A Guide to RN Compensation in California

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California is a popular location for HCPs in all levels, and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are no exception. The Golden State is known for its high compensation rates, scenic beach views, and diverse communities. This makes it extremely popular among many HCPs who want to move or find work elsewhere. Even if it is not part of the Nurse Licensure Compact, many HCPs are more than willing to make the move anyway. The process of reciprocity or applying for a new license from scratch is an acceptable price to pay, for all the advantages that California brings to HCPs. If you are interested in working in the Golden State, this complete guide will inform you on everything you need to know about CNA compensation in California.

Exactly how much are RNs paid?

The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the annual compensation for HCPs across the country sits at $81,220 per year. This is a considerable amount, and notably higher than many of their HCP peers. For reference, Certified Nursing Assistants will make $35,740 within the same timeframe while Licensed Practical Nurses make $54,620. Compared to those other roles, the technical roles and responsibilities for RNs is significantly higher. This bigger workload is reflected by their higher rates, as a direct result.

Even in comparison to other RNs, California-based RNs are generously compensated. As of September 2023, Indeed estimates that $113,349 is the average annual rate for RNs based in California. With such a high figure, it is no surprise that the state has grown in popularity among the country’s top RNs.

What are the best paying cities in California?

One of the major determining factors for RN compensation is where you work. Population density and spending power, among other factors, can determine how high demand for HCP services are, in a given area. Though California RNs are well-compensated wherever they go, there is no doubt that certain locations pay better than others.

Below are the California cities with the highest average compensation rates, as of September 2023. All figures have been taken from Indeed.

City Average Annual Compensation
San Francisco $125,771
Sacramento $118,963
San Jose $117,434
San Diego $110,762
Los Angeles $110,094
Fresno $109,218
Oakland $108,403
Loma Linda $106,367
Long Beach $102,295

It is important to remember that these figures can change at any given time. Outside the top 3, there is not much separation between the cities with the highest compensation rates. As was mentioned earlier, you can expect generous rates in most California cities as an RN.

What are the best paying RN roles?

Where you work is just one determining factor for your compensation. RNs also need to consider the roles they take on, as certain services are more in demand than others. Naturally, this would mean that some positions provide higher rates across the board. Listed below are the top paying RN jobs in California, per ZipRecruiter.  The top 3 are significantly higher compensating, which reflects the level of credentials and experience required for those fields. Keep in mind that the census may be limited, as these figures are extracted from ZipRecruiter’s database.

Role Average Annual Compensation
Orthopedic RN $422,111
Neurology RN $46,196
Long Term Care $45,410
Agency CNA $45,215
Crisis Care $45,215

Does work experience matter for RN compensation?

Across all levels of HCP personnel, work experience is highly valued. Facilities are looking for RNs who are proven and can immediately contribute to their facilities. More work experience does not necessarily indicate quality, but you are more likely to possess the requisite skills and awareness that is expected from a professional RN. Because of this, more experienced nurses will earn more than their newer counterparts in a majority of instances. Indeed’s database illustrates just how much of a difference years of experience can make, with regards to earning potential.

Years of Experience Average Annual Compensation
Less than a year $102,444
1-2 years $110,118
3-5 years $115,582
6-9 years $119,750
10+ years $133,893

How can one increase their earning potential?

 Not every HCPs can afford to move to a different city for higher compensation. Costs of living also have to be considered, when uprooting your life for your profession. Luckily, this is not the only way you can improve your earning potential. Your compensation is determined by a number of different factors. Some of these conditions are within your control, and you can increase how much you earn with the right attitude and strategy.

Negotiate your compensation rate

As an RN, you do not have to accept your initial offer without any further feedback. Figure out what you are worth, and negotiate in good faith from there. Compare the offered rates to the rates in similar hospitals with RNs that are similar to you, with regards to status and ork experience. This can serve as the baseline for a negotiation. This is not something you should be afraid or ashamed of as a CNA. Negotiations are a natural part of this process, for both sides. Just engage in these discussions with a cool head and professionalism.

Book temporary RN shifts

 RNs can gain a lot from booking a couple of temporary HCP shifts. If you have a full time HCP job, this can serve as an additional stream of income. Even if you do not, taking on temporary HCP shifts is a lucrative and rewarding venture. You can gain new skills and experiences at a variety of different facilities and locations. This can add up to an enticing resume, the next time you have to apply for a full time role. Because of how highly sought after HCPs are, right now, temporary RN work can be extremely lucrative.

There are two ways you can book a temporary nursing gig. Joining a travel nurse agency lets you book work outside and within the state of California. These contracts will typically last weeks or even months and your travel expenses are commonly covered by the agency. Staffing apps like VitaWerks let you book closer to home, and just for single shifts. This provides an unparalleled level of flexibility, as you are allowed to set your work schedule freely.  Booking shifts with VitaWerks can also help you secure the highest rates in all of California, which further maximizes your earning potential. Temporary RN work may not be traditional, but it is a bold and exciting opportunity for RNs who are looking for a new challenge.

Acquire additional certifications

Facilities want RNs who are skilled in a variety of fields and tasks. For certain RN roles, these additional certifications are required rather than recommended. You can pick up certification from various universities, community colleges, hospitals, The Red Cross and even online. RNs can pick up certifications in Infection Control, Public Health, Informatics, Medical/Surgical and more.

These credentials prove that you are invested in your continuous improvement and learning as an RN. It also shows facilities that you have the skillset and training to take on responsibilities that are not normally entrusted with regular RNs. All this contributes to an overall compensation increase. Not only do you show additional competency, but you show that you are driven and determined to advance your career and your capabilities as an HCP.

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