Mallory R., a former travel nurse recruiter, wrote this editorial on the effects sexism in nursing. Here’s what she has to say.

Sexism is a hot topic right now, it seems. What it is, how it manifests itself, why it matters, and who it hurts.

My two cents?

Sexism hurts everyone.

There are no winners in where gender discrimination exists. Very few industries illustrate this quite as well as nursing.

Nursing is a Rewarding Career Choic

Nursing is a great career. And I don’t mean subjectively in the, “I love nurses!” way. Objectively, looking at hard facts, there are many reasons to pursue becoming an RN.

  • The demand for nurses has been rising, a trend that is projected to continue. This means job security for practicing nurses and new positions opening up for new nurse graduates.
  • Nurses make high salaries. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the average annual salary for an RN in 2016 was $68,450/year, with the top 10% of nurses making more than $102,990.
  • Nurses have higher job satisfaction than other professionals. Registered nurses know that they are making a difference. They work for more than a paycheck.

There are more reasons why nursing is a promising and rewarding professional career, but I think that’s sufficient to make my point.

Sexism in Nursing

Sexism Faced by Male Nurses

We’ve established that nursing is a great career. Now let’s look at who’s doing the nursing.

According to a study conducted by Montana State University in 2017, the number of male nurses practicing in the United States has been trending upwards since 1980. In 1980, there were about 50,000 male nurses. Today that number is over 350,000.

There is something these numbers don’t show you, the study notes. For the past five years, the number of male nurses has increased – but so has the number of female nurses. The percentage of male nurses in the workforce has held steady at 11%.

11%. That means just about 1 in 10 nurses is male. Why is this so? If nursing offers job security, lucrative salaries, and job satisfaction, why are men not pursuing it in greater numbers?

To really answer this question, we’d have to conduct a thorough study. But there are some obvious factors that at least contribute to the problem. Here are a few of them:

  1. In traditional gender roles, women are the nurturers. They care for the young, weak, and sick while men bring home the bacon.
  2. The history of nursing tends to be weighted towards the females. To many people, nursing conjures images of Florence Nightingale and white caps and dresses.
  3. Some areas of nursing, such as mother-baby and labor and delivery, seem to be best served by a female nurse.

Our society often paints women as the caregivers, celebrates women as nurses historically, and excludes men from large sectors of nursing, it makes sense that men would be underrepresented in nursing. Men who are nurses must be willing to face male nurse stereotypes and possible discrimination in the workplace, especially depending upon which nursing specialty they choose. They also must accept being outnumbered in the workplace – and let’s face it, that’s not something many men have experience with.

You may be wondering why this matters. Women are chronically underrepresented in most industries. Aren’t women allowed to have one field where they out-compete men?

If we really want workplace equality – the best people being hired because they are the most qualified and capable – then we need to strive to eliminate these potential hurdles to men in nursing. We want patients to receive the best care available and to achieve the best outcomes possible. To create the environment required for this, hiring managers need to be selecting nurses from the largest pool of qualified candidates possible.

Sexism Faced by Female Nurses

Now on to the female nurses. While it is likely that you experience relatively intangible side effects of the skewed male-to-female nurse ratios, it’s likely it doesn’t negatively impact you on a regular basis.

But unfortunately, studies show you’re experiencing sexism in the workplace no less acutely.

The idea of equal pay for equal work is not new. Women across industries and across the country have been clamoring for equal pay for women for decades. In many industries the pay gap has been diminished or eliminated – but not in nursing.

A study by University of California – San Francisco, conducted in 2015, found women made $5,000/year less than their male counterparts across all nursing specialties, healthcare settings, and nursing positions – and have since 1988.

This means that over the course of a 30-year career, female nurses will have made about $155,000 less than their male counterparts.

And this study wasn’t a one-off. Other studies – such as this one by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing female nurses made 90% of what their male counterparts made in 2016 or this one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also showing a $5,000/year pay gap in 2015 – prove that the gender pay gap is real.

Again, why do we care? We care because after we ensure that the best people get hired to produce the best work, we want to reward that work with the compensation it deserves. 

So what does this all mean?

As the nursing sector of healthcare strives to improve patient care, outcomes, and advocacy, it needs to reevaluate its hiring practices and compensation methods. By largely ignoring 50% of the country’s population, talented individuals with value to add to the nursing profession are sure to be overlooked. On the other side, failure to pay female nurses comparably to their male nurse counterparts is sure to foster resentment, diminish job satisfaction, and potentially even impact work performance. If we want to have the best nursing staff possible, we need to seek out the best people and pay them accordingly.