Every year, Diversity: Allied Health Careers takes a look at the state of your paycheck. So how’s your salary holding up? Pretty well, in fact. It looks like most allied health paychecks are on the upswing. So whether you’re studying to become an allied health care professional, already working within the field, or just thinking about the possibility of a career in health care—Diversity: Allied Health Careers’ Third Annual Salary Report probably holds good news for you.
And fattened paychecks aren’t the only improvement. To address current workforce shortages, health care organizations are going to pretty unusual lengths to compete for existing allied health recruits. Not only are starting salaries on the rise, but signing bonuses are not uncommon in fields where shortages are most acute, such as clinical laboratory science and radiologic technology. And more hospitals are also establishing flexible work schedules and even considering three-day workweeks. Retention bonuses are even being attempted by some organizations in an effort to keeping staff from changing employers. ‘
All these extras are just a sign of the times; allied health care is a hot industry. You should be proud to be part of such a sought-after profession, and you should make the most of its current popularity and power.
So whether you’re still in school and just dreaming of payday or you’re currently employed, knowing your financial worth is vital. Your skills, experience and educational background not only make up who you are, they also determine how much money you’re able to earn. In order to find out if you’re being fairly compensated, it’s important to have a clear sense of how your salary compares to your peers’ salaries in your field. If you’re currently underpaid in your position, maybe it’s time to ask for a raise or look for a higher-paying job. Or maybe checking out this report will help you realize how generous your current employer really is.
Keep in mind, however, that due to space limitations this report is not intended to provide comprehensive salary data on all allied health disciplines. For more information on other allied health care fields and salary ranges, check out Salary.com or the American Medical Association’s Web site (www.ama.org).
$90,000 – $110,000 (American Medical Association)
$28,000 – $40,000 (American Medical Association)
$45,000 (American Medical Association)
Scientist III – Biotech
Scientist II – Biotech
Scientist I – Biotech
Cardiac Catheterization Technologist
Dental Lab Technician
$15.40/hr (American Medical Association)
Starting Salary: $26,000 – $37,000*
Upper Ranges: $36,300 – $41,100 (American Medical Association)
* Data valid for those employed full time in their current primary position for five years or less.
Emergency Medical Technician
$53,800 (American Medical Association)
$40,000 (American Medical Association)
Medical Appliances, Orthotics and Protheses
Medical Laboratory Technology
$50,086 (American Medical Association)
$41,122 (American Medical Association)
$34,549 (American Medical Association)
Chief Medical Technologist
Medical Technologist – Microbiology
Medical Technologist – Hematology
Medical Laboratory Technician, Sr.
Medical Laboratory Technician
Medical Management and Information
Medical Records Director
Medical Records Administrator
Medical Transcription Supervisor
$ 44,726 (Salary.com)
Medical Records Transcriptionist
Substance Abuse Center Director (Hospital Operated)
Marriage and Family Counselor/Therapist
$57,119 (American Medical Association)
Mental Health Technician
Nuclear Medicine Director
Nuclear Medicine Technician
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant
Ophthalmic Medical Technician/Technologist
Starting Salary: $35,000 Upper Range: $65,000+ (American Medical Association)
Opthalmic Dispensing Optician
Starting Salary: $24,400 (American Medical Association)
Opthalmic Laboratory Technician
Starting Salary: $15,100 Upper Range: $25,000 (American Medical Association)
You do a great job. You make an effort to stay educated in your field. You come into work early and you leave late. But you realized that you’re behind the curve when it comes to pay. So why not ask for a raise?
Today, you have more leverage than ever when it comes to asking for a boost in your paycheck. “It’s a good time to ask-there are shortages out there,” says David Westhart, director of career development at Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson College of Health Professions. “This year we had more recruiters at our career fair than ever before. Placement rates at Jefferson are 97% within a year after graduation.”
Alex Ogburn, vice president of recruiting at Allied Consulting, a firm specializing in the permanent placement of allied professionals, agrees. “It’s so hot [within allied health professions] that we’re seeing a double digit increases in income per year in some cases.”
Before you ask your boss for that big raise, however, it’s important to prepare your case. Read on to find out how much you’re worth, how to put together an irresistible package for your supervisor, and how to negotiate a salary raise (and other perks) that will have you smiling all the way to the bank on payday.
Beating the Pay Scale
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Some health care companies work under a rigid pay scale for their staff (though supervisors and managers have more leeway). Therefore, if you have five years of experience you get X-amount of dollars. Seven years of experience? You get Y. Sometimes it’s even stricter at larger employers. “The larger the facility, the more employees they’re managing, so to raise one person’s salary they’d have to raise everyone’s,” says Ogburn. “And if the employer tries to give a raise to just one person, they may have a mutiny on their hands.”
