Where nurses work, as well as their education level and specialty, can all influence how much they earn in salary. But all in all, respondents to the third annual Minority Nurse salary survey report making more this year than they did last year.
With rising salaries, the outlook for nurses may be getting brighter, but there are still some differences in pay by ethnicity.
Last year, nurses reported earning a median $68,000, and this year they reported an increase that brought their median salary to $71,000—a $6,000 jump over what they’d said they earned five years ago.
While African American nurses reported earning more this year than last, a median $60,200 in 2014 as compared to this year’s $70,000, they still took home slightly less than the overall median. Hispanic and Asian nurses said they earned slightly more than the overall median salary, and more than they reported earning last year, while white nurses reported a salary close to the overall median salary and similar to what they reported taking home last year.
To collect this data, Minority Nurse and Springer Publishing e-mailed a link to an online survey that asked respondents about their jobs, educational background, ethnicity, and more.
Nearly 2,400 nurses from a variety of backgrounds and filling different job descriptions responded to the survey to provide a glimpse into their day-to-day roles, their plans for the future, and their current and past salaries.
The respondents work in various aspects of nursing from patient care to education and research, and have certifications in critical care, advanced practice nursing, and family health, among others. The nurses also work for a range of employers, from large organizations with more than 10,000 employees to ones with a hundred or fewer employees, and from public hospitals to colleges to home health care services.
Drilling down deeper into the data, wider gaps in pay start to emerge. For instance, white nurses working at private hospitals earn a median $80,000, while African American nurses earn a median $62,000. Similarly, at public hospitals white nurses earn $79,500, and African American nurses $71,000. However, nurses employed by college or universities reported largely similar salaries falling between $70,000 and $80,000, with African American and Asian nurses reporting receiving the higher end of that range.
Salaries also vary by region in the United States. Nurses take home the most in the Northeast, followed by the West, though there also appear to be slight variations by ethnicity as white and Hispanic nurses living in the western US earn a median $80,000, while African American nurses earn a median $73,000.
Education also affects take-home pay, and nurses reported higher salaries with increased education. Nurses with associate’s-level degrees reported earning $67,000, while nurses with bachelor’s-level degrees said they earned $70,000. And that increased further with advanced degrees as those with master’s degrees reported taking home a median $72,000 and those with doctoral degrees said they made $82,000.
There, too, were slight differences by ethnicity. For instance, African American nurses with associate’s-level degrees reported taking home a median $65,119, less than the overall median, while white nurses took home a median $68,320, slightly more than the median. At the bachelor’s and doctoral levels, though, African American and white nurses reported earning approximately the same salary.
Despite rising salaries—and recent raises—more than a third of nurses still said they are contemplating leaving their current jobs in the next few years. When they left previous jobs, respondents said it was mostly to pursue better opportunities, and this year’s respondents reported that the best-paying places to work are in private practice or at private or public hospitals.
For the second year in a row, we reached out to Minority Nurse readers about what they look for in a workplace—and how their current employers stack up.
Unsurprisingly, salary and benefits once again topped the list of factors respondents considered when looking at potential employers. But for many readers, workplace satisfaction was about more than just compensation. This year’s results showed an increased focus on quality of life factors, such as corporate culture, workplace environment, and flexibility of hours. Diversity and workplace size—while still important to many respondents—were less of a factor when considering potential employers.
Overwhelmingly, this year’s results showed readers were quite satisfied with their current jobs. The majority rated their employers as “good” or “excellent” in most categories, including workplace size, job perks, and benefits. The areas most in need of improvement according to this year’s survey were opportunity for advancement and salary, though Minority Nurse’s Salary Survey from 2014 showed that readers have seen steady pay increases in that area over the last few years.
This year’s responses, which were gathered through an online questionnaire sent to Minority Nurse subscribers, came from across the country, with California, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania as the most represented states. Companies that scored well this year were mostly very large organizations with thousands of employees, including several academic-affiliated medical centers, such as Duke University Health System and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; government agencies, such as the US Department of Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Service; and big urban hospitals and networks, such as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Cleveland Clinic.
