Signing a job contract could be a life-changing decision for many, especially those up-and-coming nurses who are still finding their place in the world.
Whether you are a nurse fresh from the university or a practicing nurse with a few years of experience, it is crucial that you know what to look for in a job offer or employment contract when exploring new opportunities.
The changing dynamics of the healthcare sector on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the continuously aging population have resulted in a high demand for nurses. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the country will need more than 203,000 nurses annually until 2023.
The highly competitive nature of hiring nurses means you should ensure that you are getting what you deserve. When negotiating the terms of your employment specially for fresh graduates (and even for those without a degree) looking to start off their nursing career, it is important to make sure you take the time to review each item on the contract thoroughly and make sure everything you agree to is in your eventual employment contract.
The salary stated in your employment contract is one of, if not the biggest factor that could make or break your decision to seal the deal. Negotiating your salary should be at the top of your priority list.
According to Indeed, the average hourly rate for nurse practitioners is $88.12 as of the end of January 2023. This is equivalent to $118,618 yearly. Take note that this takes into account the salaries of all nurses, regardless of years of experience. For nurses with less than a year of experience, the average salary is around $104,339/year while those with three to five years of experience can expect an average pay of $126,961 annually. Separate data sets from the US BLS based on May 2021 data show the five states with the highest annual average wage for registered nurses:
Average Annual Salary, in USD (May 2021)
District of Columbia
If you want to know more about salaries based on experience and in each state, you can visit the US BLS’s Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics and other online resources such as Indeed and Salary.com.
When checking the salary clause of your employment contract, you also have to make sure of the payment schedule — will you be paid on a salaried or hourly basis? The latter will provide more flexibility, as it would mean that extra hours are paid.
You can also check nurse salary levels depending on state by going here:
Bonuses and incentives
Aside from the feeling of fulfillment and acknowledgement from other industries, another huge perk of working as a nurse is the compensation package and bonus payments on top of the salary.
When talking about your job offer with your potential employer, do not hesitate to ask whether they will be providing bonuses or incentives. One of the most common bonus payments is in the form of productivity incentives. Such are usually indicated in the contract but there the details on how they are computed are not clearly stated. Other incentives include: sign-on bonuses, completion bonuses (specifically for travel nurses), referral bonuses, and annual incentives.
When discussing your incentives, you may want to ask your employer about several things which should also be stated in your contract:
- Availability of bonuses and their value
- Conditions and merits needed to get the incentives
- Schedule of incentive payments
- Actions that can cancel or void the incentives
Depending on the person, the nursing profession could really be physically taxing and exhausting — this makes leave benefits an important part of your consideration when reviewing your job offer.
According to US BLS’s Employee Benefits Survey, registered nurses get 17 vacation days on average after one year of service. This could go up to 26 days after 20 years of service. Nurses are actually given more paid vacation days than all other workers.
Make it a point to ask your employer about your vacation and paid time off policies and how you will be able to use them. Some of the questions you can ask are the following:
- How many paid vacation days will I be getting at the start of my employment?
- How many paid sick leaves will I be provided?
- Will I be able to earn more leave credits depending on the length of my employment?
- Are the leave credits convertible to cash by the end of the year? Or can it be added to the credits that will be provided for me over the following year?
- What is the process of filing time-off requests?
Work schedule flexibility
Nurses have a longer work schedule compared to other professions. Expect that your shift is not going to be the normal 8-to-5 job.
Typically, full-time nursing schedules can be classified into the following types:
12-hour shifts, 3 days per week
This is the most common schedule for nurses working in hospitals and other healthcare facilities serving patients round-the-clock.
10-hour shifts, 4 days per week
Some private hospitals and clinics use this schedule for their nurses.
8-hour shifts, 5 days per week
Nurses working in private companies, schools, and other types of clinics usually follow this typical work schedule.
PRN or Pro re nata (Latin phrase for in the circumstances)
Nurses on PRN usually report to duty only when the need arises. These nurses often serve several hospitals or health facilities.
The 12-hour shift for three days per week offers the most flexibility as it will give you more days to allot for personal time. At times, you can request to schedule your working days consecutively — this will be useful if you are planning for a vacation.
On top of this, this schedule allows you to reduce your travel and day-to-day work expenses. The other work schedules also have their benefits. A 10-hour shift four times a week would mean longer weekends while the typical work shift would provide stability in your schedule.
Make sure that you discuss with your employer which work schedule would be best fit for your lifestyle. Do not forget, however, the perspective of your employer — will your demands be fair for them? Negotiate and try to come to a middle ground on schedule before inking your employment contract.
Health and dental coverage are commonly provided by hospitals and private companies but it still pays to check what the inclusions are. If your employer does provide you with insurance benefits, you will have to check your health insurance in your contract whether there is flexibility for you to arrange for a plan customized for your needs. You can try to reconstruct the plan or suggest a different package for you.
The same can be said for other professions in the healthcare space, making it vital to spend some time reviewing any medical-related job offer. If you want to read more or find out more about medical/healthcare jobs, you can check these helpful Factors to look for in a job offer.
For fresh graduates looking to start their careers in nursing, you can check out our skilled nursing job post category here: devorerecruiting.com/jobs/category/skilled-nursing