Travel Nursing In California

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California is a prime destination for travel nurses, and why wouldn’t it be? The state has some of the nation’s best beaches, skiing, cities, and national parks. It’s also home to 10% of the nation’s population. Where there are more people, there are more hospitals and more travel nursing jobs. California also has strict RN to Patient Staffing Ratios which serves to increase the overall need for RNs. But just because California seems wide open for assignments doesn’t mean it should be approached willy-nilly. There are vast differences across the state and understanding these differences will help set expectations and allow travel nurses to formulate a strategy.

Travel Nursing Pay in California

Northern vs. Southern California

Perhaps the most well-known general variation pertains to pay rates for travel nurses in California. You’ll often hear that in general the pay rates are lower in Southern California and Higher in Northern California. And this is true…in general. The pay rates in San Diego are certainly among the lowest rates in the state. Everybody wants to go there and people tend to want to stay once they get there. The same can be said of Orange County (the OC) and the greater Los Angeles area as well.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions to the rule. For example, there are some hospitals in Southern California that pay much higher than the average. West Hills Hospital in West Hills, CA and Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, CA are examples of hospitals that pay more than average in Southern California. There are also hospitals that pay much lower than average in Northern California. For example, Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children’s in Palo Alto, pay much lower than the Northern California average.

The Best Bang for Your Buck

Another general rule pertaining to pay rates is that the best bang for your buck is in California’s Central Valley. This is true from Bakersfield to Stockton, with Sacramento just making the cut. Bakersfield and Fresno tend to be the best places to make money because the cost of living is lower relative to the average pay in these areas. Moreover, you can often find travel jobs that guarantee 48 hour work weeks.

I’m not going to lie though, most of the Central Valley is less than glamorous. However, Fresno is reasonably close to Yosemite and both Fresno and Bakersfield are agricultural hubs. If you’re interested in learning about farming and love access to locally grown produce, then these places are great.

Sacramento is sort of the best of both worlds. It’s the state capital, has a pretty good nightlife, decent cultural vibe, and excellent restaurants. It has great weather 9 months out of the year; it gets a little hot in the summer. There are plenty of outdoor opportunities in the area with rivers, hills for hiking, and trails for biking. There’s also plenty of wine tasting close by and the Napa Valley is within an hour away. It’s also an hour and a half from both Lake Tahoe and San Francisco. The cost of living is higher than the rest of the Central Valley, but much lower than the San Francisco Bay Area where the pay rates are pretty much the same.

Hospitals That Use Travel Nursing in California

Kaiser in California

In addition to variations in standard pay rates, it’s also important to know about the hospital organizations operating in California. Kaiser Permanente is the largest hospital organization operating in California. There are no fewer than 38 Kaiser hospitals in the state. Based on a quick look at the list, I’d say at least 30 of them regularly have open jobs.

You’ll regularly hear travel nurses warn against working an assignment at Kaiser. However, it would be unwise to adhere to this advice. I’m sure that many of those who administer these warnings have valid reasons for doing so. However, I filled hundreds of assignments in my days as a recruiter and the number of nurses and healthcare professionals who liked Kaiser just fine was much higher than the number of nurses who disliked Kaiser. In fact, the number of nurses who went on to become permanent employees of Kaiser was higher than the number of nurses who disliked their Kaiser assignments.

Moreover, Kaiser often calls its crisis rate into action and the pay for Kaiser’s crisis rate is among the highest, if not the highest, in the state. Disqualifying Kaiser from consideration means missing out on some of the highest paying assignments in the nation. It’s important to note that Kaiser hospitals sometimes require previous Kaiser experience in order to qualify for one of their crisis rate assignments.

When it comes to Kaiser’s pay for assignments, you may also hear that Kaiser pays the highest rates, period. While this used to be true, it is no longer the case. When American Mobile beat out Nursefinders as the Managed Service Provider for Kaiser’s travel and PRN needs, part of that win was the result of a much lower bid on the bill rates. Now, the bill rates for Kaiser assignments are at, or perhaps just below, the averages for Northern and Southern California.