Our final list of top 25 companies, presented alphabetically, scored well in the categories that were most important to our readers. We’ve provided a brief introduction to each organization, as well as contact information for job seekers.
About the company: Formed in 1995 with the merger of Evangelical Health Systems Corporation and Lutheran General Health System, the Advocate Health Care network is one of the largest employers in the Chicago area. It includes 12 acute-care hospitals (six of which are Magnet-certified) and more than 200 other health care facilities, including hospices. Several Advocate hospitals have consistently ranked in the U.S. News & World Report annual best hospitals, among other accolades.
Contact: Job listings are available at jobs.advocatehealth.com
Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility (approximately 750 at Bellin Hospital)
About the company: Founded more than 100 years ago by Dr. Julius J. Bellin as General Hospital, Bellin Health is now comprised of several medical and educational entities, including the 167-bed acute-care facility Bellin Hospital, two psychiatric treatment centers, and a network of family medical offices, as well as the Bellin College of Nursing, which offers the only four-year baccalaureate-nursing program in northeast Wisconsin.
Contact: Job listings are available at bellin.org/careers
California State University
Location: Facilities throughout California
Number of employees: Varies by campus
About the company: California State University is the largest four-year university system in the country, with nearly 447,000 students. The CSU Nursing Program offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in nursing. Nurse educators are employed at 18 of the school’s 23 campuses located throughout the state.
Contact: Job listings are available at csucareers.calstate.edu
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Location: Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 3,600
About the company: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is the nation’s oldest children’s hospital, and is widely regarded as one of the best. It’s topped the U.S. News & World Report list of best children’s hospitals for the last five years, and has been Magnet-certified since 2004. In addition to its main hospital in West Philadelphia, CHOP operates more than 50 smaller practices throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and several large expansion projects are in the works, including a new outpatient facility set to open in 2015.
Contact: Job listings are available at chop.edu/careers
Location: Headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility (approximately 6,500 at the main campus)
About the company: Known as one of the most medically innovative hospitals in the country, the Cleveland Clinic’s long list of “firsts” includes the isolation of serotonin, the first coronary bypass surgery, and the first face-transplant in the United States. It is ranked in several specialties on the U.S. News & World Report list of best hospitals. In addition to its main location in Cleveland, it operates seven more hospitals throughout Ohio, as well as affiliates in Florida and Nevada, and international outposts in Canada and Saudi Arabia.
Contact: Job listings are available at jobs.clevelandclinic.org
About the company: Established in 1956 after a massive grassroots fundraising effort by Indianapolis residents, Community Hospital (now Community Hospital East) has grown to a sprawling network of more than 200 facilities throughout central Indiana. It has been named one of the best places to work by The Indianapolis Star.
Contact: Job listings are available at employment.ecommunity.com
Duke University Health System
Location: Headquarters in Durham, North Carolina
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility (approximately 3,000 at Duke University Hospital)
About the company: Duke University Hospital (since renamed Duke University Medical Center) was established in 1930 thanks to a bequest from James B. Duke. Today, the 7.5-million-square-foot facility is the flagship hospital in a network that includes the Duke Clinic, Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center, Duke Regional Hospital, and Duke Raleigh Hospital, as well as the Duke University Medical School and the Duke University School of Nursing. Duke has been nationally recognized for its several specialties, including cardiology, nephrology, and ophthalmology.
Contact: Job information is available at hr.duke.edu
Gwynedd Mercy University
Location: Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania
Number of employees: Approximately 500
About the company: This Catholic-affiliated university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing and other medical specialties at the Frances M. Maguire School of Nursing and Health Professions division.
Contact: Job information is available at gmercyu.edu/about-gwynedd-mercy/administration/human-resources
Indian Health Service
Location: Headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, with facilities throughout the country
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 2,700
About the company: The Indian Health Service was established in 1955 to improve the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives. This division of the US Department of Health and Human Services has an annual operating budget of $3.8 billion and oversees more than 100 medical facilities in 12 areas, each focused on the unique needs of the native American tribes in the region.
