How to Negotiate a Better Nursing Salary

As a nurse, you don’t do what you do for the money alone. You entered the healthcare profession to help others heal, to improve people’s lives. To make a lasting difference.  

With that being said, being fairly compensated for the hard work you do is important. And that’s only been made clearer over the past few years – one silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it showed just how important healthcare workers really are. The truth is that you deserve to be paid a great wage for the lifesaving work you do. And a big part of receiving that is negotiating your salary. 

You might be surprised to learn that many nurses don’t negotiate their pay at all when starting a new job. Less than half of all Registered Nurses (RNs) negotiate salary at the start of a new position, according to Nurse.com’s Nursing Salary Research Report. But the fact is that taking the time to negotiate the right way is the best method for receiving a fair salary that’s commensurate with your skills and experience. 

Why and when should you negotiate your nursing salary? Are there things to negotiate besides the money? And most crucially, how do you go about negotiating your salary to your benefit? Read on as we discuss the finer points of negotiating your nursing salary.  

Why is it Important to Negotiate Your Nursing Salary?

Let’s face it: Talking about money isn’t always comfortable. Many nurses don’t like to speak about their salaries, especially when they’re just starting a new job. And that leads to many nurses not negotiating better pay at all.  

But negotiating a nursing salary is important. It’s not just about getting paid more – it’s about being compensated fairly and appropriately. It’s about growing in your career over time, too. Negotiating for a higher salary early on in your career means you’ll keep building upon that foundation as time goes on. You’ll be able to move to new nursing positions, gaining skills and experience as you go, and continue to command a higher pay rate with each success.  

When Should You Negotiate a Nursing Salary?

We talk a lot about the “why” and “what” of negotiating your nursing salary, but sometimes we overlook the “when.” When is it appropriate and effective to negotiate your nursing salary? 

It’s simpler than you might think. You’ll want to negotiate a nursing salary after you’ve received a job offer, or after you’ve completed additional education or certifications that increase your earning potential.  

After Receiving a Job Offer

Most commonly, nurses negotiate their salaries during the offer stage of the hiring process. When done correctly – and consistently – your lifelong earning potential can be increased dramatically. Once an employer makes an offer and is clear about the compensation, it’s your time to negotiate by making a counteroffer. There can be multiple offers and counteroffers, and it could take time. (We’ll learn more about the process below.) 

Completing Additional Education or Certifications

Another ideal time to negotiate salary? After you’ve completed certifications, advanced education, or specializations in a particular area of nursing. You can ask for a higher salary at your current job, or go into negotiations with a new employer using your education or specializations as a bargaining chip.  

Benefits to Negotiate Aside from Salary

Money is important when it comes to nursing salaries. But money isn’t everything. When negotiating, it’s important to take the entire job package into account. There are other things aside from salary that are very important to your happiness and job satisfaction.  

Here are four things to consider negotiating aside from your salary itself:

Schedule Flexibility

Many nursing jobs are set up in shifts. First shift, second shift, and third shift (overnight) are the typical categories you’ll see, although there are variations. When you’re entering into negotiations with an employer, be sure to be aware of the schedule flexibility you’ll have, whether it’s choosing between shifts, swapping shifts with coworkers, having flexible start and end times, etc. Landing a job that works with your lifestyle and schedule is very important. 

Parental Leave

Do you have children? Think you might while you’re employed with the job you’re interviewing for? Parental leave is an important thing to consider during the negotiation stage. Find out what kind of parental leave policy the employer offers and consider negotiating with it as a part of your bargaining. 

Tuition Reimbursement

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement when you pursue higher education, or other arrangements related to advanced education and certifications. Considering how this can affect your future salary and overall career trajectory, be sure to factor in these benefits when considering a job offer. You might be willing to accept a slightly lower salary, for example, knowing that you’ll be able to get an advanced degree for free and command a higher pay rate in the future.  

Paid Time Off

PTO is important in any job, but it’s essential in nursing. You need that time off to recharge your batteries in order to be the best caregiver you can be. Be crystal clear about the time-off policies an employer has in place when you’re entering negotiations. Depending on the employer, you might be able to ask for a higher salary in exchange for a few less PTO hours a month, or take a slightly lower salary in exchange for more. 

How to Negotiate a Nursing Salary 

We’ve seen why it’s important to negotiate a nursing salary, when to do it, and what to consider besides the money itself. But the question remains… how do you actually go about negotiating your pay?  

Here are five nursing salary negotiation tips:

1. Conduct Industry Research 

Average salaries for nurses can vary widely based on multiple factors: the type of nursing job, the location, education levels, experience, and much more. That’s why it’s so important to do your research before heading into negotiations. Use resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and online salary estimators to find out what nurses typically make in your area based on your qualifications and experience. Being armed with this data is the first step toward having bargaining power during negotiations. 

2. Settle on a Minimum Salary Range That You Won’t Deviate From

Any successful negotiation starts with a clear statement of your wants and needs. Before negotiating, you’ll want to have a clear picture of the minimum salary you’ll settle for. Be clear to yourself and to the hiring manager that you won’t deviate from this. You need a base number that you’re not willing to compromise on – otherwise, you’ll be vulnerable to accepting less than you’re worth. 

3. Wait for the Employer to State a Salary Number First

If you come in hot and blurt out your preferred salary right away, you’re shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to negotiations. You’ve just given away your hand – it’s a much better approach to wait for the employer to state their salary number first, and negotiate from there.  

4. Leverage Experience & Credentials

Remember to be well-versed in your own experience and credentials and be able to reference these facts and figures during negotiations. You want to be able to say, “I’ve completed advanced training in this field, and most nurses with this certification make at least $X. I’d like at least $X to remain in-line with my peers.”  

5. Consider Benefits in the Negotiation

We’ve already talked about additional benefits and perks that should factor into your decision, including parental leave, PTO, tuition reimbursement, and flexibility in your schedule. Remember to bring up these additional benefits during negotiations, too. You may be able to craft your job offer more to your liking by agreeing to certain stipulations or arrangements based on these benefits. 

Can a New Grad Nurse Negotiate Salary?

What if you’re a brand-new graduate from nursing school? It can feel impossible to negotiate salary if you’re in this position, simply because you don’t have much experience or work history to draw upon. But the truth is that even new nursing grads can negotiate salary to some extent.  

Here’s what to remember about how to negotiate salary as a new grad: It’s at least worth trying. You might not have much to go on, but you can bring up internship or externship experience, specialized coursework, research, or other factors that might help you command a higher salary. As is the case for any nurse, do your research to find out what new graduates make on average in your area, and base your negotiations on that information.  

Work with Horizon Healthcare to Advance Your Nursing Career Today

Here’s another way to get the salary and benefits package you deserve when signing on for a new nursing job: work with a professional healthcare recruitment firm like Horizon Healthcare Management. Our nursing recruiters know the market, and they’re experienced in getting nurses the salaries they deserve.  

Horizon Healthcare Management is the premier healthcare staffing agency in IN, KY, and LA that provides you with the guidance and negotiating power that helps you advance your nursing career. Get in touch with a member of our team to learn more about the permanent, temporary, per diem, and locum tenens opportunities we offer, and browse open positions to see what’s available near you.  

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