Note: Table 2 is missing an entry for Maryland. The average annual salary for new grads in Maryland in 2009 was $85,972 ($86,550 median). The average part-time hourly wage was $37.75 ($37.35 median).
Note on Survey Methods and Report: This report is based on a subset of responses to the 2009 National Salary and Workplace Survey of Nurse Practitioners, which was conducted online through a third-party survey administrator between June 22 and Oct. 5, 2009. Of the more than 6,000 nurse practitioners who completed the survey, 1,283 said they had between zero and 2 years' experience as NPs; they were deemed "new graduates" for this report. You can find the complete survey here.
Going back to school is always a gamble -- students wager their time, tuition dollars and hard work that they'll find an emotionally satisfying and financially rewarding career with their new credential. During the Great Recession of the past 2 years, the stakes for students rose. With job cuts and compensation freezes, the odds of finding the perfect position got smaller.
But new graduate NPs made a decent bet. The average full-time salary for NPs with up to 2 years' experience rose 6.8% between 2007 and 2009, to $82,020 (median $80,000) from $76,802. Coupled with a 10% rise in average annual salary for the profession as a whole, that means new grads are poised to advance quickly even if the economy remains down. The average hourly wage for the 15% of new nurse practitioners who work part time was $40.14 (median $39.30).
Overwhelmingly, the new grads who responded to the 2009 National Salary and Workplace Survey of Nurse Practitioners believed their decision to become an NP was the right one: 87% reported being "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their job; and 84% reported being better off professionally than they were 2 years ago. Sixty-one percent said they made a higher salary, and 59% said they had greater job satisfaction.
Best Settings for New Grads
Practice setting was the biggest determiner of pay for all NPs, but the most lucrative settings for new NPs were a bit different than for those with longer tenure (Table 1). Emergency department, mental health and aesthetics settings paid the most for both groups. Notably, house calls and gerontology settings were much lower in the pay hierarchy for new grads.
But gerontology and house calls, along with aesthetics, showed the most promise of large pay raises for NPs who continue to work in those settings: The differences in average annual salary for new NPs and NPs overall were more than $22,000 for house calls, almost $15,000 for aesthetics and more than $13,500 for gerontology. Corrections and oncology settings ranked higher on the pay scale for new grads, but NPs can expect lower salary increases with longer tenure: Less than $5,000 separated annual average salary for new NPs and those with more experience in oncology, and corrections NPs in general made less than $2,500 more than new grads in corrections.
Practice owners across all settings are consistently top earners among NPs in general. The 11 new grad NPs (less than 1%) who reported owning their own practice made an average annual salary of $88,125 (median $81,500). But the potential for future earnings is great: The 3% of all NPs who own their own shops (whether the practice was new or well-established) earned an average annual salary of $116,021 (median $100,000) in the past 2 years. More than 11% of new NPs said they plan to open their own healthcare-related business within the next 5 years.
Sex and Salary
Unfortunately, another strong determiner of new NP compensation was gender. The 91% of new NPs who are women made 11% less in average annual salary than those who are men - $81,052 (median $80,000) versus $91,061 (median $85,000). The wage gap was 13% with more experience. As with longer-tenured NPs, more men worked in more lucrative settings, and fewer men worked in lower paying settings. Interestingly, there seems to be more gender parity among NPs who worked part time. The average part-time hourly wage for female NPs was $40.11, less than 3% below the $41.17 average for male NPs.
NP salaries vary widely across the states - experienced NPs made 34% more in California than in Alabama. The same holds for new grads. By moving from Wisconsin to Texas, a new grad could boost her salary by 31%. Table 2 lists average annual salaries and average part-time hourly wages for states that had at least five new grads responding to the survey. Arizona, California, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas started new NPs with the highest salaries in the country, and their pay rates were among the highest for NPs in general.
A more surprising finding is that population setting hardly mattered for new NPs. Whether their practice was rural, urban or suburban, new grads reported a median annual salary of $80,000 (averages: $81,391 rural, $83,371 urban, $80,912 suburban). In contrast, NPs overall reported a $5,000 increase in median annual salary when moving to urban from rural settings, with a $3,846 increase in average salary (that's more than 4%).
New NPs are educated a bit differently from their more experienced colleagues: 98% list a master's degree as their highest credential, compared with 89% for NPs with more experience. Less than 1% of new NPs reported a bachelor's degree as their highest credential, compared with 6% of NPs with more experience.
At the same time, only 1% of new NPs reported earning a doctorate degree, compared with 5% of NPs with more experience. And 15% of NPs who have been on the job longer than 2 years reported holding more than one NP certification; only 8% of new grads did so. These findings are unsurprising, because almost every state now requires that new NPs have at least a master's degree, and new NPs have had less time than others to earn a doctorate or a second certification.
New grad NPs look much like their more experienced colleagues. They tend to be younger (average age for new grads is 40 compared with 49 for NPs with more experience), but they are still overwhelmingly women (91%) and choose the same practice settings (family practice and internal medicine top both lists).
New grads tend see to fewer patients per week than NPs in general: an average of 60 (median 55) versus 64 (median 60). They also write fewer prescriptions per week: 56 (median 35) for new grads versus 67 (median 40) for NPs overall. Both groups are generally satisfied with their jobs and believe there are sufficient and appropriate job opportunities for NPs.
JIll Rollet is the editor of the ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners Web site and the managing editor of our print edition. She also serves as editor of the annual Guide for New NP Graduates and Senior Students.
Room for Negotiation
You're a new grad in a poor economy, but that doesn't mean you're at the mercy of a prospective employer's first offer. Lynn Schiff, NP, owner of the healthcare recruitment firm Advanced Practice Solutions, and her colleague Stephanie Doty say it's perfectly acceptable to negotiate your compensation package.
"Employers realize they will probably need to adjust the salary upward a bit from their initial offer and have planned accordingly," Schiff told ADVANCE. That means many employers are getting a bargain if you don't make a counteroffer.
But you must do your homework first: Learn what compensation is typical for your geographic area and specialty, and don't get stuck on a number. If the employer just won't budge on salary, propose production bonuses or extra incentives for meeting goals. Or move away from the paycheck, and strike a deal for more paid time off or other benefits.
"A good strategy is to keep the tone positive and keep the focus on what you can bring to the employer and how you will add value to the practice," Schiff says. And don't forget about any extensive RN experience you have. That is fair game for negotiation.