I work in NYC and L.A. and there is a difference - different mentality & attitude. In LA, people are just more laid back. They dont even wear uniforms in the ICUs I work in there. Its probably not a whole coast thing but more just a thing at that hospital but for one whole shift I thought the girl at the bedside next to me was the pts daughter - until I had to go on break & found out she was the RN covering me. She was wearing black stretch pants, sneakers, a gray tee shirt & a sweater tied around her waist.
In NYC, its a given that if you work in direct-care (hospital, nursing home, dialysis, surgery center, etc) you are union. Thats probably not the case along the whole East Coast. RNs in NYC have been unionized for more than 40 years. They expect to be in a union & have it work for them. In LA that concept still seems to be something new & foreign. But again, that might just be the cities & not the whole coast.
It seems like every RN I meet in the ICUs at this LA hospital is white. And most RNs I worked with in LA are travelers. This last time, every RN on the unit was a traveler and I was agency. Only the charge RN was on staff. But you hardly ever come across a traveler in NYC. It seems most are staff RNs here. And the cultural, ethnic mix of NYC RNs seems to be more diverse. That may not be a whole coast - just my own experience in these cities.
But theres not much difference in cost of living - though some things are more expensive in L.A. than in NYC (I couldnt believe the price of Snapple over there the first time I found one!) and I never do find anything that costs less in LA than it does in NYC. Not even the rent. A friend of mine pays $1200/mth for a very small 2 bedroom rented house in a middle class neighborhood in LA & it doesnt even have a backyard. It would cost less in a similar neighborhood in NYC.
The work is the same in the ICUs Ive worked in both cities, but RN employment is different. The whole East Coast may not have higher salaries than the whole West Coast but from what I have experienced, NYC has better pay than LA. In NYC we are paid for our years of experience as an RN (not just at that particular facility), certifications, education degrees, shift diff, and a lot of other stuff that nurses in the hospital I work at in LA arent paid for. My salary in NYC as a staff RN is about $40/hr. If I was to take a staff RN job at that hospital in LA today it would be only $27/hr (with a very similar cost of living! I dont know how those nurses do it). I work through a local agency in LA for $33/hr on day shift - But in NYC agency pay is about $45/hr for day shift. I wouldnt be able to afford to be a traveler in LA either for what they get paid.
As far as what RNs are allowed to do -- I dont think thats a coast thing either. In my ICU, the RNs can do everything -- except make vent changes. (Resp Therapy has an office right outside our ICU). But RNs in our PACU can make the vent changes. (The fact that they dont have a Resp Therapist available to cover PACU may have something to do with that). In the hospital down the street they can not shoot outputs in their ICU, or do half the things we can -- but they can make vent changes & we cant.
I guess what you are allowed to do all depends more on the facility's policies & how much support staff it wants to cut than which coast you live on.