How One Nurse's Salary Changed Over 10 Years

Illustrations by Louisa Cannell.
In our series My Salary Story, women with at least 10 years of career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions, and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way. Interested in contributing your salary story? Email us here.
We first talked to a 36-year-old New Yorker who works in media and took a big pay cut to make a career change. Next, we spoke to a 33-year-old woman working in real estate in Austin, TX, who briefly left the workforce for to care for her father.
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Today, a 34-year-old nurse practitioner in New Jersey talks about how she learned to negotiate.
Starting salary: $30/hour
Current salary: ~$145,000-$160,000, depending on the number of shifts and productivity
Number of years employed: 10
Biggest salary jump: ~$80,000
Biggest salary drop: $8,000-$10,000
Biggest salary regret: "Staying so long at my previous job where I underpaid. Even though we got raises annually, they were only $0.25/hour raises — and no one ever explained what to do to earn more. I regret this job because I allowed someone to take advantage of me without fair compensation. I should have demanded more, showed them other rates for nurses, and gotten when I deserved — or left. As women, we take so much on and people don't realize it because that's just expected. Not to sound corny, but Drake was right when he said, 'Know yourself, know your worth.'"
Best salary-related advice: "You have to ask for what you want sometimes. I make great pay now but my job is very serious and I work a lot of long hours. I have asked for other things from my job to make my and my family's lives easier, including cheaper health insurance deductions from my paycheck (meaning my job pays for more), which they agreed to. I pay $200 biweekly for myself, my spouse, and our two kids, and [my job] pays about $800 biweekly. I couldn't afford to take care of all the family bills and pay $2,000 a month to cover us all for health insurance. Sometimes, I bargain with them when I work longer weeks, or when I pick up an extra shift; I'll ask for an additional differential — a "diff" — to my regular rate to make up for time lost with my family. The other girls I work with are never afraid to ask for what they want, seeing that makes me believe that it's okay to feel like you are worth more and to ask for it. The worst that can happen is being told no, but at least you asked — and hopefully you get a reason why."
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"I have two bachelor's degrees. After I finished the first in exercise science in 2005, I considered getting my doctorate in physical therapy. On a whim, I looked up nursing degrees and decided to apply for an accelerated, 11-month Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, which I started in 2007. At age 24, I started my career as a registered nurse (RN) working eight-hour night shifts, five days a week.

"I was a women's health nurse and my base salary $30/hour plus $4 night diffs. In hospitals — or any establishment, I imagine, with a night shift — you get extra pay for working at certain times of the day. For anything after 7 p.m., you usually you get a night differential. Sometimes it can be 11 p.m. depending on whether it is a an eight or 12-hour; there are even evening differentials, which usually start at 3 p.m. Due to my history of night work, I could make a few thousand extra dollars a year because of this differential. All told, this was about $70,000 a year plus benefits (which cost $70 every two weeks).

"I also started working to obtain my master's at this time because of the great reimbursement plans they had. You could receive $10,000 a year for master's or doctorate work. I worked full time on night shifts and went to school full time to obtain my degree. In my two and a half years here, I got up to about $31.50/hour as my base right after yearly raises."
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"In, 2010 got a job in NYC at a prestigious hospital in labor and delivery. My base salary was $40/hour plus $3 night diffs, and I did about 13 12-hour shifts each month. My health benefits cost about $50 every two weeks. In total, my yearly salary was probably around $84,000.

"[Because of my new commute], I had to pay the toll for the George Washington Bridge. I refused to pay for parking, which would have cost $180 a month, so I'd get to my shifts early and find parking on the street.

"Even though it was difficult to commute, especially after Hurricane Sandy, this was the most beneficial experience I've had in my nursing career. When people see this hospital on my résumé, I usually get a call just because I worked there."
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"I got pregnant in my second year here and got married, so my health benefits increased to about $80 every two weeks to cover my husband. I also stopped going to school because this new job was harder than my previous job. Learning the ropes of labor and delivery meant I had to put school on the back burner."

"By the end of my two years here, I ended up making about $42.32/hour as my base salary."
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"In 2013, I went back to working at a hospital in New Jersey, still in labor and delivery. My starting salary was $35/hour plus $3.75 night diffs — about $70,000 a year. Health benefits for my family cost nearly $200 every two weeks.

"Taking this job resulted in a pay cut of about $8,000 a year, but not commuting into the city (and paying the bridge toll) saved me some money. I attempted to negotiate when I started, but I had just given birth to my first child and the job was only a mile away from my home. I took the job knowing that I should be paid more, but I was happy to be close to home. After about three years here, I made close to $39/hour."
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"I re-enrolled in my master's program again to obtain my nurse practitioner degree, and stopped working full time. Staying on as a per diem employee (meaning I worked as needed) resulted in a $1 raise in salary, up to $40/hour as my base. I regret not trying to get more per diem because I was constantly performing charge nurse duties and staying around to help since this hospital was always short staffed.

"A $1 raise wasn't nearly enough. There's usually at least a $5 adjustment in pay for being an as-needed employee. This was my third RN job, and it set me back. By the end of my time here, I had two bachelor's degrees and a master's, but I was still underpaid and made less than some of my counterparts with less experience.

"In my three years at this job as a full-time employee, I had three different managers that were fired (and sued) for favoritism and discrimination. It's possible that this is why I didn't make as much as some other people did."
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"My fourth and current job is in New York State. I started it in 2016 and make $70/hour on the day shift and $80/hour for nights. Plus, I get productivity pay based on the number of patients I see. (A nurse practitioner is expected to see at least one patient an hour. In a 12-hour shift, we are expected to see about 15 patients, and if we see any patients over that, we get paid an extra $35 dollars per patient.)

"This was the biggest raise I've received and it was also a career change after finishing school and taking my boards. My salary doubled from my previous job, and I am still working per diem as registered nurse with a couple of shifts every month. Currently, I make anywhere from $145,000-$170,000 a year depending on how many shifts I obtain. Some months, I work a bare minimum of 12 — but I usually do about 15-17 shifts a month.

"When I first became an NP, I was just happy to just have a job. Luckily, where I am now, the other NPs (who have been here) longer negotiated the pay raise we are at now. We were doing the same amount of work as the doctors in our group, but being paid significantly less. An MD probably makes $300,000-$350,000 depending on experience; the NPs here were barely making $100,000 — but literally doing the same job with the same expectations.

"I got the raise, and honestly, although it is a great income, there are days it doesn't feel like it's enough; this job is so mentally and physically draining. My husband and I agreed that he would stop working while he's in school getting his master's. I negotiated for my job to pay more into my health benefits. Normally, full-time benefits cost about $1,000 every two weeks. I pay $200 every two weeks. I manage all of our bills, and we have two kids now. I work four to five nights each week doing 12-hours shifts in a row before I go home to take care of my kids."
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