However, it never hurts to ask. “If you say, ‘Look, I know that’s the way it is here, but I can go [somewhere else] and make $8,000 more per year,’ all of a sudden the rules aren’t so hard and fast anymore,” says Westhart. Some of the tips given below will also help you get around this salary roadblock. And if you’re locked into a salary that puts you at a disadvantage, Westhart suggests taking your skills elsewhere.
How Much Are You Really Worth?
Knowing how much cash your job is worth helps you decide whether it’s time to ask for a raise and gives you more ammo when you approach your supervisor. “Not only is this information helpful to you, but administrators are very interested in data,” says Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses.
“If you’re asking for something more, they want to know why they should give it to you-the fact that you’re a nice person or a good worker isn’t enough.”
Here are some resources to help you find out the going rate for employees in your position:
Professional associations Ask your professional association whether they have salary survey data. Some associations offer the info to members gratis, while others charge a fee.
NACE The National Association of Colleges and Employers has an extensive salary survey that most schools participate in. Most university career officers rely on NACE or its regional counterparts.
Salary.com This site offers the salary 411 on many professions, but “it trends a bit high, so I average it with a few other places,” says Westhart.
Career fairs “Get out to some health care career fairs or even a health care convention where you’ll be in a room with people who work for many different employers,” suggests Cardillo. “They’re generally forthcoming with salaries, benefits, working conditions–you’ll have a great basis for comparison.” And you may even find that you’ve got it pretty good with your current employer.
Career development centers Your university’s career center will be able to help you find salary information for your field.
Co-workers It’s helpful to know not only the national and local rates, but also the rates within your company. If your employer doesn’t post salaries, you may be able to glean information through word of mouth. “People aren’t encouraged to share salary information but many do,” says Cardillo. Just be sure not to incriminate your fellow employees when asking for a raise by saying, “Sue says she gets X per hour and I get only Y!” Instead, suggests Cardillo, say, “The information I’m getting from my co-workers is that people are getting X. Can you verify if that’s true? If so, I’m concerned that I’m not getting paid on a comparable level.”
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
Put yourself in your employer’s shoes: What if an employee marched up to you and said, “I think I deserve a raise,” without giving any justification? Chances are, you’d send him back to do his homework. “When asking for a raise, justification is important,” says Deleise Lindsay of DBM, a global human resources consulting firm. “You will not be given a raise without proving your value to the organization.”
But how do you convince your boss that your place of employment would be lost without you? First you have to determine your value and then you have to present the highlights to your employer. Here are some ways to determine your worth:
Pull out your resume Did you graduate from a well-regarded program? How have your skills developed since you wrote your resume? Have you gotten more education since then? These are the points your boss wants to know when you’re requesting a raise. Also, answering these questions can be a real ego boost, which you’ll need when your boss asks you to prove you’re worth extra money!
Go over your evaluations Do you always get positive reviews from your supervisor? That’s another point in your scorebook.
Imagine Pretend you work for yourself and think about why you’re a superb staff member. This is especially helpful if you’re usually afraid to toot your own horn. “When people step back and look at what they bring to the table, they give themselves at least as much credit as they’re due, if not a little more,” says Ogburn.
Keep a file
“I recommend every professional keep an ‘atta boy/girl’ file,” says Lindsay. “This is an ongoing file that you keep as you receive recognition or documentation. The information is then at your fingertips, so you won’t forget an important piece of information or be scrambling six months later to come up with numbers.
Fish for compliments “Ask people who know you well what your strong points are,” says Cardillo. “Many of us aren’t aware of our strong points.”
Go for PAR Ask yourself, “What have I done to increase revenue? improve quality? increase productivity? cut costs? improve the efficiency of a process? comply with regulations? improve safety? improve customer service? implement a new program? improve performance?” Once these are identified, says Lindsay, develop a worksheet for each using the PAR method: What was the Problem I was trying to solve? What was the Action that I took to solve the problem? What was the Result? A sample statement would look like this: “Reduced workplace accidents by 20% by devising a safety program for my department.”
Getting to Yes
Once you’ve developed an arsenal of information proving that you deserve a raise, it’s time to talk to your boss. Follow these tips to make the meeting successful.
Make a date Don’t grab your boss in the hallway on her way to lunch and blurt out, “Can I have a raise?” “Choose an appropriate time and place to ask for a raise,” Cardillo advises. “Make an appointment for a mutually convenient time with minimal distractions.”
Write it out “It’s a good idea to put your requirements in writing,” says Cardillo. “There’s less of a chance for forgetfulness or miscommunication. The major points are clearer and it makes a greater impact. State what you’re asking for and why.”
Don’t give an ultimatum No one likes to be threatened, and telling your boss that you’ll walk out if you don’t get a raise is just that-a threat. “[If you give an ultimatum], you automatically polarize the situation-me versus you,” says Ogburn. “You’re part of a team, and you want to approach this as a team member.”
