Nursing salaries are rising, but one local hospital says they are not the only factor in nurse retention

By Jennifer E. Kustes

In the past, nursing salaries have been below those of other fields with comparable education levels. However, many facilities are now offering increases and sign-on bonuses. Over the past few years, nursing salaries rose across the board, with the largest increases for experienced nurses.
Nursing salaries vary widely by region of the country, experience level, education level, and type of facility. Facility size is a major factor. The larger the facility and number and type of beds, the higher the salary.
Karen Stefaniak, Associate Hospital Director/Chief Nursing Officer at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington, Ky., said, "If you look at all the options, the salaries are quite good." She said an entry-level nurse’s starting salary is very respectable.
Stefaniak said salaries go up with annual raises and increase with experience and education. However, it is difficult to make increases unless nurses change what they do. "People do have the opportunity to make more money, but they have to take some initiative," she said.
The National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses for 2000 showed that the average annual salary of full-time RNs had increased to $46,782. The national average for LPNs was $29,440. According to the American Nurses Association, in 2001 hospital staff nurses earned $36,618, administrators earned $45,071, instructors earned $36,896, supervisors earned $38,979, clinical nurse specialists earned $41,226, nurse practitioners earned $43,636, and nurse anesthetists earned $76,053.
Average national RN salaries also vary by education level. A nurse can earn an average of $46, 500 with a BSN, $43,000 with an associate degree, and $42,000 with a diploma. Data also shows that certification pays, with certified nurses earning $46,446 versus $39,573 for non-certified nurses.
In the region of the country that includes Kentucky and Ohio, RNs make an average of $14.29 per hour and LPNs make an average of $10.11. A typical staff nurse earns an average salary of $43,554 in Lexington, $45,239 in Louisville, and $45,649 in Cincinnati.
Stefaniak cites several measures that the UK Hospital takes to stay competitive and retain nurses. First, she said, they look at what other organizations are paying, but then they recognize that salary is not the most important factor. Most of the nursing shortage is due to the working environment, she said, so UK Hospital takes steps to make the environment a work-friendly place so employees know they are valued.
UK Hospital offers flexible schedules and shift lengths. They have a weekend shift program where nurses work for 24 hours over a weekend and get full-time pay. They also offer self-scheduling, which allows the nurses to be in charge of their own lives and schedules.
UK Hospital also does not have mandatory overtime, and they honor nurse to patient ratios. Before patients are assigned to nurses on a shift, they look at the acuity of the patients and the experience of the nurses. They will even close a bed and leave it empty until they have a nurse to cover it. They also have a culture of self-governance, where the nurses at the patients’ bedside decide how they will do their work, "because they know best," Stefaniak said.