PRN Nursing Jobs in California: Ultimate Guide [2024]

California is among the highest-paying states for nursing professionals, but pay is not all. Learn what it's like to work as a nurse or nursing assistant in this state.

The attractions of the Golden State go beyond its beautiful coastline and iconic landmarks, offering vibrant and rewarding RN, LVN, and CNA jobs in California. Here, nursing professionals can find a dynamic and diverse world where their skills are in high demand—and highly compensated. Keep reading to learn more about PRN nursing jobs, average salaries, the cheapest cities, best nursing schools, and more.

Table of Contents

Salary information throughout this guide comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and living wage information comes from the MIT Living Wage Calculator (most recent data as of December 2023).

Metropolitan Area CNA Annual Mean Wage LPN Annual Mean Wage RN Annual Mean Wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward $52,280 $80,470 $164,760
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim $42,620 $68,530 $125,350
San Diego-Carlsbad $42,420 $67,750 $117,830
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade $44,040 $71,280 $145,230
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara $51,600 $80,590 $160,020
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura $41,230 $66,570 $122,260
Santa Rosa $43,660 $76,710 $151,150
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara $42,120 $68,390 $115,170
Vallejo-Fairfield $43,180 $76,240 $158,340

How Much Do Nurses in California Make?

Understanding California's compensation and cost of living is essential when considering working and living in this great state. While California’s minimum wage is $15.00 per hour as of 2022 for companies with 26 or more employees and $14.00 for companies with 25 or fewer employees, nurses enjoy significantly higher earnings. Registered Nurses in California typically earn an impressive average hourly wage of $54.44, making nursing a financially rewarding profession in the state. This wage significantly surpasses the state’s minimum wage and reflects the high demand for nursing expertise. 

To provide some context for RN income, a single adult in California needs to make at least $21.24 per hour working full-time to cover basic living expenses. Nurses, especially RNs, comfortably exceed this benchmark, ensuring a comfortable standard of living for themselves and their families, as indicated by the following income averages for California:

  • RN salary: $113,240
  • LPN Salary: $64,090
  • CNA Salary: $36,630

It’s important to note that these income figures can vary based on factors such as the geographic location within California and the specific healthcare institutions where nurses and nursing assistants work.

Some of the highest-paying cities for nurses working in California include San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Vallejo, Fairfield, and Santa Rosa. All these cities offer registered nurses average annual wages above $150,000. These regions reflect California's varied healthcare opportunities and substantial incomes. 

Best Healthcare Centers in California

Welcome to the bustling state, celebrated for its Hollywood glitz, high-tech innovations, and rich cultural tapestry, yet equally renowned for being a haven of opportunities in healthcare. With a population of approximately 39 million, California presents a mix of urban yet scenic tranquility, setting the stage for a nursing career with diverse opportunities. As a nurse or nursing assistant in this state, you’ll uncover various avenues to leave a lasting imprint on the healthcare ecosystem. California boasts a variety of establishments, from state-of-the-art hospitals to smaller clinics nestled within its wine valleys. This diversity of work settings ensures that healthcare professionals, including Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs), Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), and Patient Care Technicians (PCTs), can make their own way toward a path to success. 

Are you seeking opportunities in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) or Pediatric Departments in California? Or perhaps you’re aiming for a job in the Operating Room (OR) or the Oncology Department? We’ve got you covered. Here’s a brief overview of some of the top medical centers in California:

  • UCSF Medical Center: Located in San Francisco, this renowned institution stands at the forefront of medical research, innovation, and patient care.
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Nestled in the heart of Los Angeles, this center is a leading healthcare provider known for its cutting-edge facilities and holistic care approach.
  • Stanford Health Care: Situated in the tech city of Palo Alto, it delivers a blend of advanced medical technology and compassionate patient care.
  • UC Davis Medical Center: This Sacramento-based institution is a critical player in Northern California, providing a comprehensive range of medical services and research initiatives.
  • Scripps Health: In San Diego, Scripps Health is dedicated to providing top-notch patient care and boasts a thriving community of healthcare professionals.
  • Kaiser Permanente: With multiple locations throughout California, this integrated managed care consortium is recognized for its emphasis on preventive care and community health. 

These medical institutions in California are prime hubs for healthcare professionals, fostering growth and community wellness. In the vibrant landscape of California’s healthcare sector, these medical institutions stand out for their quality. They offer a rich environment for careers to flourish, providing cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) jobs for nurses, ER jobs, specialized roles in Pediatrics, and a variety of flexible per diem nursing jobs throughout California, including jobs for RNs, LVNs, and CNAs. Foundational nursing jobs in California offer more than meets the eye. Growth, innovation, and community wellness are the cornerstones, nurturing a place where medical expertise and compassionate care meet to ensure quality within the state’s health services. 

