have been in effect since 2004. In fact, Via Palo Alto near San Francisco is rated one of the best hospitals in the country for these favorable regulations. Oh yeah, and the weather is kind of incredible here.

Everything is bigger in Texas…including the smile on a nurse’s face. We chose Texas as one of the top three destinations for nurses in the U.S. for the educational diversity, variety of job opportunities and the higher-than-average nurse wages.

Some other reasons to put on your cowgirl hat? Texas hospitals rank above the national average for patient satisfaction. Happy patients equal happy nurses, right? Of the nurses who participated in our happiness poll, 86 of them (9 percent of total respondents) were from Texas.

New York
The salaries in the Northeast are nuthin’ to sneeze at. The average salary for a nurse in this region is $59,329 per year. Nurses in New York, in fact, have the fourth highest hourly salary in the country, and LPNs have the second highest hourly wage in the U.S. It’s also third in the country for CNA wages.

New York boasts several facilities that are ranked high for excellent nurse-to-patient ratios. St. Mary’s Center, Inc., Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center and Robert Mapplethorpe Residential Treatment Facility are all highly coveted facilities to work for because of this factor. If you’re a psychiatric nurse, this specialty is in high demand in The Big Apple. Did we mention that NY is among the top five states for projected job growth in the country?

Although in our Code Happy poll, just 41 nurses (4 percent of total respondents) reported in that they were happy or extremely happy, I think we can all guess that this number is a low ball figure, right? I mean, really, what self-respecting New Yorker admits to being “extremely happy”? Yeah.

More top states where nurses are whistlin’ while they work:

Top happy status update: “I love my job!”

Top happy status update: “No work today. ALL PLAY.”

New Jersey
Top happy status update: “I can’t wait to start my new job!”

North Carolina
Top happy status update: “I love my workplace!”

Find out what nurses in your area are saying this week! Download Scrubs’ Code Happy app to your Android or iPhone. You’ll also get a daily dose of humor, inspiration and more information about salary, benefits and more reasons why nurses are loving their workplace. Don’t forget to upload your status update to enter our happiness poll!

Where do you work as a nurse? Should your state be on our short list?

Physician’s Practice, 2012 Staff Salary Survey, April 2012
Scrubs Magazine’s Code Happy App


Lynda Lampert

Lynda Lampert is a registered nurse and a certified third shift worker. She has worked with many different patient populations, including post-op open heart, post-op gastric bypass, active chest pain, congestive heart failure, poorly controlled diabetics and telemetry 'wonders'. She now focuses all of her effort on educating the populace -- both the nursing world and the normal folk -- through her web writing. She hopes one day to publish another romance novel, travel to England and become a web rock star. She feels she is on her way . . . mostly. You can learn more about Lynda and her work at

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8 Responses to Top U.S. states to be a nurse in 2012

  1. Wendy Grable RN

    I don’t feel the pay in California and New York is all that great compared to the cost of living. Especially when I don’t make that much less and the cost of living in Ohio is extremely low. Ohio ranks 16th while California and New York rank 46th and 48th, respectively. Texas on the other hand may be a great place to live and work as a nurse since nurses state they are happy there and Texas ranks 7th on the cost of living index. Just my opinion.


    • I do like living here in California, but Thanks God my wife has a job and our kids are grown up, because, I agree, the cost of living here is really high-but then I am not spending tons of money on heating my house like I was in Minnesota for 6 months out of the year. Cost of living in Texas is pretty reasonable-no arguement with that.

  2. Pingback: New York City Nurses Make Less than You Think | NYC Cost of Living | Nurse Gail

  3. Most nurses in New York State work in a Manhattan hospital. I live and work in Manhattan and I can assure you that 4% is not “a low ball figure.” The lives of New York City hospital nurses are compromised by the high cost of living. Living with roommates, moving to an outer borough, and getting a second job can alleviate financial stress but will make for a stressful life. Seeking employment at a non-union hospital (New York Presbyterian Cornell, Hospital for Special Surgery, Memorial Sloan Kettering) can allow some negotiation in salary. But in general, nurses choosing to live and work in Manhattan must truly enjoy New Yorkers, the city and nursing because there is nothing to love about the pay.

  4. cathyhil

    I cannot believe Texas made the list. I worked there for 8 years before “escaping” to the Seattle area. Low pay, low staff morale, high ratios, lack of management support, and that was at a plethora of hospitals in the cities I lived I in. Having spoken with other ex-Texas RNs I know I am not alone. Western Washington, on the other hand, has great pay, strong support backed up by unions, and is a much happier and safer place to work. I miss so much about TX, but working conditions for nurses is definitely not one of them.

    • I worked at the VA in Dallas, and I have to say, the staffing levels in Texas were just plain unsafe-for both nurses and patients.

  5. I moved here to LA from Minnesota over a year ago. I have to say, I am happy I came here. The weather IS fantastic. I do think that nursing seems to have a bit more political clout here compared to Minnesota.

  6. j3marti5

    it’s not the state of Michigan, three major healthcare corporations have put the smack down on pay; making the most for themselves and less for us. Read:
    its likely to happen in other places too.