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility (approximately 29,400 total employees)
About the company: Indiana University Health is a network of hospitals and other facilities throughout Indiana affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine. Last year, IUH had more than 2.5 million outpatient visits and over 136,000 admissions. Its facilities have been nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report in several specialties, including cancer, neurology, and orthopedics. Six of the hospitals in the network have been designated Magnet facilities.
Contact: Job listings are available at iuhealth.org/careers/nursing-careers
Location: Headquarters in Oakland, California, with facilities in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and Washington, DC
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente operates more than 600 interconnected but independently managed medical facilities in the United States, as well as a managed-care plan with more than 9 million members.
Contact: Job listings are available at kaiserpermanentejobs.org
Los Angeles County Department of Health Services
Location: Los Angeles County, California
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: Los Angeles County Department of Health Services is the second-largest municipal health care system in the country. It operates in the most populous county in the United States, and provides medical care and services to approximately 800,000 patients annually at several hospitals and other medical centers.
Contact: Job listings are available at hr.lacounty.gov
Memorial Hermann–Texas Medical Center
Location: Houston, Texas
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 1,800
About the company: This Magnet-recognized teaching hospital (affiliated with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School), is the oldest institution in the massive Texas Medical Center and the flagship hospital in the vast Memorial Hermann network with facilities throughout Texas. Its Level 1 trauma center sees more than 40,000 patients annually, and its Children’s Hospital is one of the top-ranked pediatric facilities nationwide.
Contact: Job listings are available at memorialhermann.org/careers
Location: New York, New York
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 5,000
About the company: This multi-campus institution is affiliated with two Ivy League universities, Columbia and Weill Cornell. It is the largest private employer in New York City, and one of the largest hospitals in the United States. It’s ranked sixth overall in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals survey. In addition to its two main facilities in Manhattan, the Columbia University Medical Center and the Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork–Presbyterian operates the Allen Hospital, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, and a psychiatric facility in nearby Westchester County. In July 2013, NewYork–Presbyterian expanded its reach when it merged with New York Downtown hospital, establishing the Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Contact: Job listings are available at careers.nyp.org
About the company: A Catholic teaching hospital established 90 years ago, OLOL is one of the largest privately owned hospitals in Louisiana, as well as the largest of four hospitals in the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System. Today, this Magnet-recognized facility serves 11 parishes, and has more than 1,000 beds.
Contact: Job listings are available at ololrmc.com/greatplacetowork
Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Location: Hershey, Pennsylvania
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 1,800
About the company: This 475-bed teaching hospital affiliated with Penn State College of Medicine and College of Nursing is one of the largest and most respected hospitals in south central Pennsylvania. Its Children’s Hospital is ranked among the nation’s best in U.S. News & World Report’s top hospitals list, and it features the area’s only neonatal intensive care unit. The hospital’s Cancer Institute opened in 2009, and the volunteer-run LionCare clinic has been providing free health care services since 2002.
Contact: Job listings are available at pennstatehershey.org/web/humanresources/home/searchjobs
Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences
Location: Facilities and institutions throughout New Jersey
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: Part of the vast Rutgers University system in New Jersey, RBHS was established as an umbrella organization in 2013 after the dissolution of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. It comprises several medical and educational institutions, including the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, University Behavioral HealthCare, the Rutgers School of Nursing, and both of the Rutgers graduate schools of medicine: New Jersey Medical School and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The primary teaching hospital for Rutgers is the state-owned University Hospital in Newark.
Contact: Job information is available at uwide.rutgers.edu/about/employment-rutgers
SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 650
About the company: Founded in 1860 as Long Island College Hospital, SUNY Downstate is now one of three medical centers in the State University of New York system. Today, it includes four patient-care facilities, as well as medical, nursing, and public health schools, among other academic programs. It’s the fourth largest employer in Brooklyn—a borough of New York City with more than 2 million residents—and its alumni network is impressive: More physicians practicing in New York City graduated from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine than any other medical school.
