Nurse holding stethoscope from piggy bank to chest

It's no secret that salary is one of the top factors when considering a job. As nurses become more experienced, their value increases, as should their income. However, many nurses are uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating for higher pay and often don't realize that they are being paid less than their peers or other nurses in similar roles. Talking about money can be intimidating, but taking the initiative to research and understand nursing salaries will prepare nurses to confidently negotiate for earning what they're worth.

Negotiation 101

According to career coach Kim Dority, asking for a raise is a skill that nurses can master. "Successful negotiations require self-assessment, research and planning, and strong communication skills."

Negotiating begins with knowing what nurses in your state, specialty, and experience level are currently being paid. Websites like PayScale can provide this information. While stating accomplishments and contributions that a nurse has made can be helpful, numbers are better.

Take for example a nurse implementing a procedure change on the unit that resulted in ten less falls for the quarter. This evidence is measurable and shows an obvious benefit.

To start, it's helpful for nurses to take the time to consider what's missing in their career and what expectations they have. From there, determine a number or percentage that seems like a reasonable pay increase. It's also important for nurses to rehearse what they plan to say beforehand. Consider the different directions that a conversation could go and how to best respond. Negotiation is a normal part of business, and shouldn't be taken personally. A nurse should stay confident and conduct themselves professionally - just as they would in any other conversation.

Negotiation Isn't All About The Money

Nurses are often accepting of the obligation to "pay their dues" for a couple of years, and understand that they may be required to work less desirable shifts or on call rotations. However, as their lives evolve and their expertise grows, their bargaining power increases too. Here are some other important factors to consider outside of salary:

Sick days or paid time off. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for jobs to not offer sick days. Often, employees are expected to use paid time off if they are sick. If having more than two weeks of vacation is important to a nurse, they can negotiate for three or four weeks of paid time off.

Continuing education or tuition reimbursement. Most reputable companies and hospitals offer this benefit in some way. If a nurse feels that obtaining an advanced degree is important and something that they plan to pursue in the near future, negotiating for financial assistance or reimbursement can be worthwhile.

Alternate scheduling. Work-life balance is important and unexpected life changes happen. Working 12-hour shifts may need to be negotiated to 10-hour shifts, or working every third weekend opposed to every other weekend.

Be Prepared To Meet Resistance

Despite rehearsing a negotiation speech and staying prepared to discuss facts and statistics, nurses may still be denied. This often isn't due to a supervisor disagreeing that a nurse is worthy, but because businesses can't always accommodate the cost or change.

If a nurse has had a fair discussion with their supervisor and reviewed other possible avenues but still feels they are not receiving the compensation or benefits they deserve, it is their prerogative to search for a job that is ready to give them what they are worth.

The silver lining is that the nurse now has experience negotiating and more confidence to pursue what they deserve.

Advice For New Grads

New graduate nurses typically do not have much negotiating power. This holds true for anyone starting out in a profession, as they are a novice and are still learning and becoming comfortable. However, this doesn't mean that a new nurse should accept the first job that comes their way - especially if it doesn't align with their goals.

Many new graduate nurses get their foot in the door through a residency program, which often involves signing a contract agreeing to stay with the facility for a couple of years. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - especially if it's at a reputable hospital or a difficult specialty to get into, such as the ICU.

It's in the best interest of the new nurse to do their due diligence by researching the hospital and speaking with current or past employees to ensure that they will be working in a supportive environment. If all that appears satisfactory but the contract seems a little sketchy, talk things out with the hiring manager. Is there any offer of a sign-on bonus? Are they willing to help pay off student loans? Don't be afraid to hold out for the right opportunity. Nurses work long and stressful days, saving lives, and giving their all to their patients. It's important for them to recognize the value they offer employers with their knowledge and experience. If you are a nurse that's been in the same role or facility for several years and hasn't received more than a basic annual raise, it might be time to start researching and crunching the numbers. Remember that it never hurts to ask, and it just may lead to better pay and job satisfaction.

Maegen Wagner, RN, BSN
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