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Nurse recruiters share top tips for negotiating salary

Most nurses rank salary as the number one aspect of job satisfaction. Yet 31% of nurses never negotiate their salaries when they start new positions, according to the Nursing Salary Research Report.

More than 4,500 registered nurses from all 50 states, working in a wide range of settings, responded to online survey questions last summer. The data reveals 72% of nurses indicated salary was most important, followed by 15% who ranked benefits first for job satisfaction. Small percentages of nurses said advancement opportunities, regular merit increases, tuition reimbursement and overtime opportunities were what they looked for most in a job.

Almost half of all nurses surveyed said they never or rarely negotiate their salaries, with 36% saying they almost always or always negotiate pay. Digging a little deeper, the survey found as nurses get older, they’re more likely to always negotiate salaries when starting new jobs.

How much wiggle room do nurses have when it comes to negotiating salaries? And how should they go about it?

Ask about pay structures

Theresa Mazzaro, RN

Theresa Mazzaro, RN

Salary negotiations are worthwhile and may be possible for experienced nurses seeking new jobs, but not likely for new nurses, according to Theresa Mazzaro, RN, CHCR, senior talent acquisition specialist at Suburban Hospital, in Bethesda, Md., part of Johns Hopkins Medicine. She also serves as a member of the board of directors of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment.

The reality is there are many factors that impact how much employers can vary on nurses’ and other providers’ salaries, according to Jessica Quezada Jackson, CHCR, a talent acquisition recruiter at a health system and NAHCR board member.

In a unionized environment, for example, the union determines employment parameters, including salary. But even in the absence of a union, employers like hospitals have to abide by Affirmative Action and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, which promote equity in hiring practices, according to Jackson. Many employers pay nurses based on level of experience, with tiers built in for certifications, higher degrees and more. It’s not really a negotiation, according to Jackson, but rather a set tiered pay structure.

The most important thing nurses can do to make sure they’re leveraging their experience, education and more is to understand a potential employer’s pay structure, so they can negotiate where possible, Jackson said.

“Nurses can get that information through their recruiters,” she said. “A lot of recruiters are in-house, and they’ll be able to tell you what you’re going to make based on your background.”

New graduate nurse pay

Jessica Quezada-Jackson

Jessica Quezada-Jackson

For new graduate nurses, there is typically no negotiation, Mazzaro said.

There are numerous factors that can affect a new RN’s salary. Credit for previous LPN experience is one factor that goes into the calculation of the new nurse’s base salary. The education level of the new graduate also might help that nurse earn more. Registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing might have a different starting salary than one entering the workforce with either a BSN or entry-level MSN, according to Mazzaro.

There are other ways to earn higher pay, even for a new nurse. Like a more experienced nurse, a new graduate nurse might be able to earn a differential if he or she works the night shift, versus the day shift.

Experienced nurses’ negotiating power

An experienced nurse might have greater negotiating power.

Some employers have policies where they pay according to a pay scale, based upon years of experience in that nursing specialty. There is no room for negotiation or discussion, according to Mazzaro.

That’s why it’s important for experienced nurses to make sure their experience and the value they might bring to a new role is clear.

“From a negotiation standpoint, it would behoove the nurses to be able to tell their stories about the experiences of jobs they’ve had and what they’ve done,” Mazzaro said. “Because if we’re looking at just a resume and that’s the only snapshot we have when we’re calculating a salary, we might not have the whole picture.”

It’s also important to think about overall pay and compensation when starting a new job, according to Jackson. For example, nurses who are relocating to underserved areas may be able to negotiate more lucrative relocation packages versus higher base salaries.

Prepare now for a higher salary later

Nurses can work on boosting their salary potential at their current and future jobs in several ways, including becoming certified in their specialties.

“Getting that certification shows and proves via an evaluation and exam that you are competent and certified as a specialty nurse,” Mazzaro said.

And that could lead to an increase in pay at a current job or a higher starting pay at a new job.

Salary increases and education levels often go hand in hand, experts say. Nurses with associate’s degrees, for example, should ask their employers if they pay more for a BSN and, if so, how much more. Sometimes the increase in pay for higher education is a differential, added to a nurse’s pay; sometimes, it’s worked into the base salary, according to Mazzaro.

