For many RNs looking into travel nurse jobs, destination No. 1 on the list is California. With year-round sunshine, pleasant temperatures, the glitz and glam of Hollywood, and access to many of the America’s stunning natural wonders, who wouldn’t want to spend 13 weeks (the average length of an assignment) in the Golden State?
Sooner or later, though, reality hits.
What seems like a great idea at first loses its luster once cost analysis begins. Sure, most California travel nurse assignments pay very well compared to the national average, but the cost of living in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco quickly eats away at take-home pay. So, for many travel nurses, California remains but a dream as they pursue more profitable assignments elsewhere in the U.S.
At Tailored Healthcare Staffing, we get it—California sounds great in theory, but doesn’t add up when your first priority is growing your bank account. However, there are assignments in California that pay well where you won’t be dishing out an absurd amount for housing… you just have to know where to look.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way—you won’t be going Los Angeles or San Francisco if pocketing cash is your top concern. Those are great destination cities worth taking assignments in at some point in your travel nursing career, but you should likely treat those opportunities as extended vacations (where you’re also working, of course) rather than super-profitable jobs. Where you should be looking is California’s Central Valley, home to high-paying travel nurse jobs in areas with relatively low cost of living.
Below is a map of what many consider to be the Central Valley. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on the corridor between Sacramento and Bakersfield (Kern County).
The Central Valley is where you’ll find the best bang for your buck as a travel nurse. For example, in Bakersfield, the cost of living is just 5 percent above the national average (according to Payscale.com), while travel nurse pay is similar to what you’d find in more popular major Californian cities. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the cost of living is 43 percent higher than the national average. San Francisco? 80 percent higher than the national average!
Bakersfield is a large city in its own right, with population nearing 380,000 and so much to do locally. What’s more, for the nurse not wanting to sacrifice the “California experience” by traveling in inland, Bakersfield is within very reasonable driving distance of Los Angeles (2 hours), San Francisco (4.5 hours), and San Diego (4.5) hours, making it a perfect home base for those overnight or weekend trips around the state. For the outdoor enthusiasts, Sequoia National Park is less than 2 hours away. As mentioned above, the cost of living in Bakersfield is just 5 percent above the national average, making it a choice destination for RNs hoping to capitalize on California’s generally-high pay.
Located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno is a leading agricultural area in the U.S. What’s more, Fresno is the fifth-largest city in California (34th-largest in the country), boasting over half a million people. The cost of living in Fresno is just 6 percent higher than the national average, making this a fantastic community in which to pursue a travel nursing assignment. Fresno is the closest major city to Yosemite National Park, a true bucket-list destination for hikers, climbers, and those who simply appreciate nature’s phenomenal beauty.
Surrounded by fertile farmland, Modesto is quickly growing as a commuter community as residents travel into San Francisco, Fresno, and the San Francisco Bay Area for work. With a cost of living that’s 9 percent higher than the national average, you’re not getting quite the deal on housing you may see in Bakersfield or Fresno, but you’re less than a 2-hour drive from San Francisco. Modesto is a warm city (the average high for December and January is 55° F) with few rainy days.
While we’ve highlighted just three Central Valley cities above, the opportunities are almost endless. Whether you prefer a Stockton travel nurse job or a stay in Merced, a California travel assignment can be extremely profitable for RNs willing to work outside of the state’s largest few cities.