Be prepared to wait Sometimes your employer has to work with HR to determine if an increase in salary is possible, says Westhart, “so be prepared for it to take awhile.”
Don’t go fishing “Sometimes people go interviewing to get other offers and come back to their employers and fish for a counteroffer,” says Ogburn. “However, oftentimes they’re not serious about taking another job. It’s a bluff and it’s not professional.” If you’re serious about another position, it is fair to ask for a counteroffer from your current employer. But if you don’t plan to follow through, your plan can backfire. Ogburn tells of an employee who tried such a bluff. The administrators gave him a raise, but were so offended that they documented everything he did for a few months and then served him with a pink slip.
Be flexible Don’t go in with an all-or-nothing attitude; that just sets you up for disappointment. Instead, be flexible about what you’re willing to accept. “If your supervisor says there is not another nickel in the budget, maybe you can work something else out,” Cardillo says. For example, you can say, “I’ve been covering for other staff in my department and would appreciate it if I didn’t have to do that anymore.”
You can also ask for better working conditions, more time off, free parking or other perks. You can even ask your employer to pay for a percentage of an advanced education degree.
Aim high When determining how much of a raise you’d like, shoot a bit higher than your actual goal so that there’s room to negotiate. For example, if you’d like an additional $5,000 per year and ask for exactly that amount, chances are your employer will haggle you down to $4,000 or even less. If you ask for $7,000, you can haggle and still get the $5,000 you wanted (or maybe you’ll even get the $7,000!).
Don’t go over your boss’s head Always talk to your immediate supervisor; going straight to the head honcho will create bad feelings all around. If your supervisor thinks you have a case, she’ll present your request to the decision-makers.
Toot your own horn Even if you’re a stellar employee with a ton of responsibilities, chances are your supervisor doesn’t know half of what you really do. After all, he doesn’t follow you around all day, putting little gold stars by your name when you do something well. “It’s always a great idea to enumerate the value you bring and your scope of responsibility,” says Cardillo. “That’s not bragging-it’s just giving people a report of what you do.” So if you’re always willing to help out when needed, if you get along with your fellow employees, if you always come in early and leave late, and if you often cover for other people-let your boss know!
The Next Step
Okay, so you met with your boss, followed all of our tips, and made a great impression. What happens now?
Most likely, your supervisor will consult with HR, but the final decision will almost always go to the top administration-especially if giving you a raise would mean increasing the department’s budget. Some employers act very swiftly, taking just a week or two to make a decision, while others may take months to cut through all the red tape. In any case, expect your immediate supervisor to keep you up-to-date on what the administration is saying and when you can expect to have an answer.
When the Answer Is No
Sometimes it happens-even though you’re the greatest staff member your employer has ever laid eyes on, they just can’t afford a raise. In this case, you have a few options.
If you still feel you should be getting paid more, Cardillo suggests creating a written proposal. “Enumerate all the things you do and be specific about what you want,” she says. “Ask your boss to go back to the powers that be with the proposal in hand.”
Or try getting around the salary cap by asking for a promotion instead. “Is there an improved title that comes with a higher salary, such as moving into a ‘senior’ position?” asks Westhart. “If you can demonstrate that you’re doing more than your job description states, then you should feel comfortable asking for [a promotion].”
Finally, if there’s no chance of receiving a raise and you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, it may be time to move on.
Boost Your Bottom Line
Here’s some good news to mull over while you dream of a hefty raise: Unlike employees in other industries, health care workers are currently in hot demand. Your chances of receiving ample compensation for all your hard work are very high. Just follow these tips and watch your salary soar!
Nursing is a profession that can truly move with the person, wherever they choose to put down roots. The job prospects are solid for nurses with employers seeking minority nurses everywhere from small towns to urban centers. Because there is so much opportunity, deciding which nursing specialty and geographical area to live and work can take some soul searching.
While many older nurses are still hanging on to their positions and postponing retirement due to the economy, the job prospects for nurses in the future holds promise.
“There’s certainly evidence to show that currently hospitals and other facilities are not hiring at the pace that they were, simply because people are not retiring or leaving their employment the way that they were, and that has to do with the economy,” says Katie Brewer, a policy analyst for the American Nurses Association in Silver Spring, Maryland, discussing the region in and around the Washington, D.C., area. “It’s hard to trend and analyze data; but from hiring employment data, anecdotally we know that there has been a general slowdown in hiring.”
The nursing job market may be less robust in recent years due to the recession, but Brewer is optimistic about the near future of nursing jobs. “That [slowdown] will change in the next few years as people reach retirement age. They may have been close, but when the economy tanked, they weren’t close enough in order to justify retiring. But in the next few years as the economy recovers and people’s financial situations begin to improve, we’ll see a bottom fall-out in terms of the amount of people that retire and the amount of people that can afford to go to part-time work or leave their job. So there will be another influx of needs in the nursing field.”
