Nursing is a crucially important profession. From doctor’s surgeries to emergency rooms to ICUs, we rely on these professionals to care for us and our loved ones when we get sick.

Just how in demand are nurses? Well, “registered nurse,” “RN” and “LPN” (licensed practical nurse) were among the top ten most-searched terms overall on Indeed Resume in 2017. Employers aren’t waiting around for applications to come rolling in. They are proactively searching for qualified professionals to fill their roles. Meanwhile, as the population ages, demand is only likely to rise.

But nursing jobs are not always easy to fill, and the aging of the population applies to the profession, too. Today, many nurses are on the verge of retiring. Salaries are relatively high, but is that enough to attract new talent? Our data science team analyzed Indeed data for RNs to provide a snapshot of the field, from how much it pays to where it’s toughest to hire.

Let’s take a look at the results, and also some tips for narrowing the hiring gap.

These are the 15 cities where nursing salaries go the furthest

Nursing is a well-paid job that doesn’t require a college degree. According to the BLS, the highest average nursing salaries are found in California, where they can exceed six figures (this is a major cultural shift since the 1970s, when nurses were paid less than grocery clerks.)

However, averages alone can be misleading, as the cost of living can take a giant chunk out of your pay packet. This varies not only from state to state but from city to city. So what happens once you adjust salaries for cost of living?

The top 15 cities where nursing salaries go the furthest based on cost of living in each metro area.

Californian salaries still perform well even when adjusted, but they do not dominate the results.

True, first on the list is Riverside, CA, which leads with an adjusted salary of $81,339. This is a significant rise in ranking compared to last year’s report, where it placed sixth. Other cities in the Golden State also perform well — we see San Francisco (#8), San Diego (#10), and Los Angeles (#13) on the list.

However, Californian cities are mostly absent from the top five. Instead we see Atlanta, GA, in second place — a huge jump from #15 last year — here the adjusted average salary is $73,568. Minneapolis, St. Louis and Orlando round out the top five.

Meanwhile, sixth place Houston is home to two of the best rated hospitals by employees on Indeed, suggesting that it’s a city where both salaries and job satisfaction for nurses run high.

Where is it toughest to hire nurses?

So wages are performing well, and difficulty in hiring often drives up salaries. But this doesn’t always make it easier to hire nurses. The table below shows the “mismatch” between clicks from job seekers and job postings in the metros listed above. As the results make clear, higher wages are not a magic bullet.

Bar graph showcasing the mismatch between nursing job postings and RN/nurse candidate interest in the top metro areas in 2018.

In fact, Seattle (which ranks 7th on our adjusted salary chart) is worst affected. However Riverside, where nurses earn the most once salaries are adjusted for cost of living, is not far behind. It’s in third place, just after Kansas City (#14 for adjusted salary).

Meanwhile, postings-interest mismatch is actually smaller in notoriously expensive San Francisco than in any of the seven cities that outperform it for salary adjusted for cost of living.

Clearly, salaries are important but they are only part of the puzzle when it comes to closing the talent gap.

Meanwhile, demand is only set to rise. Registered Nurses are projected to have 15% growth between 2016 and 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — which the BLS describes as "much faster than average."

3 tips for closing the talent gap

So what can healthcare recruiters do to find the talent they need to keep facilities running and our population healthy?

1) Don’t underestimate the power of purpose

Nursing is a caring profession, rich in purpose and meaning. Don’t hesitate to stress this in the language you use when describing your open roles. This is a career for people who want to make a difference in others’ lives.

2) Stress the rewarding career paths open to nurses 

Nursing is a career rich in possibilities. Gaining experience as an RN can be the first step to any number of specialities, from management to anesthesia to nursing informatics, which blends nursing knowledge with advanced IT and computer science skills. The growth potential is real, so shout about it.

3) Cast your net wider

If you’re finding it tough to hire in a major metro, you may want to look at the data which shows that there will be nursing surpluses in some other states (such as Illinois and Minnesota, for instance). Consider targeting nurses in areas with a greater supply. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. Use salary data to stay competitive and use the nursing license map to identify states where retraining won’t be necessary.

Of course, enacting these steps and won’t end the nurse shortage immediately, but they are good steps towards ensuring that we don’t run short of these important professionals. After all — our health depends on it.