Contact: Job listings are available at downstate.edu/human_resources
UNC Health Care
Location: Facilities located throughout North Carolina
About the company: UNC Health Care is a state-owned network of hospitals affiliated with the prestigious University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. In addition to 12 hospitals, which include several Magnet-recognized facilities, UNC Health Care provides services at family health practices, ambulatory care facilities, and urgent care units throughout the area.
Contact: Job listings are available at unchealthcare.org/site/humanresources/careers
About the company: The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has six academic divisions, including pharmacy, nursing, and public health schools, as well as the only medical school in Arkansas. The school’s main patient-care facility is UAMS Medical Center, though it expands it reach through smaller clinics located all over the state.
Contact: Job listings available at jobs.uams.edu
University of Maryland Medical System
Location: Facilities throughout Maryland
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: One of the largest hospital networks in the Mid-Atlantic region, University of Maryland Medical System is made up of nine hospitals, including one pediatric facility and several teaching hospitals affiliated with the University of Maryland.
Contact: Job listings are available at umms.org/careers
University of Michigan Health System
Location: Headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: This integrated health care system located in southern Michigan comprises three hospitals (University Hospital, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital), 40 outpatient centers and more than 120 clinics, and a large home health care division. It also includes the University of Michigan’s Medical School and School of Nursing, and it partners with other medical centers throughout the state via the Michigan Health Corporation. The Detroit Free Press has named UMHS one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.”
Contact: Job listings are available at umhscareers.org
University of Texas Medical Branch
Location: Galveston, Texas
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: This division of the University of Texas is located in a 70-building, 84-acre complex, which includes several hospitals and clinics, four schools, and numerous research facilities. In 2008, many of its buildings were badly damaged by Hurricane Ike, but it’s made a strong comeback and expanded its reach since.
Contact: Job listings are available at utmb.jobs
US Department of Veterans Affairs
Location: Headquarters in Washington, DC, with facilities throughout the United States
Number of nursing employees: Varies by facility
About the company: The US Department of Veterans Affairs was established in 1930, consolidating several agencies that provided services to veterans of American conflicts. Today, the Veterans Health Administration, the wing of the VA focused on health care, operates 171 medical centers, as well as hundreds of outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and other facilities.
Contact: Job listings are available at vacareers.va.gov
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Number of nursing employees: Approximately 3,700
About the company: This organization contains several hospitals and clinics, as well as Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine and School of Nursing. Vanderbilt has been well ranked in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals surveys, and Vanderbilt University was once named one of Forbes’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” (more than 80% of Vanderbilt’s employees work at the Medical Center).
Contact: Job listings are available at vanderbilt.edu/work-at-vanderbilt
Depending on where they work and their specialties, nurses can earn a range of salaries. Salaries continue to appear to vary by ethnic background as well, but overall, nurses reported in the second annual Minority Nurse salary survey making more this year than they did last year—and more than they did five years ago.
Although nurses reported making higher salaries this year than they reported last year, there are wage gaps by ethnicity that remain to be closed.
In 2013, nurses reported making a median salary of $67,000; this year, they reported earning a bit more, a median $68,000. Still, African American nurses earned a median $60,200 and Hispanic nurses received a median $60,000, while white nurses took home a median $72,000.
To gather all this data, Minority Nurse and Springer Publishing e-mailed a link to an online survey that asked respondents about their jobs, educational backgrounds, and more to better understand their roles as nurses and to determine their current and past salaries.
Some 4,850 nurses from all over the United States responded to the survey questions. The respondents also hailed from a number of specialties, including nurses working in critical care, as certified nurse educators, and in pediatrics, as well as nurses employed at public hospitals, private hospitals, and at colleges or universities.
