News & Events

Nurses Salary Survey: Results In!

Many hospitals don’t need to increase salaries to be competitive – for now.

By Sandy Keefe, MSN, RN

As a faculty researcher at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California, San Francisco and a full professor in nursing, Joanne Spetz, PhD, has her finger on the economic pulse of nursing.

"The employment situation for nurses will come down to a broader question of what the economy does over the next year," she said. "If the economy is really moving into recovery mode and does stabilize, we’ll see changes in overall employment patterns.

‘If we’ve really hit bottom in terms of jobs lost and we see an increase in overall employment, more people will seek healthcare and that will increase the demand for nurses. But that effect will take some time to impact nursing. And healthcare reform is certainly a wild card – who knows what Washington will do?"

Will the increased demand translate into better salaries for nurses?

"Even if there are more positions for the nurses who are currently unemployed, hospitals won’t have to raise salaries to be competitive because those nurses will be happy just to have a job," said Spetz.

"Nursing salaries won’t rise over the next year; in fact, I don’t expect salary growth for any professional group within the next 12 months. However, if states are not able to support nursing education over the next 5 years, we will see a decrease in the number of new graduates. If this occurs at the same time older nurses are reducing their hours or retiring, that combined effect could push salaries up over the 5-year period."


Flat Salaries


Elizabeth Wykpisz, MBA, MS, RN, CNAA, C, CHE, senior vice president and chief nursing officer, Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC, described the impact of low vacancy rates. "This reduction has resulted in a stabilization of nursing salaries," she said. "Hospitals have either not increased salaries or offered cost of living adjustments, consistent with or slightly lower."

Indeed, according to the ADVANCE for Nurses national salary survey results, nearly half of respondents, 48 percent, did not experience a change in salary.

2010 Nurses Salary Survey National & Regional Results

Carolyn Viall Donohue, MSN, RN, NE-BC, associate chief nursing officer at University of North Carolina Health Care, Chapel Hill, NC, pointed out that new graduate nurses enjoy a salary range significantly better than most college grads receive right out of school.

"Because of the economy, nursing salaries have stayed flat over the past fiscal year for most of the healthcare facilities in our area," she said. "If there have been salary increases to adjust for the cost of living, they’ve been very minimal. However, we are currently in the midst of a salary survey for nurses to see what we need to pay in order to remain competitive."

June Altaras, MN, RN, nurse executive at Swedish/First Hill in Seattle, explained:

"We are a strictly union setting for our RN contracts through SEIU 1199, so salaries are based on contract negotiations. I’ve been here 23 years, and each year our nurses receive somewhere between a 3-5 percent cost of living adjustment. In addition to that, our nurses receive an additional increase for each year of service between their hire date and 30-year anniversary that’s usually between 2-4 percent. That means a typical nurse receives a 5-9 percent increase a year for the first 30 years and seniority increases every 2 years after that time."

Changing Landscape

David G. Epstein, MAS, LLM, PHR, IPMA-CP, IPMA-CS, CASS, director of human resources of the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Manhattan and a veteran HR professional, shared his perspective of the remarkable changes in the nurse recruitment landscape.

"Over the past several years, it was relatively easy for new grads to secure employment soon after or sometimes before graduation, and for experienced nurses to move from job to job; securing a primary position with benefits, while maintaining several per diem assignments," he said. "In stark contrast, today new grads are finding it very difficult to find jobs, while many hospitals have laid off experienced nurses."

Steven Taranto, director of human resources at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, sees a correlation between nursing vacancy rates and salaries.

"We’ve been very fortunate in the Boston marketplace with the incredible volume of new grads coming out of schools in the last few years," he said. "We conduct wage surveys in the marketplace on a regular basis to ensure that we are offering competitive wages. This past year, the market data indicated that wage programs were more moderate than in recent years."

Range of Options

Many healthcare organizations have opted to focus available resources on specific programs.

Mass General, for example, pays new grads 10 percent less during orientation and uses dollars saved for clinical advancement programs. Nurses at some Mass General outpatient programs may soon earn bonuses for productivity. "[And] we’ve had a rich differential program since the summer of 2005, which has allowed us to staff weekends and nights with nurses who want these shifts," said recruiter Michele Andrews.

At The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, where nursing salaries have increased at a rate in line with inflation and the cost of living over the last several years, vice president and CNO Deborah Hayes, MS, RN, NE-BC, noted, "With the current ‘overabundance’ of nurses in some areas, that has slowed the pace of increase a bit. However, we are seeing top dollars offered for nurses with advanced degrees and specialties."

In the DC area, Wykpisz reported, "Hospitals are exploring a range of options, including pay for performance, remuneration for charge nurse and preception responsibilities as well as certification and education pay differentials."

Bonnie Kriescher, director of workplace planning and staffing, Advocate Health Care, Oak Brook, IL, described the Success Through Excellence in Practice (STEP) program that "gives bedside nurses the opportunity to advance in level and salary by staying in a clinical setting, as opposed to the more traditional route of transition into management."

At UNC Chapel Hill, nurses are rewarded with a specific dollar amount in their annual salary as they advance along the clinical ladder. "That increase reflects increased responsibility and expectations regarding their nursing practice," Donohue emphasized.

However, Donohue does believe change is coming. "The economic recovery seems to be going at a glacial pace, and that has temporarily fixed our staffing issues," she said. "But those of us who have been around for a while know that the pendulum can swing back pretty fast, and with very little warning."

Note: Survey results are based on responses from 1,794 participants who completed our online survey, which was posted on the ADVANCE for Nurses Web site from Sept. 14-Dec. 1. 

Sandy Keefe is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.