“The other thing I would recommend to nurses is to become a preceptor or a charge nurse,” Mazzaro said. “Anytime that you increase your level of responsibility, like with being a preceptor or a charge nurse, there’s typically a differential for that.”

Mazzaro said it’s usually best for nurses to talk about pay with their recruiters and not hiring managers.

“Work with your recruiter and make sure your resume is complete and up to date, especially for those nurses who are highly tenured and have lots of years of experience,” Mazzaro said. “The more you can diversify and expand your knowledge base and skill set, the more opportunity you do have to ask [for higher pay].”


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This module provides an overview of the advanced degrees for nursing graduate education and focuses on seeking higher education for the clinical role of the advanced practice registered nurse as a nurse practitioner. It also identifies barriers and resources available for pursuing graduate education and other essential considerations.

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By | 2021-02-23T09:52:00-05:00 July 23rd, 2018|Categories: Nursing Careers and Jobs|10 Comments

About the Author:

Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton, president of Words Come Alive, has been a freelance health reporter for more than 25 years and loves her job.


  1. Avatar
    Martinez August 5, 2018 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Oh okay this is very helpful information. But why is Society saying only RN are Nurses and LPN’s are Not real Nurses ???

    I wish someone would honestly answer this question.

  2. Avatar
    Bridget Moit August 9, 2018 at 2:58 am - Reply

    Thats just Bologna. As medical professionals we each play a vital role. The LPN is taught about patient care and procedures they may require if the doctor orders any. Some patient education comes into play also. The difference in the RN role is different, in that we are taught the WHY of the care & procedures. A deeper look into the disease process and etiology. Just a more in-depth knowledge of the factors. In some areas an LPN may be in charge. Others areas require an RN or even BSN. All of us vital.

  3. Avatar
    Stacy Weigand August 9, 2018 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    That is so wrong I am an LPN and consider myself a NURSE. Period

  4. Avatar
    Laurel Halloran September 24, 2018 at 1:36 am - Reply

    You are a nurse. But your level of education is different. You can not expect to be paid the same as a person with a higher degree.

  5. Avatar
    Louis December 15, 2018 at 6:09 am - Reply

    How about an LPN who has worked inpatient med/surg, just graduated as BSN-RN. Do you suppose I negotiate my salary or take the “new grad” rate?

  6. Avatar
    Melissa A Anderson March 9, 2019 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Well a doctor in a physician assistant can both prescribe medications and have a lot of similarities in job description, however I do expect there to be a pay difference there different levels of education and responsibilities. This is no different to me? an LPN does not have the same responsibilities as an RN and should not receive the same pay.

  7. Avatar
    Shirley's Hardy June 8, 2019 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I am a 39yr, RN. Tons of experience in many areas, plus a mentor. I went to home health care, 4 yrs ago. The pay is horrible. $10 less per hour compared to hosp nursing. Raises are non existent pretty much. How can I get a raise?

    • Avatar
      Austin Williams August 1, 2019 at 5:01 am - Reply

      Hello Shirley, sorry to hear about your poor experience as a home-health nurse. I am a Recruiter for Maxim Healthcare in Colorado, I know pay rates can be hard but for private duty nursing we do capitalize on the importance of being able to make your schedule to insure a work-life balance as well as that the care is only one-on-one and charting is much easier / straight forward as opposed to a hospital nursing where there can be sometimes countless patients coming in and out, there’s no time for charting so you take it home with you, you don’t set your schedule your given one etc. If you want to know more about the benefits of home-health with Maxim I would love to talk more. -Austin

  8. Avatar
    Jessica Wood September 17, 2020 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Why do home health agencies not pay according to experience level? I thought after gaining more than a year of experience that it would count for something. But I’m being told by the agency trying to sign me that they ONLY pay based on the complexity of the case. That’s some BS! That should be the starting point for an inexperienced nurse, but not a “blanket pay rate” regardless of experience. Not to mention, I am bilingual too!

  9. Avatar
    Tamaron Winn February 20, 2021 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    How do I negotiate wages as a 14yr experienced LPN soon to be a RN, BSN graduate?

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