I just moved from Western NC (about an hr from Asheville and smaller hosp. I worked at is now afiliated with an Asheville Hospital-Mission) to Durham earlier this year and took a position at Duke and now have a job offer at UNC, but I also have many years of nursing experience so not sure about starting pay for new grads.
Pay is definitely better at UNC and so are benefits and from what I have seen so far, the atmosphere feels better at UNC.
Duke is great too...both are large teaching hospitals with much to learn and ample opportunities....not Duke bashing here,
The cost and style of living between the Western NC mountain areas and the Durham area are not completely comparable depending on what lifestyle you choose.
If you are looking to buy a home, it is obviously a better time now than anytime before anywhere; however, homes in the mountains near Asheville are still relatively expensive and there are not as many apartments available as there are in the Raleigh-Durham area.
Raleigh-Durham is nice because you have the city feel, but are close to the beach (1 1/2 - 2 hrs drive), and I get to Asheville where alot of my family live in about 3 1/2 hours. If you are returning to school to finish your education, the Research Triangle is the place to be
My sons still live near Asheville, and I pay as much for an apartment with amenities as they do for mobile homes that are not as nice and with no amenities, so if you want quality country, mountain living and a hip town but fewer apartment opportunities, Asheville is awesome. That said, sold my house on an owner finance option for less than I paid 5 years ago....
The pay is actually comparable to Durham if you look around some...especially in the more rural areas...smaller towns nearer to Asheville. The bigger issue right now; having been a manager at a smaller hospital in that area, is that there are more people applying for positions and the job market is more competitive than Raleigh-Durham where you have more and larger hospitals, especially for new grads, and especially if you do not hold a BSN as Mission in Asheville now requires a BSN for most of their nursing positions, or at least a plan of getting one.
Feel free to mail me privately for more info.