AS YOU BEGIN THE SEARCH for your first professional position, remember to think about all the benefits an employer can offer you. Many hospital positions have great benefits that equate to high dollar amounts. The trick is understanding the value of these benefits and factoring these perks into your decision.
During your initial interview, focus on finding out about the position, your responsibilities, opportunities for advancement, preceptorship, mission, and purpose. If the answers pique your interest, ask about benefits at the end of the interview.
Health benefits are a given in most health care organizations for full- and part-time employees. Ask questions about the plans offered, the deductibles, what's covered, what's not covered, and when your benefits will start. How much will come out of each paycheck for health insurance—and can you opt out? A few organizations will pay you extra if your spouse or significant other covers you in his health plan. Also ask about the retirement program. Does the organization match your contribution? If so, what's the limit?
What's the accrual plan for your paid days off? Are holidays included in this as well as sick time? Can you bank days and take time off at your discretion? Some organizations incorporate the concept of “mental health days” in their paid time off policy.
Our profession embraces education and knowledge. Does your potential employer endorse that philosophy? Ask about continuing-education opportunities and tuition reimbursement. Does the hospital support flexible scheduling if you go back to school? Does it offer flexible scheduling for all nurses to help them balance work and home responsibilities?
Ask whether the hospital has a no-lift policy and a wellness program. What about an employee assistance program, gym membership, and free health screenings?
Some organizations now offer concierge services. This program brings outside businesses into the hospital to supply their employees with services such as running errands, booking travel, and even shopping for groceries. This service is usually supplied at a discounted price.
When you're interviewing, find out if the chief executive officer and chief nursing officer meet with the employees regularly. Communication is extremely important in any organization—especially in health care, where changes can happen in a blink of an eye.
Does the organization support leadership training and promote from within? Are nurses who can take on more responsibility groomed for advancement? Clinical ladders are great venues to increase your skill, knowledge, and experience. Ask whether different tracks are available to address the varied opportunities in nursing.
Remember to think about how much you're earning in relation to housing cost, car insurance, taxes, and overall cost of living in your community. Also think about how the setting suits your lifestyle. For example, if you're into the night-life scene, a rural community may not be a good fit for you. If you're considering a city job, factor safety issues into your decision.
Ask when and how you'll receive your first performance evaluation and whether you can expect a pay increase after that initial employment period. What's the usual increase? Is it based on performance, cost of living, or both? (An increase based on performance is your ticket to greater compensation.)
Many hospitals have standard salary grades that aren't negotiable. However, other items may be open for negotiation—for example, sign-on bonuses, relocation reimbursement, and retention bonuses. Find out if the hospital rewards employees for achieving targets related to finances and patient satisfaction. How about a referral program that pays employees for recruiting another nurse to the organization?
Also consider work-related circumstances that may save (or cost) you money. For example, some hospitals have free parking. If parking is a problem, does the hospital provide shuttle service? If so, how often do the shuttles run?
The organization you choose is not only where you'll earn a salary, but also where you'll grow professionally and personally. By considering all the angles, you can ensure that the position you choose meshes with your personal goals and priorities.