One area in particular that Brewer says is on the cusp of major growth is geriatric nursing.
“There’s definitely evidence that there’s a great need in geriatric nursing. We’re on the cusp of almost a 20 million person increase in the age population of 65 and older,” Brewer says. “We’re going to have a tremendous need for nurses that can take care of older adults as well as some of the conditions that those people generally have, such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart conditions, and cognitive impairment. So that’s where the biggest growth in specialty needs will be. There’s no question of that. It’s definitely a nationwide need.”
“Because a lot of nursing students are trying to specialize now, it has really placed a void for nurses at the bedside,” says Linda Faye Hughlett, R.N., M.S.N., C.N.M., a certified nurse midwife for the Vanderbilt Nurse Midwives Practice in Nashville, Tennessee. “I see a great need for new nurses [at the bedside] because a lot of new nurses are coming out of school, inexperienced, and not wanting to deal with the challenges that many face on a medical-surgical unit. Also, the appeal of making more money as an advanced practice nurse (APN) is adding to this void. So they have no plan or desire to stay at the bedside and do that kind of grunt work.”
Hector M. Benitez, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.H.A., Care Management Operations Integration Director at WellPoint, in Lebanon, Tennessee, agrees. “I think that minority nurses are really needed at the bedside in medical-surgical situations where they’re on the floor,” he says. “It’s imperative that we have nurses at that level, particularly because that’s when patients are the most vulnerable. They’re lost and confused—especially if they don’t know the language.”
Medical-surgical nursing is an area where minorities, especially those with language skills, can make a huge impact on patient care.
“I’ve seen situations where the nurse comes in to assist a patient and they cannot communicate because of the language barrier,” Benitez says. “The nurse will explain what they’re doing and I always find it kind of comical because if you don’t understand what they’re saying to you most patients just smile and nod their head ‘yes.’ That gives the indication that it’s okay, although they have no clue of what was just said to them, and then the nurse proceeds to do whatever it is they need to do.”
For Felecia B. Green, R.N.C., B.S.N., O.B., nurse manager in the high-risk O.B. unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas, a specialty that comes to mind with significant growth is the nursing informatics field. “The era of a paperless health care delivery system lends itself to a greater demand for nurses to be proficient and versatile in computer technology. Minority nurses are needed in this arena to help navigate and influence the changes that are occurring in health care documentation.”
Finally, Brewer predicts that there will be a need for advanced practice registered nurses in the field as the health care landscape continues to change. “These are nurses that have advanced practice education training and can do things like prescribe medication, prescribe home care, and provide more independent medical and health care services to patients,” Brewer says. “And as more people are getting into the health care system with the affordable care act being fully realized, there’s going to be a huge need for providers in that sense. So advanced practice registered nurses can meet that need.”
As more patients enter the health care system because of widening access to care, the increase in minority patients will require good culturally competent care. And minority nurses are needed across all specialties to meet those growing needs. “It is beneficial to the patients and their families to witness minority nurses thriving in areas that were historically all white,” Green says. “Minority nurses can be advocates to assist in the cultural differences—whether beliefs or rituals—that many ethnic individuals may have. Minority nurses are a window into the future for the younger patients, and may influence perceptions that this career is within their grasp.”
Nurses aim to deliver the best patient care no matter the city or town they practice in—whether it’s a rural hospital or a thriving metropolis. But there are regional differences when it comes to job opportunities, average salaries, and the quality of living.
Quiz: Rural vs. Urban—Which area is right for you? Have you ever thought of working as a nurse in a rural area of the country? Perhaps you grew up in a rural town and want to give back. Or, would the fast-paced environment of a downtown hospital be a better fit for your career and personal goals? Take this quiz to see which area may be the best fit for you. 1. I feel that I can do my best work in ______. A: Facilities where I can take my time with each patient B: Facilities where I get to care for many patients at the same time 2. I would be willing to live in a sparsely populated area if there were incentives such as student loan repayment. A: True B: False 3. I enjoy taking a strong leadership role in my patients’ care where I have more authority to act as a primary care nurse. A: True B: False 4. Which do you value more: A: Lower cost of living B: Cultural diversity Answer Key: Mostly A’s–Small Town USA If you answered mostly A’s, you’re likely open to a nursing career in a rural setting. Visit the National Rural Health Association’s website at www.ruralhealthweb.org for more information. Mostly B’s–Faster-Paced City If you answered mostly B’s, urban cities or larger suburban areas are likely a better fit for your ideal quality of life. Be prepared for a tighter job market, as there will be more competition in larger communities.
Benitez and Alan Morgan, chief executive officer of the National Rural Health Association based in Washington, D.C., both agree that the Southeast region of the country needs more nurses.