This brings us to our final point on Kaiser, California’s single largest user of travel nurses. American Mobile is the Managed Service Provider. This means that American Mobile has an exclusive contract with Kaiser to staff all of Kaiser’s contingent staffing needs. However, American Mobile contracts with other agencies to help them meet the demand. These agencies are commonly referred to as “sub-vendors.” You can read more about Managed Service Providers here. And you can read more about travel nursing with Kaiser in California here.

Dignity and Sutter in California

There are a few other large hospital organizations in California that frequently have open travel jobs. Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) operates no fewer than 32 hospitals in California. However, fewer Dignity hospitals make regular use of travel nurses and those that do, use them to a lesser degree than Kaiser. Sutter Health is yet another large hospital organization that frequently has open travel jobs. Sutter Health operates no fewer than 19 hospitals in California. However, a strong percentage of their assignments are at their Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, CA. Unlike Kaiser, Dignity Health and Sutter Health do not utilize a single Managed Service Provider for their entire hospital organization.

HCA, Tenet and Cottage Health in California

Some of the smaller hospital organizations in California include HCA which operates 5 hospitals in the state and goes through Parallon Workforce Management Solutions as its managed service provider, who again utilizes many sub-vendors to assist in staffing all needs. Tenet Health operates 11 hospitals in the state and utilizes a Vendor Management System to fill its travel jobs. Finally, Cottage Health System operates 5 hospitals in the Santa Barbara area and uses a Vendor Management System to fill their travel jobs. It’s worth mentioning that Santa Barbara is an absolutely beautiful area. The pay isn’t all that great relative to the cost of living, but it certainly makes up for it in beauty.

There are many other small hospital organizations and many other areas that we have not discussed. However, the information we’ve covered here should provide an idea of the general topography of travel jobs in California. As always, please let us know if you have any questions and share your thoughts in the comments section.

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13 replies
  1. Grace says:

    I live in Washington state, work the Med-Surg floor and I make $29/hr with 1.5 yrs Acute Care RN experience. According to websites RN’s make about $50/hr in Napa, CA area. We would consider moving down there if this is really true and if jobs are not difficult to get.

    Reply
    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Yes, it’s widely reported that RNs in northern California have among the highest hourly rates. It’s important to factor in the cost of living in California, which is quite high. If you do decide to make the move, my recommendation would be to land a job before moving. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  2. Susan says:

    I am finding it incredibly difficult to find a med/surg travel opportunity in southern Cali. I have spoke with numerous recruiters and been submitted to a number of jobs but never hear anything. I have not traveled before but have 8 yrs experience and nothing against my license or record. Any advice? Something I’m possibly doing wrong? Already temporarily living here and feeling “stuck” please help!

    Reply
  3. Ashley says:

    How are the hospitals and living conditions in Stockton? Just wondering if there are good hospitals there and low crime rates.

    Reply
    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Interestingly, I grew up in Stockton, CA 🙂 I wish I could say it’s a safe place. However, the statistics indicate that it’s that it’s pretty unsafe. Here is a link to the city’s page on Neighborhood Scout.

      The two main hospitals in the area are Dameron and St. Joseph’s. By most accounts, they fall right into the “average” category. That, said, they received some pretty bad reviews from travel nurses on Travel Nursing Central. Here are the links: Dameron and St. Joseph’s. There are very few reviews for both hospitals, so I recommend reading the reviews themselves to find out what people did/didn’t like. Also, the hospital reviews are pretty low overall on Travel Nursing central, so the scores should be considered against the scores of other hospitals with a similar number of reviews. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  4. Gina says:

    Are there opportunities for PRN work in California? I want to maintain my current Baylor position in another state, but would consider traveling at my own expense to fulfill the required shifts for a PRN position if the pay was right. I knew a few people who did this in the past and it worked well for them.

    Reply
    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Yes, there are PRN opportunities in California. You can get PRN through an agency or directly with a hospital. The scenario you’re describing would most likely require that you get hired on directly by a hospital for a PRN position. This is because agencies pay significantly less and are not able to offer the same shift guarantees as the hospital. The downside is that it’s more difficult to land a PRN job with a hospital than with an agency. I hope this help!

      Reply
    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      The general rule of thumb is at least 1 full year of experience, preferably 2. However, the job market is so hot for travel nurses right now that some hospitals may accept less experience. The best way to find out is to speak with a few agencies. I hope this helps.

      Reply

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