Nursing News

Nursing Salary Trends: Where the Money Will Be in 2012 (and Beyond)


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By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

January 18, 2012 - With the economy improving and an anticipated greater demand for experienced nurses, salaries are inching up, especially for in-demand specialties.

Nurse Salaries
Debra Pollick, RN, MS, reported an increase in nurse leaders’ salaries.

“We’re seeing an up-tick in salaries and more of a broader, strategic, value-based nursing,” said Debra Pollick, RN, MS, executive vice president of DHR’s Denver office, explaining that nurses control much of the dollars in play within an organization.

“Nurses are critical in terms of helping an organization,” added Alanna Conte, senior consultant at Hay Group in New York, reporting that nurses are receiving a median increase of about 3 percent, but certain positions are moving greater than that, such as mid-level providers and clinical nurse specialists.

Nurse Salaries
Alanna Conte said nurses are receiving a median of about a 3 percent increase.

Conte called nurse compensation nearly back to normal, ahead of the nation’s employees as a whole. She has identified a trend toward compensation tied to specialty area, certification and education.

“The highest salaries tend to be in acute areas, such as the OR, the ER, ICU and critical care,” added Jill Jarufe, MBA, a search consultant for nursing practice at Kaye/Bassman International in Dallas. “Hospitals are tending to make packages more attractive to bring someone onboard. If we don’t see higher salaries, they will put together a sign-on bonus or relocation assistance.”

Jarufe explained that nurses are hesitant to change positions in the current economy, with the uncertainty surrounding health care reform and the upcoming election. However, she said hospitals finding a “superstar” are willing to make an attractive offer.

Nurse Salaries
John Fulcher said he has seen an increase in the number and amounts of sign-on bonuses for nurses.

John Fulcher, director of healthcare recruiting for Bauer Consulting Group in El Paso, Texas, also indicated an increase in the number and amounts of sign-on bonuses for nurses, with commitments to stay two or three years.

Specialty and certifications matter

Experienced specialty nurses, especially cardiac and orthopedic nurses, are in great demand and obtaining offers at higher salaries, said Jarufe, who expects that trend to increase with the aging population and current nurses starting to retire.

Fulcher emphasized that employers value experience, with some paying a higher salary for nurses who have been at the facility for four or more years; the average pay differential is 2 percent more per year of experience over the minimum of three years, capping at 10 to 15 years.

Nurse Salaries
Peggy C. Tallier, MPA, EdD, RN, believes the trend toward more education for nurses will benefit them in terms of larger salaries.

Peggy C. Tallier, MPA, EdD, RN, program director and associate professor in nursing at the School of Health and Natural Sciences at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., also reported increased demand in specialties, such as the operating room, emergency department, and labor and delivery.

“Many places will pay for specialization and certification,” Tallier said.

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses’ (AORN) annual member salary survey, recently announced in the AORN Journal, found that the average staff nurse earns $67,800, $1,400 more than in 2010, and the average vice president/director/assistant director of nursing earns $107,600, $4,700 more than in 2010. Nurses generally receive greater compensation in larger facilities compared with smaller hospitals. Pay in university/academic ambulatory surgery centers was more than in any other facility type, however only a small number of respondents were working in the ambulatory setting.

More education brings more bucks

Tallier reported employers’ preference for nurses with bachelor’s degrees, in light of the push for a BSN in the Institute of Medicine Future of Nursing report.

“They are seeing better outcomes with higher levels of education,” Tallier said. “And higher education is correlated with higher salaries.”

Nurse Salaries
Jill Jarufe indicated the highest RN salaries tend to be in acute areas, such as the OR, the ER, ICU and critical care.

Jarufe reported that Magnet-designated and large hospitals and those pursuing the Magnet standard are requiring master’s-prepared nurses for leadership positions, including the manager level. Rural hospitals will still consider nurses with less education but will pay 10 percent to 15 percent more for a nurse with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.

Some hospitals, Fulcher said, are requiring emergency department and women’s services directors to have a master’s in nursing, not other fields.

Clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners are receiving higher salaries, and Conte anticipates they will remain in demand, as physician shortages increase and hospitals try to improve efficiency, quality metrics, and patient and employee satisfaction.

“Hospitals are using mid-level providers to enhance care delivery and build multidisciplinary teams,” Conte said.

Location, location, location

Rural hospitals tend to pay less than urban facilities, especially those in the Northeast or California. But Jarufe and Fulcher pointed out that the cost of living in rural areas may be less, and some states, such as Texas and Florida, do not have state income taxes. Fulcher indicated that the Southwest, including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, all are competitive.

Hiring of nurses in home and ambulatory care is expected to grow as more care moves out of acute facilities. Pollack said salaries are increasing in community settings, but they haven’t caught up to hospitals. She sees the greatest increases in physician offices, as the nurses become more important members of the outpatient team, involved with prevention and patient teaching.

“I see nurses as value-based,” Pollack said. “We’re doing more with less, and insisting nurses go back to school. Change is the only common denominator.”



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