Some stark differences, though, were noticeable when survey data were broken down by ethnicity. For instance, nurses belonging to different ethnic groups working at similar institutions reported earning different amounts of money. African American nurses working at a public hospital reported earning a median $65,000, as did Asian nurses. Hispanic nurses reported making less, taking home a median $60,000. White nurses, though, said they earned $79,500.
Additionally, nurses belonging to different ethnic groups with similar educational backgrounds also reported salary differences. African American nurses with a bachelor’s degree reported making a median $62,000—similar to the median $60,000 reported by Hispanic nurses—though higher than the median $50,000 received by Asian nurses, but lower than the median $70,000 that white nurses said they made.
At the master’s degree level, the picture is a little different. Asian nurses with master’s degrees commanded the highest salary, a median $80,000, followed by African American nurses, who received a median $76,000. Hispanic nurses, meanwhile, earned a median $74,940, and white nurses with a master’s degree reported making a median $73,000.
Overall, respondents reported earning a higher salary this year than they took home last year and a bit more than they reported earning five years ago. For example, nurses working primarily in patient care reported earning $60,000 this year, $55,000 last year, and $47,000 five years ago, and advanced practice nurses reported making $89,000 this year, $84,000 last year, and $78,000 five years ago.
Though there are still wage gaps to be bridged, nurses reported earning more now than they did just a few years ago.
17.6% of respondents have a PhD or other doctoral-level degree
33.3% work at a college or university
56.2% have been at their current job for five years or longer
65.8% received a raise within the last year
53.5% left their prior job to pursue a better opportunity
41.1% do not expect a raise this year
48.9% are looking to leave their current job in coming years
Romeatrius Moss, RN, MSN, APHN-BC, DNP, doesn’t mince words when she advises other nurses about advancing their careers. “If you aren’t geared and ready and have everything in your toolbox, you are going to be left behind,” says Moss, the executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Black Nurse Association. “Getting an advanced degree is extremely important. It pushes our profession forward.”
As more minority nurses advance, they are positioned to assume leadership roles and increase the diversity of nurse leaders, all of which reflects the patient population.
Moss’s outlook mirrors one that is hotly debated in nursing. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) garnered attention with its 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which calls for a highly educated nursing workforce to keep pace with the changing demands of both the health care environment and the patients who are served. An 80% goal of nurses with BSN degrees and a doubling of nurses with doctorates are imperative for the nursing community, the report stated.
“It’s good for the professions, but equally good and equally more important for the people who are coming into the health care system who deserve an educated workforce,” says Jane Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). “The bottom line is about patient safety and providing health care that is high quality, efficient, and cost effective.”
In light of the study and others like it, nurses—who build careers on change—are debating the best and most reasonable ways to achieve career satisfaction and advancement. A nursing career includes different options, and one work day is never like another. To achieve maximum career success and optimize your salary potential, learn to embrace the changing atmosphere, says Janice Phillips, PhD, MS, RN, FAAN, director of government and regulatory affairs at Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools International, an authenticity credentialing service of foreign-educated nurses.
Advancing Your Education
The 2010 IOM report brings the issue of higher nursing degrees into sharp focus, causing some nurses to reevaluate their goals and some hospitals to implement new minimum requirements for employment. “Whether it is an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s-prepared nurse, the reality is that nursing requires lifelong learning,” says Kirschling.
Nurses have choices about how to advance, but a degree appeals to many organizations. “A minimum of a bachelor’s in nursing will open doors when you are competing for a job, and it shows a level of commitment,” says Marie-Elena Barry, a senior practice and policy analyst at the American Nurses Association. And even Kirschling says that an associate’s degree is often considered a point of entry into nursing now, not the final point.
Nurses are taking notice. Results from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) “2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses” showed that half of registered nurses hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and just over a third hold an associate’s. The rest have a diploma in nursing. Most nurses initially receive an associate’s degree, but about a third start out with a BSN. And for those who eventually earn higher degrees, the study showed approximately half of nurses with master’s degrees work in hospitals while the rest work in academia or in an ambulatory care setting.
