Since I started my nursing career almost five years ago, I have worked in the I.C.U.s of several university hospitals. Looking back, before beginning these jobs, there were some formalities I really wish I would have understood. So watch out for the following red flags before you sign on to your next bedside nursing job, or at least make sure you fully grasp the situation and ask the right questions before you agree to take the job.
Sign on bonus
We all get stars in our eyes when companies are offering a 10K sign on bonus and sometimes it becomes a deciding factor as to whether or not we take the job. However, reality is, the reason hospitals are offering this kind of coin is because they need nurses badly. This can mean an exceptionally short-staffed work environment with co-workers who were cranky and over-worked way before you applied. Thus, you need to really consider how miserable you are willing to be for a sign-on bonus. So, these are the questions I recommend asking before signing the contract:
- What is the required work commitment? (If this is over two years, I strongly urge you to reconsider the position).
- What happens if you break the commitment? (Most companies will allow you to pay back the remaining bonus at a pro-rated amount. This meaning, if you receive 10K at sign on and work a year of a two year commitment, you should only have to pay 5K back.)
- How is the bonus paid out? (Some companies pay the bonus out in increments. Therefore, you may get 5K on your first paycheck, and then at 6 months of employment get $2500, receiving the final $2500 at your one-year mark.)
- What is your tax bracket? (When I received my first bonus of 10K, I was shocked when I only received $6700 after taxes. It suddenly didn’t look as great).
If you are considering going back to school and tuition reimbursement is important to you, inspect the hospital’s policy before signing your contract. Here are some questions to ask:
- Does tuition reimbursement decrease with the amount of hours you work? (At some point during school, you will likely have to cut back to part-time employment. One of my previous hospitals cut tuition reimbursement by 50% if you dropped below 36 hours per week. Therefore, I factored this out of my decision making process.)
- Do you have to sign a work commitment to receive the reimbursement? (Nothing in life is free. Most institutions make you sign a work commitment for every payout taken. For instance, I took $2500 of tuition reimbursement and later discovered I owed the institution 18 months of employment for the money. My job was so awful, I had to pay the money back and go elsewhere.)
- What is your tax bracket? (Once again, my $2500 with an 18-month commitment looked even less appealing after taxes).
The 40-hour workweek
Now this was a new one to me. When I signed on to a job that worked nurses 40 hours per week, I didn’t even understand how it could be possible. While I was accustomed to working three shifts per week, this particular hospital put all of their nurses on salary instead of hourly wages to save money. Within a six-week pay period, we worked 36 hours for 4 of those weeks and 48 hours for 2 of those weeks. We also rotated shifts and worked every other weekend and holiday. As many of you know, 48 hours per week without overtime pay is far from worth it. All I have to say about this one is buyer beware.
Most hospitals these days hire their nurses on to one shift, day or night. Rotating shifts nearly killed me, and evidence states they are extremely detrimental to ones’ health. Here are some important questions to ask about shifts:
- What shift will you be hired on to? (Day or night? I strongly urge you to reconsider if rotating shifts are the only option, this for the benefit of your health and sanity.)
- If you are hired on to nights, how long will you have to work nights before you can move to days, or visa versa? (Some people are night people and some people are day people. At some point in your career you should be able to move to your shift of choice. If your possible boss tells you it will be an undetermined amount of time before you get your chosen shift, I suggest reconsidering. This can be indicative of an extremely short-staffed unit or a boss who is inflexible.)
I have only ever worked in one institution that did not provide free coffee or at the least, a coffee pot for employees to make their own coffee. In fact, I am so passionate about this issue I urge you to check out this link for more information about the benefits of coffee breaks for employees. So, when you are on your possible, future unit, ask about coffee for the nurses on the unit. Be careful because most human resources offices will provide coffee, so it is necessary to dig deeper and check out your actual area. In my experience, you can consider this reflective of how the entire institution will treat their nurses. So, at the very least, ask if the nurses are provided with coffee.
Good luck in all of your endeavors and I hope this insight helps you avoid stressful, contractual situations in the future. Danielle is the owner of her blog Nurse Abnormalities.