7 ways to boost your nurse salary


What happens when your employer (or potential employer) is pleading “tough times?” There are other factors besides compensation that can influence the final numbers.

You see, even in tough economic times you can seek a package that works for you. And remember…it’s a whole package, so take time to look beyond straight hourly pay. What is the amount offered in tuition reimbursement? What are the benefits, retention bonuses, CEU/CME reimbursement, recognition incentives, quality bonuses and pay differentials for shifts?

Tip #1: Yes, your years of experience, patient population, specialty and shift are all factors in how much you’ll earn, but consider this: More focus is now being placed on nurses as the “mid-level” provider position or assisting in the OR. Certain specialties and certifications, such as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Nurse Practitioner (NP) and Doctor of Nurse Practitioner (DNP), get higher compensation than other specialties. Of course, these specialties take more time and schooling to achieve, but these and other mid-level providers are stepping in to help fill the growing void of PCPs or support OR functions.

For example, CCRN pay is around $81,000 a year, while RN pay is around $72,000. The average CCRN salary changes from facility to facility, but adding this specialty to your resume can help you earn more money in the future.

Tip #2: A nurse’s pay difference can range from $0.50 to $10.00 per hour. This is tied to specialty, shift and certifications, so if you want to increase your bottom line, look for in-demand shifts (typically nights or weekends) and high-need specialties (which typically include acute critical care specialties like ICU, CICU, CVICU; labor and delivery; operating room; catheterization lab; oncology; and other sub-specialties, depending on the area), and get additional certifications like Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) Certifications, Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR) or Trauma Nurse Core Certification (TNCC). Many facilities also work on a sliding scale for their hourly pay based on years of experience. These differentials are where the manager or facility has some leeway with straight hourly compensation. Consider taking the CCRN exam or applying to another care unit to increase your rate of pay.

Tip #3: Evaluate benefits as another compensation area when looking at overall take-home pay, as the median salary may not tell the whole story. As costs rise, some facilities shift more of the health care cost to employees, increasing out-of-pocket costs and ultimately lowering what is actually taken home. My recruitment agency works with many facilities that offer an 80/20 split with the employee. In a few instances, employers pay 100 percent of premiums to make up for a rigid pay scale. This makes an offer more attractive.

Tip #4: Sign-on bonuses are not only used to attract you, but to keep you around. If you find a facility with a generous sign-on bonus, you may be given a payout over a period of time that boosts your pay, instead of just one lump sum. Additionally, some facilities offer annual bonuses when they meet KPIs such as patient satisfaction, quality measures or even financial viability. Look for a facility that shares its financial success with its employees.

Tip #5: Reimbursement for CEU/CMEs and/or actual college courses to advance training and degrees can really impact take-home pay in the short and long term. In the short term, the obvious benefit is that you don’t have to incur the cost of continuing education. In the long term, you’ll be eligible for higher pay across the board when you complete an advanced degree or specialty training. This can help lead you into a new direction, whether it be teaching or moving into an administrative or a mid-level provider role.

Tip #6: Document ahead of time the value you added to your unit: being on time, not calling out, patient letters or documented comments on the great care you provided. Have these ready and submit them along with hand-washing reports or other quality initiatives for your floor or unit that you can access. These are not only helpful in the review process, but also in the event you choose to change jobs or apply for a management or supervisory role in your system. Anything positive that you document can help you with your resume and provide talking points for your interview.

Tip #7: If, despite your efforts and evaluation, you can’t reach a mutually beneficial outcome in your review, salary or raise negotiation, you may decide to look for a different position. There are free nurse recruitment services that offer relocation assistance (if needed) and will work as advocates for you and your career advancement. These services can take the hassle and worry out of the equation and present a number of opportunities that meet your financial needs, offer professional interview coaching, provide any travel arrangements and offer interview pre- and post-interview assessments. They’ll also support your contract negotiation so you can do what you do best: care for patients.


Tips and advice are provided by Bill Wisinski, divisional vice president of nurse recruitment at Martin, Fletcher. He is responsible for overseeing the recruitment activities of more than 70 nurse recruiters and works directly with nurses and health care facilities across the country. Bill’s team works with an average of 2,800 qualified candidates each month, recording and tracking information and trends in the company’s database. His insight and knowledge of nursing recruitment trends, including compensation and benefits analysis, are featured in the 2008 Compensation and Benefits Report, an annual compilation of the health care marketplace. Bill is an active member of the company’s leadership team and has developed tools for Martin, Fletcher employees to better support their roster of nurses and health care facilities.


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