According to a May 2012 occupational employment and wages report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an RN can expect to earn a mean annual wage of $67,930. Furthermore, the 2008 HRSA study revealed that RNs with graduate degrees earned an average of at least $20,000 more than RNs with other levels of education. Nurses who graduate with a degree also get into the workforce faster. Data from an August 2013 survey by the AACN revealed that nursing graduates of BSN or master’s programs are much more likely to have a job offer at graduation than graduates in other fields.
And while the higher salary is great, nurses are finding they need a bachelor’s to even get a job. The AACN study showed that 43.7% of hospitals and other health care settings require the degree and that 78.6% of employers prefer to see the BSN on a resume even if they don’t require it.
When you consider how to advance both your professional goals and your personal goals, keep in mind how each job will help you get to where you want to be. “Lots of nurses get a degree and go to work and don’t think about career development and learning how to grow your career,” says Barry. As a new nurse, you must ask yourself whether you are gaining valuable experience that you can put on a resume. And if you have been in nursing for years and are considering a move to academia, you should consider whether a teaching position will offer you needed benefits and retirement.
A Balancing Act
Working and going to school isn’t easy, and adding other obligations, like family, often makes the task overwhelming. But as the demand for nurses with a bachelor’s degree increases, schools are making it easier by offering accessible classes and accelerated degree programs. And Moss advises nurses not to be discouraged by the commitment. “This is a train,” she says. “Jump in when you can.”
In the meantime, anything you can do to make yourself more valuable to an organization will help increase your salary, and often a new degree raises your pay as well. “Provide evidence of how you made a difference,” advises Phillips.
Kirschling suggests talking with your employer about wanting to build on your skill set or your desire to continue your education. “Employers want to retain nurses and create career mobility within the organization,” she adds.
Keep Your Options Open
“People believe the continuing mantra that nurses need to work in traditional venues like hospitals and doctors’ offices,” says Carmen Kosicek, RN, MSN, author of Nurses, Jobs, and Money: A Guide to Advancing Your Nursing Career and Salary. But the pay for those positions doesn’t always match the financial outlay needed to practice there, she continues.
Instead, Kosicek advises nurses, especially those just graduating from nursing school, to look for other opportunities that offer both professional experience and gainful employment. “It’s not all about the money,” says Kosicek, “but they all have bills.”
According to Kosicek, many graduates are not hired for 4 to 18 months, and many of them are competing for med/surg jobs to gain broad experience. She suggests considering other options where you will use all your skills. A position as a school nurse, for example, where you handle hundreds of varied and often complex cases is an excellent way to use your skills and learn new ones. When you apply for a new grad residency program, you are already starting above the rest of the pack, she says.
If you are unsure what your next move should be, Kirschling recommends checking out www.discovernursing.com to explore opportunities.
Approach Your Career as a Business
When you view your career as a business, you give yourself permission to look impersonally at your experience and your credentials. And you treat any potential job offer, salary increase, or career move with the same consideration as you would a major life change.
Just as you would negotiate the price of a house you are buying, you also must learn to negotiate salary offers, argues Kosicek. “It’s not always about your base pay of dollars,” she says. “You can negotiate other ways of compensation.” For example, you can ask for more vacation days, a higher match of your 401(k) plan, or tuition reimbursement for classes.
“No one is teaching that,” says Kosicek, but it is a valuable skill because it will get you closer to your goals. Negotiating shows you are confident and know your worth. “It is a totally different language,” she adds.
Act Like a Leader
Even if you haven’t reached your ultimate career goal, you can act like you have. “You can’t do a BSN [program] and expect to be a manager,” says Barry. “There are lots of little steps.”
Be a leader in your nursing community and make your presence known. One way to help increase your salary potential is to get involved within your state or with national organizations, says Barry. Don’t just become a member. Begin to make a difference by giving your input, showing up at events and meeting others, or volunteering on your state board of nursing, advises Barry. “It increases your ability to network and puts your face out there.”