“In my experience, there’s a lot of opportunity in the South. But for some reason, I’ve seen nurses who’ve completed school here and the first thing they do is move away,” Benitez says. “But looking around, our salaries have always been fairly competitive with other regions. It’s also been my experience that the cost of living is a bit easier to manage with a nursing salary [in the South] as opposed to moving somewhere in California or up North where your living expenses are going to be really expensive, in relationship to your salary.”
Morgan adds that Southeastern states, such as Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee are experiencing nursing workforce shortages. “The Southeast would be where we’re seeing the major need for additional health care and practitioners to be,” Morgan says.
Rosario Medina-Shepherd, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., B.C.R.N., assistant professor of nursing at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and Vice President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses agrees that minority nurses are needed in the South. She adds that “minority nurses are presently needed in the higher populated minority areas, including New York, Florida, and states in the West. This is rapidly changing to include areas such as North Carolina that were once not thought to be affected.”
No matter which area of the country you choose to work in, Brewer advises nurses to look for health care organizations that have obtained magnet status.
“Hospitals and other facilities that have magnet designation are definitely the places where nurses want to work because those are the places that are committed to nursing leadership and nursing excellence. And so when people are looking around for jobs, one of the first things that they should ask their potential employer is if they have magnet status or if they are working to become a magnet facility,” Brewer says.
There are many pros and cons to working in both rural and urban health care settings. Many nurses are drawn to rural areas because of programs that recruit them and offer student loan repayment arrangements. Other nurses prefer the hustle and bustle of the city.
“I started my career in an urban environment and quickly adjusted to the multidisciplinary team approach to patient care,” Green says. “It allowed for readily available resources, ongoing training, and utilization of evidence-based practices.”
On the other hand, rural nurses are often considered primary care givers—often working with a greater degree of independence and without much support from physicians due to shortages.
Rosario Medina-Shepherd, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., B.C.R.N., professor of nursing, Lynn University; Vice President, National Association of Hispanic Nurses
Hughlett suggests nurses considering practicing in a rural area ask questions and understand the work environment and how it differs from a heavily populated setting. “They need to know what resources are available for them. These resources can be a very integral component of their survival as well as job satisfaction,” Hughlett says. “If you are an APN, before you sign a work contract, ask who your consulting physician will be as well as the details surrounding that relationship. APNs in rural areas are often left out there by themselves to care for mass amount of patients without feeling support from the medical community.”
Green says nurses considering practicing in a rural area should also consider a number of factors impacting the move. “Nurses should ask themselves whether they are comfortable, proficient, and confident to practice outside of the safety net of having an entire team available for emergent situations,” Green says. “Are they willing to stabilize, prioritize, and give the appropriate intervention until a higher level of care is available? Do they want total autonomy—from admission to discharge?”
While there may be some unique challenges to working in rural areas, Morgan says job prospects are plentiful.
“The current job market for nurses in rural areas is outstanding,” he says. “That’s great news for rural nursing, not such great news for rural America, typically because there is such a significant workforce shortage now in rural areas.”
Morgan also notes some of the perks to rural nursing. “The two selling points for practicing in rural areas: one would be quality of life,” he says. “Living in a small town—it’s a wonderful place to raise a family, and there’s a tremendous sense of community that you have in small towns across the United States. Another benefit is that you’re working in small organizations—small rural hospitals, full health clinics, and small community health centers. When you’re in a small organization, there is a greater opportunity for leadership positions and for innovation in health care delivery.”
Others, like Trang Nguyen, R.N., B.S.N., a nurse manager at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas, believe minority nurses are especially needed in urban areas. “I see such a diverse population where I am now and have really developed an appreciation for diversity,” she says. “You learn how to care for different people and really tailor your care for them. As a minority, I find myself taking a step back and making sure that I am tending to culturally sensitive aspects for all patient populations.”
Salary Data for Registered Nurses (RN)
RN hourly rate by state or province Texas: $20.38–$35.60 California: $23.83–$50.51 Florida: $19.58–$33.86 Illinois: $19.60–$35.04 Ohio: $19.29–$31.51 Pennsylvania: $19.95–$35.89 New York: $20.08–$39.65 Source: Payscale.com; United States; updated: September 22, 2011; individuals reporting: 44,836
RN national hourly rate by years of experience Less than one year: $15.93–$29.38 1–4 years: $19.16–$31.79 5–9 years: $21.19–$36.86 10–19 years: $22.47–$39.90 20 years or more $23.03–$43.11 Source: Payscale.com; United States; updated: September 22, 2011; individuals reporting: 44,858
RN hourly rate by skill/specialty Medicine/Surgery: $19.69–$36.16 Acute Care: $19.94–$37.09 Intensive Care Unit (ICU): $20.21–$38.85 Geriatrics: $19.26–$34.08 Pediatrics $18.53–$35.74 Labor & Delivery, Birthing: $19.17–$36.82 Emergency/ER: $18.72–$37.23 Source: Payscale.com; United States; updated: September 22, 2011; individuals reporting: 40,004
RN hourly rate by degree/major subject Bachelor of Science (B.S.N.): $21.09–$40.90 Associate Degree in Nursing: $20.35–$36.77 CPR: $24.39–$30.18 Associate of Science in Nursing (A.A.S.): $21.23–$31.06 Diploma, Nursing: $20.53–$37.50 Master of Science, Nursing (M.S.N.): $22.67–39.25 Source: Payscale.com; United States; updated: November, 30 2011; individuals reporting: 15,555
When you choose your allied health graduate program, you want to make sure you get a great education and solid professional training. But let’s face it, you also want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. With graduate school costs on the rise, your investment has to pay off in the long run. Each grad program offers different pros and cons, including varying tuition prices, teaching assistantships, financial aid packages, faculty, rankings and more. So how do you decide on both which program is best for you, and how it will affect your starting salary upon graduation?
