Ask the Experts

Healing Hands

I am studying to be a nurse. Why are there more men in the higher-paying nurse specialty fields?

The gender pay gap in the medical profession has been a point of contention for many years. There is always a steady demand for nurses and more men are entering the field than in previous years. Being a registered nurse is a rewarding career path, a burgeoning healthcare system ensures that unemployment rates remain low. Since the majority of nurses are women, pay discrepancies have arisen in some specialty areas of the healthcare sector.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, this gender pay gap has not narrowed in recent years. Traditionally, women accounted for over 90 percent of nursing positions. Three decades ago only 3 percent were men. Numbers of men in nursing today have risen to around 12 percent but it still remains low. Stigma and a perception that nursing is woman’s work have kept men out of the field for decades. This is gradually changing as the job market shifts, because male-oriented manufacturing work has lost 5 million jobs while education and healthcare positions have increased by 9 million.

The point of contention is that men are earning more than women in the same field. Research indicates that male registered nurses earn on average $5,000 per year more than women in similar specialty areas and positions. A few years ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the median weekly salary of female registered nurses was 86.6 percent of what their male counterparts earned.

Data from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses has been analyzed by various research firms to provide their figures. It revealed that pay imbalances occurred across most specialty areas. The gap for ambulatory care was $7,678, hospital settings saw a gap of $3,873, chronic care $3,792, and $6,034 for cardiology. Researchers estimated that over a 30-year career female registered nurses would have earned around $155,000 less than men.

Men are more likely to be found in higher-paying positions such as anesthetists where 41 percent of nurses are male. This is the highest paying nursing position where salaries can be double that in other specialties. From a practice standpoint, both male and female nurse anesthetists receive the same training and education. They provide the same standard of patient care for all medical procedures requiring anesthesia. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists is fighting to see this unjustified pay gap eliminated.

It is quite surprising that there is a gender gap at all since hospitals are either public sector or unionized. There is greater transparency in the way staff are employed, promoted and paid than in other industries. The nursing pay gap has been attributed to practice pattern differences, career choices, and educational differences. Men tend to work longer hours, which will affect those paid on an hourly basis. Geographic areas with higher compensations such as the coasts and major cities generally attract more male nurses. Male nurses also tend to move up the career ladder faster and select highly compensated clinical specialties. The phenomenon has been referred to as the glass elevator, where women climb a ladder in a female-dominated profession while men glide up in a seemingly invisible elevator.

Wage growth rates are also attracting more men to higher paid nursing specialties. The average projected growth rate for all professions in the U.S, between 2014 and 2024, is expected to be around 7 percent. Licensed practical, vocational and registered nurses can expect a salary growth rate of 16 percent in their field. A 19 percent growth is expected for all healthcare jobs and home health workers can expect a 38 percent increase in positions. Changing career paths is easier once already in the nursing profession, switching to higher-paying specialties is one way up the ladder.

Doctors put a wall up between themselves and their patients; nurses broke it down… Jodi Picoult.

Martin J. Young is a former correspondent of Asia Times.