FILE - Nurse practioner

(The Center Square) – Washington is the top state in America for being a nurse, according to a new study by personal finance website WalletHub.

WalletHub determined its rankings by comparing all 50 states using 21 key metrics, including salaries, job openings per capita, and number of healthcare facilities.

"Washington is the best state to work as a nurse,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told The Center Square in an email. “This is because it has a high average salary for nurses, a large share of population living in a primary care health professional shortage area, 47%, and high quality nursing schools.”

There were other factors accounting for the Evergreen State’s No. 1 ranking.

“It also has a large number of nursing job opportunities per capita, a small number of nurses and low projected competition in 2028,” Gonzalez said.

Per the study, Washington ranks No. 4 in terms of lowest competition by 2028, behind only Nevada, Arizona, and Alaska, and just ahead of Utah.

“The work environment for nurses in Washington is very good due to the mandatory overtime restrictions and the fact that state practice and licensure laws provide for all nurse practitioners to evaluate patients, diagnose, order and interpret tests, and initiate and manage treatment,” Gonzalez concluded. “Lastly, the state has a large share of five star rated nursing homes, almost 23%.”

The WalletHub study reports the mean annual salary for nurses is around $80,000 nationally, and notes the profession has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Still, the high pay and low jobless rate doesn’t negate the challenges faced by nurses related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sadly, nurses have experienced extremely dangerous working conditions during the pandemic, including critical shortages of respirators, surgical masks, gloves, gowns and other necessary protective treatment,” the report notes. “It's crucial for states to make sure that nurses are properly equipped to do their jobs and have the best work environment possible.”

An October 2021 survey by the Washington State Hospital Association estimated an additional 6,100 nurses were needed to meet current hospital staffing needs in the state.

During this year’s session of the Washington State Legislature, a bill died in committee that would have created minimum staffing levels in hospitals, mandated meal and rest breaks, and provided penalties for hospitals that ignore the new rules.

Critics faulted House Bill 1868 for mandating working conditions, rather than addressing the nursing shortage, claiming it would have a negative impact on hospitals.

“It could have resulted in decreased service levels, especially for patients in rural hospitals,” Elizabeth Hovde, director of the Center for Health Care and Center for Workers Rights at the free market Washington Policy Center, said at the end of March. “And it called nurse judgement and professionalism into question.”

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.