Don’t overlook the importance of your workplace as well. Barry recommends getting involved with unit-based activities. Join a shared governance committee or work on a quality improvement project. Then give thoughtful input and work hard for the team.
Be More than Just Another Resume
Your resume might be your only shot at a job you want, so make it perfect. Just as nurses need negotiating skills to get ahead, they need a resume that is detailed and exact because it could mean the difference between the slush pile and a job offer.
“Nurses are not going to get in with traditional nursing resumes or traditional interviewing skills,” says Kosicek. “They have to show they are business wise.”
Barry agrees. Your experience, commitment, and education all combine into one package to an employer, but they have to be able to see it. You can do your part with a detailed resume that lists your education and any current classes along with your qualifications.
Become a recognizable name through your professional and appropriate exposure on social media and your networking efforts that bring you in touch with various health care professionals, suggests Barry.
Of course, taking on a new degree doesn’t work for everyone. You have to consider the financial return on your investment, so you aren’t trading more education for insurmountable debt.
Chart the financial impact of furthering your education. If you want a degree but can’t imagine how you will pay for it, become a sleuth for scholarships or take an alternative path. If your company doesn’t reimburse for tuition, see if your professional organization membership gives you access to scholarships or grants. Can you take one class at a time to chip away at the degree?
A less tangible benefit of continuing your learning is confidence. “It gets you excited and keeps you informed and learning outside your unit,” says Barry. “Certification is important. It shows your commitment to your profession. It also shows your professional role modeling.” When you are learning and advancing by taking classes, even if it’s one at a time, you are demonstrating to your employer that you are actively engaged in your profession, she says.
Phillips knows firsthand the benefits of doing the unexpected. She recently left a faculty job at Rush University and the comforts of family and friends for her current job in a new city. Although the prospect gave her nervous butterflies, Phillips says the job fit perfectly with her career plan, filling a gap in policy experience that Phillips wanted to have. “Sometimes you just have to do it,” she says. “I didn’t want to sit around and not take some risk. Most people who have a well-rounded professional life have taken some risk.”
Have a Plan
Your career will stagnate if you don’t have a solid and ambitious plan to follow. Decide where you want to go and write a plan of action to get there. Put yourself in position to get where you want to be. Do you respect a nurse in a leadership position? Notice how she acts and ask about her volunteer work or about any organizations of which she is a member. “Part of the learning process is going through and collecting along the way,” says Barry. “As you are getting a degree, you are exposed to all those other areas.”
Even if you are not looking for a job, keep accurate records of your career successes, advises Phillips. “We don’t document our outcomes,” she says, so when the time comes to tell potential employees about them, it’s hard to remember the details. Keep a file—“call it a happy file,” suggests Phillips—where you record accurate outcomes and contributions from your job successes. Pay particular attention to relevant numbers and dates, so you can retrieve them when necessary. “Nurses have to be prepared,” she says. “You never know when an opportunity will present itself.”
Does an Advanced Degree Equal Respect?
Like it or not, an advanced degree is the first step toward a leadership position. “It’s very important for nurses to get a nursing degree,” says Barry. For nursing as a profession to advance with respect, getting a degree—particularly a BSN—will also bring more nurses into position to take over as future leaders. “Nursing education has a lot to do with where you go,” says Barry.
Starting with a BSN is the most important goal because it keeps you competitive, argues Barry. But as Kosicek points out, you will have to find your place in the market and actively seek out nursing roles that both pay your bills and satisfy your professional goals. Sometimes, a career move is your chance to advance professionally and personally and will lead to greater rewards, but you have to be willing to take the leap.
“The risk is that we have to be open and willing to leave our comfort zone to experience all nursing has to offer,” says Phillips. “And it’s scary. But I don’t believe anyone should be burned out. You need to find a new perspective.”
Just as each nurse is unique, so is each successful career path, says Phillips. “I’ve been a nurse for 37 years, and I am just as excited today as the day I graduated because I see the possibilities,” she says. “At the end of the day, how do you want to feel about what you want to do and what makes you proud of your profession?”
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
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