There are many factors that impact one’s initial earnings. As you consider these points, always keep in mind the big picture. Remember that your starting salary is only the beginning and not necessarily an indication of your future earnings in the field.
Where do you see yourself living and working during your professional career? Many people choose to look for jobs in the same region as where they attend graduate school. This often provides a leg up for job opportunities, since local recruiters tend to visit schools in their immediate area. Also, most programs require students to complete fieldwork and internships, and this will help you to build professional contacts that may lead to future job offers. These experiences are some of the best ways to make contacts that will lead to employment. If you are unsure about where you want to settle, consider schools that are more nationally known, rather than regional schools that only have employment contacts and alumni within that state or city.
Supply and Demand
It’s a basic law of economics: when supply goes down, demand goes up. Let’s say there is a region of the country that is short on physical therapists, where clients have to wait several weeks or even months to get an appointment. You can virtually guarantee that physical therapists will command higher salaries in that area as employers try to lure them to the location. Similarly, what do you think will happen in a city that is glutted with dieticians? Employers won’t recruit dieticians or offer higher starting salaries since they already have as many or more than needed to satisfy the population. Logically, starting salaries tend to be higher in regions that are short on specific allied health professionals to meet the needs of their residents.
Cost of Living
Not all starting salaries are created equal. The reality is that $40,000 in Boise, Idaho goes a lot further than it does in San Francisco. Numbers that seem low can be relative when you factor in the costs required for basic survival. Before getting discouraged, research the cost of living in each region. Determine what your average expenses will be including rent, utilities, food, transportation and entertainment. Utilize salary calculators to see what your offer translates to nationwide. Try the links at Home Fair and Best Places.
Just like all starting salaries are not created equal, neither are all new graduates. Allied health professionals enter graduate school with a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Some have worked for several years before applying; others come right from their undergraduate studies, and still others transition from one field to another with lengthy professional careers behind them. Grades, internships, volunteer work and the general impression made on the interviewer add up to a candidate’s overall value. As employers review resumes, interview candidates, proffer offers and put together new hire packages, they take the total composite of each candidate into consideration. There is usually a salary range set for each position, but often this range can vary by as much as $10,000 – $20,000. Whether you will be on the high or low end of that spectrum will depend in a large part on your prior experience and what unique personal qualities you bring to the table.
Reputation of Program
Rankings are not always an accurate way to determine which school is best for you, but they can give you insight into how programs may be viewed by employers.
Characteristics are rated such as faculty-to-student ratio and career placement. In some fields and some cities, rankings matter more than others. As you consider various graduate school programs, speak to professionals in your field to gain their perspective. Sometimes foregoing a big name school for one that will offer more personalized attention and a greater financial aid package can be beneficial. Ask yourself if you would rather graduate with a potentially higher salary, but greater debt. However, in other situations, a more competitive program may offer you access to more opportunities, such as networking with successful and well-connected alumni. Click here for more information.
Industry/Work Setting Think about your professional goals. In what type of setting do you wish to work? Salaries will vary whether a hospital, private practice, clinic, public health agency or university employs you. Speak to professionals and professors to determine the typical ranges for each employment setting. Look at job listings to see if they list salary information. Professional associations are also an excellent way to determine starting salaries for each field. Useful salary links for allied health include the AMA, www.salary.com and www.healthcarejobstore.com.
The Big Picture
Be sure to consider the whole picture as you make your graduate school decisions. There is no one overriding factor when it comes to predicting starting salary. Rather, a combination of aspects will determine which is the best choice for your future, as well as your wallet. Each graduate school offers different benefits that will make your experience worthwhile both personally and professionally. Just the same, each job has advantages that go beyond simply the numbers on your paycheck, including health insurance, vacation time, continuing education reimbursement and more. If you view each position as a stepping-stone on the ladder of your future, you can see your starting salary in the context of your career.
