If you're a graduating or practicing nurse, there's good news: The U.S. nursing shortage means health care employers are offering nurses all sorts of interesting lures to work for them.
For those fortunate enough to have more than one offer to consider, how do you pick the best one — the job that will provide the compensation you're looking for, as well as an environment that's conducive to your career development and day-to-day job satisfaction?
Consider these points as you make this important decision.
Salary and benefits
If salary is your highest priority, make sure it's competitive geographically, especially if an employer wants you to relocate. Remember that what seems like a great salary in Birmingham, Ala., probably won't be enough to cover your living expenses in New York City.
Look for other ways to boost your compensation, too. Is there a sign-on bonus? Do you bring certain highly desirable skills — such as fluency in a second language — to the table? If so, make sure the salary offer reflects those skills.
Most employers, especially hospitals, offer health, life and disability insurance plus reimbursements for continuing education. Some also offer long-term-care insurance. Get specifics about those benefits. For example, a small community hospital might provide health insurance for you but not the rest of your family.
If you're a veteran nurse returning to the field after a hiatus or making a career change to nursing in your 40s or 50s, pension and retirement plans are probably on your mind. If so, ask about a spin on the child-care benefits younger nurses often receive: adult day care for aging spouses or parents.
Transferability of benefits is another issue. It's usually not possible to take your retirement plan, for example, from one private hospital to another. If that's a concern for you, consider signing on at a state hospital and moving around to other facilities in their network. For nationwide versatility, the Department of Veterans Affairs might be a viable option.
For many nurses, the intangibles are just as important as the compensation. What intangible benefit do nurses seek most of all? Respect. Ask prospective employers how they ensure a smooth relationship among doctors and nurses, among nurses at different levels, and among nurses and the facility's administration.
Of course, ask the nurses already there about the realities of their working environment. The employer may assure you there's a sufficient nurse-to-patient ratio, but do the nurses agree?
Find out if the organization has a mentor program in which an experienced nurse guides a newcomer through the technical details (such as the company's paperwork, computer systems and drug regulations) of the new-hire process. Get a sense as to whether you'll be able to turn to your mentor beyond the first day for help in navigating the organization's political and bureaucratic minefields as well as for career-development advice.
Consider the overall environment in which you'll be working. For instance, if you're a mother who needs to get home to young children at a certain time every day, then an urban emergency room is probably not right for you. Instead, check out smaller community hospitals, senior care or rehab centers, where you can pretty much be assured of clocking out at a regular time.
If you're looking to develop expertise in a specialty — either now or down the road — research the organization's reputation in that area, and ask about opportunities for moving into it. Also, check with nursing associations geared to that specialty. They're another great place to find mentors and get all the information you'll need for working in that field.
The bottom line? Nursing offers numerous opportunities for finding exactly what's right for you, wherever you are in your career. And with the current market, you're in the driver's seat when it comes to negotiation.