Become a Nurse in California

Embarking on a nursing journey in California? Let us guide you through the pivotal steps:

  • Determine Your Path: First, decide between becoming an LVN or an RN. LVN programs generally span about a year. On the other hand, RN aspirants can opt for an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  • Licensing: You must pass the respective National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) after completing your chosen program. For RNs, this means the NCLEX-RN, and for LVNs, the NCLEX-PN. Once cleared, you’ll generally be eligible for a California nursing license (with some considerations). 
  • Board of Nursing: The California Board of Nursing is your go-to source for licensing information, state regulations, and additional resources.

Best Nursing Programs in California

For those embarking on a journey to become Registered Nurses, the nursing schools in California present a selection of notable programs, each combining academic rigor with practical expertise. These schools with RN nursing programs had the highest first-time NCLEX-RN pass rates in the 2022-2023 period.

BSN nursing schools NCLEX-RN pass rates
Moorpark College 100%
San Diego City College 100%
Imperial Valley College 100%
Gavilan College 100%
Sonoma State University 100%
Madera College 100%
Weimar University 100%
Sierra College 100%
Saddleback College 98.89%
Grossmont College 98.53%
California State University (CSU) Long Beach 97.5%
CSU Fullerton 96.88%
CSU Bakersfield 96.59%
Evergreen Valley College 96.43%
Mendocino College 96.30%

Are PCTs Nurses?

Patient Care Technicians are pivotal in patient care, assisting RNs and LVNs in various healthcare settings. Their tasks include monitoring vitals, aiding with daily activities, and providing primary medical care. However, they do not have nursing licenses.

How Many Nurses Work in California?

With a sprawling population and a vast healthcare system, California employs many nursing professionals. The state continually seeks to bolster its healthcare workforce to meet the diverse needs of its residents. The number of nursing professionals is impressive, as California has about 325,620 RNs, 73,740 LVNs, and 99,930 CNAs. Find more detailed statistics through the California Board of Registered Nursing and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Cheapest Cities in California 

A nurse holds piggy bank
Living wage for a single adult is an important factor in making a decision for a nursing job location.

The financial tapestry of California is as varied as its landscapes, with the living wage—a measure of the basic income required for an individual or household to live decently—differing markedly from one city to another. Let’s delve into some highlights of the hourly earnings needed for an individual to lead a comfortable life in these cost-effective cities. 

Let’s explore some of California’s most budget-friendly cities, where the living wage for a single adult is on the lower end of the spectrum:

  • Visalia: Here, the average living wage is $16.40 per hour, making it a notably affordable option in the Golden State.
  • Merced: With a living wage of $ $16.55 per hour, Merced offers a balance of economic opportunity and cost-effectiveness.
  • Eureka: At $16.51 per hour, Eureka stands out as a place where the cost of living remains within reach for diligent earners. 

Navigating Insurance in California

The Covered California website is the state's official health insurance marketplace for those looking for health insurance in California, particularly those in per diem nursing positions or remote RN roles. Here, you can compare plans, check if you qualify for financial assistance, and enroll in a plan that meets your needs. Before diving in, assess your needs, including dental or vision coverage and other benefits relevant to your role. Whether you’re an aspiring nurse or a seasoned professional, California presents a landscape teeming with opportunities, growth, and adventure. Welcome to the Golden State.  

  • Medicaid and Medi-Cal: Should your earnings dip beneath a specific limit, you could qualify for California’s Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Check your eligibility and apply through the California Department of Health Care Services.
  • Remote RNs and multi-state coverage: If you work remotely as an RN and frequently travel between states, discuss your coverage needs with an insurance expert. Multi-state insurance plans may be necessary to ensure coverage while working in different locations. 

Take the time to research and choose the best insurance options that align with your specific needs and circumstances in California.

California’s Climate and Land: From Beaches to Mountains 

The Golden State’s tapestry of landscapes is as varied as its bustling metropolises and serene towns. From the bustling streets of Oakland to the innovative heart of Silicon Valley in cities like Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, each place brings its own brand of Californian charm. The warmth of Santa Ana’s climate mirrors the hospitality of its people, while Petaluma’s rolling hills whisper tales of the quieter, pastoral life. Venture inland and you’ll encounter the rich vibrancy of Ontario and the beautiful planned communities in Rancho Cucamonga. Meanwhile, the historical tapestry of San Bernardino invites those who appreciate a side of heritage with their sunshine. Up north, Santa Rosa offers incredible wineries set within scenic landscapes. And then there’s San Jose—a city where technology meets tradition, creating an energetic and youthful atmosphere. Whether drawn to the allure of innovation or the coastal breeze, California’s varied climates and communities ensure that every nurse can find their perfect fit.  