If you’re like most students, job benefits are a completely foreign concept. Yes, your job as chief burger-flipper may have offered free “food,” and your stint at Mall-Mart may have offered a generous employee discount in exchange for making you work on every major holiday, but those mall job benefits barely scratch the surface of what real employers offer their workers.
Now that you’re preparing for a better future—one that hopefully won’t involve super-sizing anything—you need to understand what benefits employers will dangle under your nose, which employers offer the best deals and how to bargain your way to a more inviting work environment.
When interviewing prospective employees at job fairs or during campus recruitment drives, human resource personnel often refer to a “standard benefits package” while painting their place of employment as a worker’s utopia. Unfortunately, no benefits package is ever standard, as you’ll quickly discover once you start comparing one company’s offerings against another’s.
Here’s an explanation of benefits that employers might use to entice you, starting with those most likely to be offered and ending with ones you might have to bring up on your own:
As you might expect, health insurance coverage is offered by almost all employers. Not all health care coverage is created equal, however. And note that we didn’t say “free health insurance coverage.” In many cases, the employee will have to pay for at least of portion of the premium through payroll deduction, at least during the first year or so of employment. Premiums have been jumping by double-digit percentages each year, which makes it imperative for employees to become increasingly savvy about what’s covered.
“Most people have become pretty intelligent in terms of retirement packages, but the big difference now will be what your co-pay is, what your deductible is, what your out-of-pocket maximum is and so forth,” says Alex Ogburn, vice president of recruiting for Allied Consulting, Inc. in Irving, Texas. “[Health insurance] can be a tremendous part of any benefits package.”
If you have a spouse and/or dependents that need health insurance from your employer, be sure to find out how much you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket. Medical coverage for a family of four might cost you $600 a month through one employer and less than half that through another. It could be the deciding factor in choosing between job offers.
Liability insurance, which covers legal costs in case you are sued for mistakes on the job, also ranks high among benefits offered. Dental, vision, disability and life insurance are less common.
Vacation, holiday and sick leave
Every company offers some number of vacation days and paid sick leave, but specific figures vary widely, as does a company’s willingness to offer unpaid leave to employees who want to take long summer vacations.
If you’re moving more than 100 miles for your new job, your employer may pick up the tab, sometimes on moving day itself. “In the past, you had to out-of-pocket that expense and wait to get repaid,” says Trevor Williams, vice president of recruiting for Martin, Fletcher, a retained recruiting firm in Irving, Texas. “Now, 30-40% of the hospitals use direct billing to pay moving expenses for you. You’re taxed on that relocation bonus, but you don’t have to wait to get reimbursed.”
Tuition or loan reimbursement
To get students right out of school, more and more employers are willing to cough up a few thousand dollars per year, generally for two to three years, towards repayment of student loans. “This benefit used to be only for pharmacists,” says Williams, “but now allied health candidates should ask for it every time.” Again, you’re taxed on this benefit, but it’s still better than laying out the funds yourself.
Having the freedom to choose your own hours is a given with many health care-related employers. Perhaps you want to work 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily so you can spend the evenings with your children, or you’d rather work 10 hours daily for four days so that you can enjoy three-day weekends. Ogburn says that some students placed by Allied Consulting have such diverse skills that they work three 12-hour shifts at one full-time job, then pick up two eight-hour shifts as a part-time position. “They still work five days a week, but for 50+ hours,” he says. “For someone right out of school with no attachments, they often think, ‘Why not work more?’”
The standard 401(k) option can be found with many employers, however, the dollar value or percentage of your contribution that the company will match can make a huge difference decades down the road.
Some employers are so short-staffed that they want you to start as soon as possible—and they’ll prove it by paying rent on an apartment or placing you in staff housing for 60 to 90 days until you find a place of your own.
If you live outside a certain radius from the employer, or you’re a CT tech, for example, who’s paged in the middle of the night, your employer might reimburse you for the commute, either directly or by adding hours to your paycheck. Says Ogburn, “That’s not really mainstream yet, but it’s something to look out for.”
Employee support and mentoring
Some facilities offer new employees the chance to work one-on-one with more experienced employees.
With each exam you pass, you’re a more valuable asset, both to your current employer and to the market at large. Some companies will reward you with a higher hourly rate (up to $1/hr) to keep you on their team.
Child care/dependent care coverage
Most parents will have to cover child-care expenses on their own because hospitals prefer to avoid the high liability costs associated with on-site child care. A flexible schedule can make it possible for you and your significant other to avoid day-care costs—just get used to communicating with your partner through notes.
Not a separate benefit so much as an acceleration of existing ones, Williams says that a number of facilities are forgoing the 90-day wait period before benefits kick in and offering them from the first day of employment.
Not-So-Basic Benefit Plans
Other benefits plans that you might encounter include the “cafeteria” benefit plan and the flexible benefit plan.
