Nurse Salary Gap Study Provides No Rx for Problems in Healthcare System

A recent study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association found male registered nurses make $5,148 more per year compared to their female counterparts, and this inequality of pay between the two sexes has not changed in decades, while other industries have narrowed salary differences.

What gives?

It’s a common known fact women are paid 78% of what men are, on average, across all industries. But in a female dominated field like nursing, the fact that women are still paid less than their male peers overall is disturbing for the healthcare system as a whole. Here’s why.

The basis of this study shouldn’t have been about the salary difference between men and women. That’s old news. This study should have looked at health outcomes compared to compensation. Improvement in a patient’s quality of life can reduce the number of ER visits, hospital stays, reduce prescription drug use, and in some cases, dial down the number of complicated tests ordered for patients. Reduced billing errors and fewer medical misdiagnosis benefits both healthcare organizations and patients. Overall, better outcomes save the healthcare system money by putting a stop to the revolving door of repeat medical staff-patient interaction.

Medical efforts that result in a heart patient successfully lowering their blood pressure, throwing away cigarettes for the last time or getting a handle on their diabetes management should be rewarded, regardless of age, gender or race. Good health outcomes benefit everyone, from the hospital administrators to the medical staff to the patients needing care.

More medical facilities are looking at health outcomes to compensate staff, but the structures are still inconsistent and not widespread. “Pay for Performance” is another term for health outcome programs, which many argue is yet another tactic to bring corporate America into the hospital room, and ruin the way doctors and nurses practice medicine.

It would have been interesting if The Journal of the American Medical Association had conducted case studies analyzing salaries by gender within hospitals or clinics that were compensating based on health outcomes, and included employee happiness quality scores as well. Would we have seen a smaller pay gap? Perhaps. Would we have seen better medical outcomes overall compared to facilities that do not participate in any health outcome program? My hunch – signs point to yes.

Unequal pay between male and female registered nurses is a disservice to their profession, and it is a disservice to every patient in the healthcare system. This study should ring the battle cry for better health outcomes, not just gender equality.


Colleen McGuire

About Colleen McGuire

Colleen McGuire is an independent consultant who has spent most of her career writing about healthcare and the health insurance industry. For fun she blogs, travels and takes a lot of pictures along the way.


    Not sure what the point is of your post or even the study you referenced other than confirming an already well known difference….or is that your point?