Ask a Nurse: How Do I Negotiate a Higher Salary?

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated March 22, 2023
    Want to know if you should negotiate your salary as a brand new nurse? The answer is, yes, you should! Learn here about what it means to negotiate, how to negotiate your salary, and what not to do when negotiating.
    Nurse accepting a job offerCredit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: Is it possible to negotiate a higher salary as a new nurse? Do you have any tips?

    Great question. Yes! It is possible to negotiate a higher salary as a new nurse. There is no rule book that says you can’t. No one will scold you or punish you if you negotiate. As a matter of fact, according to the 2019 Job Seeker Nation Survey report from Jobvite, your potential employer expects it.

    The gender pay gap in nursing is real. Women make up 87% of the nursing workforce, but get paid 10 cents less than male nurses. That’s about $7,297 a year. Imagine losing $7,297 every year?!

    If you are Black/African American, Hispanic or Latino/a, and/or Indigenous, you make even less. That’s why negotiating a higher salary for yourself needs to happen — especially if you are a woman and/or a minority. Negotiating your salary is one way to close the gender pay gap.

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    What Does It Mean to Negotiate Salary?

    Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, says everything in life is a negotiation. Learning how to negotiate will only improve your life. This is how you should look at salary negotiation.

    When you’re negotiating your salary as a new nurse, this means you and your potential employer are figuring out, and finally agreeing, on a salary amount. In return, you work for the employer.

    Negotiating isn’t only about your salary. You can negotiate:

    • Sick days
    • Vacation days
    • Parental leave
    • Tuition reimbursement
    • Working remote
    • Travel expenses

    Why Is It Important to Negotiate Your Salary in Nursing?

    It’s important to negotiate your salary because you are letting your employer know how valuable you are to the company. It lets them know:

    • You are confident
    • You know your worth
    • You’ve done your research

    Life isn’t all about money, but, if you are a woman, getting paid less to do the same job as your male counterpart also isn’t right. Negotiating is important because you are playing an active role in one day ending the gender pay gap.

    What Are the Steps to Take Before Negotiating Your Salary?

    Negotiating can feel scary. You may even feel embarrassed to ask for a higher salary. Let’s face it: Some of us were taught to be happy with what we are given.

    Learning how to negotiate doesn’t have to be stressful. See below for a few steps you can take before negotiating.

    Do Your Research

    See how long the job has been posted. If it’s been posted for a few weeks, or even a few months, chances are it has been difficult to fill the position. Knowing this, employers will probably be more willing to work with you during the negotiation phase. Other research tips include:

    • Make sure you know the current nursing salary trends on websites like PayScale or Glassdoor.
    • Pay attention to how much nurses are being paid in your state, city, or even the facility you applied to.
    • Ask other nurses how much they get paid in your area.

    Practice Negotiating

    If the thought of negotiating makes you nervous, practice. You can practice negotiating with someone either in person, over the phone, or via email. The other person can pretend to be the employer. Practice as many times as you like, until you feel comfortable.

    Ask for More Time

    Once you are offered the position, the employer is going to give you an offer. Ask for more time to think about it. This can be 1-2 days, or until after the weekend, if your offer was on a Friday.

    During this time, if you haven’t already, compile a list of all your positive attributes and the value you are bringing to the company. Highlight the responsibilities mentioned in the job description. If you did it, mention it.

    How Do You Negotiate a Higher Starting Salary in Nursing?

    When you give a counteroffer, which means coming up with your own offer, make sure the number is realistic and goal oriented. Have a number in your head based on your research, personal needs, and future career goals. Focus on the value you bring to the company.

    Whether you provide a counteroffer in person or in an email:

    1. Start off telling the company why you want to work for them.
    2. Highlight the value you are bringing to the company.
    3. Let them know your counteroffer.
    4. Thank them for their time and patience.

    What Should You Not Do When Negotiating a Salary In Nursing?

    At the end of the day, it’s your decision to accept or decline the position. Be confident and professional, but don’t:

    • Be condescending
    • Give ultimatums
    • Make it all about you
    • Lie

    What Should I Do if My Offer Is Not Accepted?

    If your offer isn’t accepted, that’s okay. You don’t know what other projects the facility is working on or their budget. If you really want to work for the facility, ask what you need to do to reach that salary, how long it may take, and how often are employee performances and salaries reviewed. Based on their answers, make your decision.

    Michelle Obama says resiliency is a muscle. You have to practice to become stronger and not shut down if things don’t go your way. This concept is the same for negotiating. If you don’t get exactly what you offered, or your counteroffer wasn’t accepted, don’t give up.

    In Summary

    • Continue to build your confidence so negotiating becomes second nature.
    • Do your research before negotiating.
    • Practice your negotiating skills.
    • Negotiate your salary to help close the gender pay gap.

    Written by:

    Portrait of Joelle Y. Jean, RN, FNP-BC

    Joelle Y. Jean, RN, FNP-BC

    Joelle Jean has been a nurse for more than 10 years and family nurse practitioner for over three years. She has a background in pediatric emergency room, labor and delivery, and primary care medicine. Her passion for the nursing profession and writing led her to her current role as a senior writer for NurseJournal.