The cafeteria plan works as if you were choosing benefit options from a menu: Each employee has a certain amount of money to spend on the benefits that he or she deems most desirable, so one person can choose a pediatric dental plan to cover her four kids while a childless employee might opt for more vacation days and no dental plan at all.
A flexible plan grants an employee even more leeway about how his or her benefit dollars are spent. As in a cafeteria plan, the employer determines an upper limit for each employee, but the employee also has the option of receiving part of the funds in cash. However, cash benefits are taxable, whereas life and health insurance are not, so the “take home” value of these options isn’t always equal.
How Employers Stack Up
Nearly every position in the health care industries is in huge demand, in part because the economic boom of the 1990s drew students away from medical schools and into MBA programs. In a tight labor market, conditions have never been better for medical students entering the work force.
“Hospitals are a very good environment,” says Donna Broderick, director of the medical laboratory technician program at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. “My husband works for Quest Labs, and his benefits aren’t any better or worse [than those available at hospitals].”
As might be expected, for-profit hospitals tend to be the most aggressive with their salary and benefit offers. In addition to including many of the largest health care systems nationwide, for-profit hospitals often have more leeway than non-profit facilities with their budget. As Ogburn points out, to fill vacancies on a temporary basis, a hospital typically must pay twice the normal hourly rate for that worker; an ultrasound temp, for example, might earn $50 per hour, whereas a staff member would earn $25. For-profits can count on the increased funds a permanent worker would bring in to offset the salary expense, but non-profits typically operate on a set annual budget and don’t have such freedom.
Trevor Williams says that a more important consideration than whether a hospital is for-profit or non-profit is where it’s located. “There’s a massive shortage of allied and nursing personnel in the Midwest,” he says. Richard Doolittle, head of the department of medical sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, says that many students stay with the clinics and hospitals at which they intern during college, which means that those willing to travel cross-country to a more needy environment might receive juicier offers.
Clinics fall next in terms of aggressive benefits packages, says Williams, “largely because of the quality of life they offer a candidate versus call schedules and different types of shifts available elsewhere.”
Government hospitals fall at the bottom of the scale, offering little more than a strong retirement package and, as Tyler Wilkerson, director of research of Allied Consulting, puts it, “every holiday you can think of.” The government retirement package is strong enough, though, that Williams says many people come out of the service and head straight for VA hospitals.
Sounds Good, But…
Just like buying a new car, don’t feel compelled to sign on the dotted line after the first offer. “It’s very rare when an employer makes an offer that it’s a ‘take it or leave it’ offer,” says Steven Rothberg, founder and president of Minneapolis-based CollegeRecruiter.com. “There’s little to no harm, and often great gain, in asking for an increase in salary or better benefits.”
Despite how it might feel when you’re sweating in the interviewee’s chair, you have almost as much power as the HR manager doing the grilling. Once he makes an offer, you’ve been given the green light to start negotiating. He wants you to work there as badly as you do, and now it’s up to the two of you to decide how valuable you really are.
Ideally, you’ve done research ahead of time—either by asking other students about their paychecks, calling other companies in the field, or reviewing sites such as Salary.com—so that you know what kind of salary to expect for this position. Before you blurt out a number, however, make sure you understand exactly what this position entails. You don’t want to accept an offer, and then discover you’re also responsible for driving tissue samples back and forth from lab to hospital. Oh, and picking up the lab coats at the dry cleaners. And….
Even if a salary offer falls in the range you expect, you lose nothing by asking for a bit more. Says Rothberg, “Many employers have more respect for employees who aren’t afraid to ask for what they feel they’re worth.”
If more salary is out of the question—and “hard” benefits such as health care insurance and pension plans are non-negotiable, as they often are—it’s time to switch gears and start pushing for “soft” benefits, which include flex-time, shorter review periods, a better workspace, paid or unpaid leave, sign-on bonuses and even fancy titles. “In many organizations, the managers have discretion over soft benefits,” says Rothberg.
Again, whether your proposals are accepted or brushed aside, you gain from having been bold enough to ask. “They understand that you’re not a pushover, that you have value and won’t blindly accept whatever they offer you,” says Rothberg. “Six to 12 months down the line, when it’s time for a formal review, you’ll enter negotiations with the manager knowing you’re not afraid to ask for more.”
Whatever salary and benefits package you finally agree on, don’t seal the deal with a handshake. Get the offer in writing to avoid arguments months later over whether you can take a week’s leave without pay or race lab carts down the hallway.
Finally, don’t be afraid to turn down an offer and go elsewhere. “Anyone in imaging—X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound—needs to understand the value they bring to a facility,” says Williams. “Facilities don’t really see the direct benefits of a nurse, but imaging brings revenue into the hospital.” Even if you’re not in imaging, your work will contribute to the value of any organization. Make sure to keep that in mind when you negotiate an offer, and your employer-to-be will have no choice but to do the same.