You’ve just finished your nursing degree and you’re ready for your first nursing job. Or perhaps you have only been a nurse for a year or two and you’d like to increase your salary. What can a new nurse expect to make in today’s job market? What are some strategies for increasing your earning potential?
Carmen Kosicek, RN, MSN, author of Nurses, Jobs and Money -- A Guide to Advancing Your Nursing Career and Salary says that the average salary for new nurses is between $20-$25 -- depending on the region. And starting salaries don’t vary much in terms of specialty according to Kosicek. “If you are a new medical/surgical nurse versus an ICU nurse, the pay is not much different; there’s simply a flood in much of the major markets. Even the difference between AND (Associate Degree in Nursing) level nurses versus BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) level nurses is merely $0.50/hour at best. It’s sad, but true,” she says.
Today Kosicek shares some insights and tips on how to earn as much as you can when starting out.
Minimize the Cost of Benefits
“First of all, if you are under 26 and can stay on your parents’ health insurance, do so,” Kosicek says. “It’s odd, but most hospitals don't have very good health benefits. Additionally, if you can, sign off that you don't/won't take the health care benefits. That is a savings for the employer and can potentially lead to more income for you -- though not every employer offers this as an option.”
Seek Employment Outside of the Traditional Settings
If you’re only looking at jobs in hospitals and clinics, you could be missing out on higher earnings. Kosicek advises nurses to look for employment beyond the “traditional settings” and instead consider some alternatives. Examples include:
Industrial Health Nurse
Employee Health Nurse
Risk Manager Nurse
Utilization Review Nurse
Quality Management Nurse
You don’t have to accept the first offer from an employer; nurses do have negotiating power. The first step, according to Kosicek is to simply ask. But be ready to ask specifically for what you want and be flexible.
Before you enter into negotiations, Kosicek recommends doing your research by exploring salary websites such as GlassDoor.com for salary data that you can use to make your case to an employer.
If they reject your request for a certain salary amount, don’t give up.
“Ask for a pay difference,” Kosicek says. “If they won't say yes to the pay, hit them across different buckets of money. For example, get more money for CEUs (continuing education courses), travel reimbursements and the time off to attend. Also ask for a higher 401(k) match if that’s something to negotiate; ask for your association dues to be covered; ask for work-from-home days.”
Finally, remember to explore those non-traditional venues. “They are more flexible with negotiations because they don't have as many RNs knocking at their door,” she says. They are more business savvy, they want to have a win-win relationship with their nurses and they simply need great nurses who understand business.”
Denene Brox is a freelance writer based in Kansas City.