Let’s take a closer look at what to expect in some key cities:

  • San Diego: Situated on the southern California coast, San Diego enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.
  • Los Angeles: This sprawling metropolis experiences a Mediterranean climate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers, offering residents a mix of urban and beach experiences.
  • Fresno: Located in the Central Valley, Fresno has hot, dry summers and mild winters and is a hub for agricultural activity.
  • Sacramento: The state capital experiences hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters in the expansive Central Valley.
  • San Francisco: Nestled along the northern California coast, San Francisco is known for its cool summers, marked by the iconic fog and mild winters.
  • San Jose: Located in the Silicon Valley, San Jose enjoys a Mediterranean climate characterized by warm to hot summers and cool, wet winters.
  • Santa Barbara: This coastal city has a Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers, attracting many to its beautiful beaches and cultural events.

Fun Facts about California

California is a state bursting with hidden gems and fun facts that surprise and delight. Did you know Alhambra is known as the “Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley”? Or that Chino was once the world’s largest milk-producing community? Cupertino is the headquarters of a little company called Apple Inc., shaping the global tech landscape. Venture to El Cajon, and you’ll find yourself in “The Big Box,” its name literally translating to “The Drawer” in Spanish due to its valley surroundings.

The beach city of Encinitas is often touted as one of the best surf towns in the world. Escondido, meaning “hidden” in Spanish, is a treasure trove of historical architecture. Fountain Valley lives up to its picturesque name with its beautifully designed green spaces, whereas Fremont holds the secret of being the closest Bay Area city to Silicon Valley. 

Then there’s Glendale, home to one of the largest communities of Armenians outside of Armenia, and Inglewood, which will host events for the 2028 Summer Olympics. The Inland Empire boasts a massive 27,000 square miles, an area larger than 10 states in the nation! Don’t forget La Mesa, known for its quaint downtown and as the “Jewel of the Hills.”

Long Beach is famous for having one of the world’s largest shipping ports, while Mountain View hosts the Computer History Museum, chronicling the rise of the computer age. National City is the second oldest city in San Diego County and boasts the famous mile-long stretch comprising 21 new car franchises. North Hollywood, with its NoHo Arts District, is a scene for the creative and the artistic, embodying California’s charm. 

Beyond Hollywood’s glamor and the tech innovation of Silicon Valley, California has an abundance of intriguing facts:

  • The Golden State: California’s official nickname, “The Golden State,” reflects its historic Gold Rush and sun-kissed landscapes.
  • Tallest Trees: It is home to the world’s tallest trees, the Redwoods, in the northern part of the state.
  • Tech Haven: Silicon Valley, located in the Bay Area, is the global center for technology and innovation.
  • Diverse Ecosystems: California boasts the highest (Mount Whitney) and lowest (Death Valley) points in the contiguous US, all within 100 miles of each other.
  • Wine Country: The state is one of the world’s largest wine producers, with renowned wine regions like Napa and Sonoma.

These facts showcase California’s rich history, diverse landscapes, and status as a global trendsetter.

California: Things to Do across the State

California boasts a wealth of activities and attractions, from its coastline to its mountains. Whether you’re in Santa Cruz, Palm Springs, Monterey, Anaheim, Oceanside, or other delightful Californian towns, there’s a wealth of experiences to discover.

  • Santa Cruz: Known for its beach boardwalk and surfing culture
  • Palm Springs: A desert resort city known for its mid-century modern architecture and vibrant arts scene
  • Monterey: Home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row
  • Anaheim: Home to Disneyland Resort, offering family-friendly adventures in the heart of Orange County
  • Oceanside: A coastal city with beautiful beaches, a long wooden pier, and a laid-back vibe.
  • San Luis Obispo: Historic mission, scenic coast, and local wines
  • Yosemite National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage site known for its waterfalls, giant sequoias, and unique rock formations
  • Santa Monica: The iconic Santa Monica Pier, beach activities, and shopping on the Third Street Promenade
  • Big Sur: A rugged stretch of coastline offering breathtaking views, hiking trails, and the famous Bixby Creek Bridge

California offers a diverse array of things to do, ensuring something for everyone in the Golden State.

Waterfall image
Nurses can enjoy nature in California, such as this breathtaking waterfall in Yosemite National Park.

Find Your First Shift in California

With its landscapes, bustling cities, and a growing demand for healthcare professionals, California presents numerous opportunities for nurses and nursing assistants at every stage of their careers. Whether you’re attracted to the entertainment of Hollywood, the long coastline, or the urban life of cities like San Francisco, California has a place for you. Discover the countless opportunities, competitive compensation, and the chance to impact the health and well-being of its residents significantly. Your nursing journey begins here. Start your nursing adventure in California today by picking up high-paying, flexible per diem jobs.

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