A Firestorm That Started on Social Media: A Glimpse of Sexism Toward NPs?

Kara Malone

If there’s a profession where highly skilled and educated female professionals would command respect and appreciation for their abilities it would probably be the field of nursing, where women still make up roughly 90 percent of the industry. But the reality is even in fields where women overwhelmingly make up the majority of the professional workforce, troubling and familiar problems like pay discrimination and gender stereotypes still persist, even when accounting for factors like education, clinical experience, specialty and number of years on the job.

One of the most telling indicators of professional gender parity – compensation – speaks for itself. Despite the fact that women still make up the bulk of nursing professionals, the gender pay gap is alive and well in the field. A study of nursing pay scales between male and female nurses found that the pay gap has persisted for over two decades, ranging from $5,000 per year on the low end, to over $17,000 on the high end among specialties like nurse anesthetists.

Despite the fact the rates of men entering nursing professions has been rising in recent years, male nurses currently make up roughly 10 percent of the workforce, making it difficult to justify the disparities in pay with traditional arguments like lack of comparable experience, education and shortage of female talent in the given field – arguments that are particularly pervasive in business, the sciences , nd technology.

The Usual Suspects – Factors Used to Explain the Gender Pay Gap in Nursing

Despite the findings of the study published in JAMA, which confirmed that female nurses make considerably less than their male counterparts across virtually every specialty in both hospital and outpatient settings, familiar factors commonly used to justify gender pay disparities in traditionally male dominated fields were also given consideration.

According to an article in Scientific American:

“While the study didn’t address the reasons for persistent gaps in pay, it’s possible that men are better at negotiating raises and promotions or that they are less likely than women to take extended breaks from the labor force to care for young children or aging parents, said Dr. Patricia Davidson, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland. Many women are drawn to nursing at least in part by the flexibility, noted Dr. Davidson, who wasn’t involved in the study. With shift work and opportunities to advance while working nontraditional hours, nursing should be far better suited to balancing a career and family obligations than many other professions, she told Reuters Health.”

More Than Money – The Credibility and Respect Gap

In addition to the problem of ongoing pay disparity, nurse practitioners are, unfortunately, no strangers to workplace discrimination in other forms as well. As a demeaning and offensive online rant last year attributed to Florida anesthesiologist Dr. David Glener shows, sexism in the workplace is not necessarily isolated to male-dominated fields, or to paychecks.

Even in an industry where professionals undergo extensive education and training, and perform critical services on the job that are essential to patient well-being and care, nurses are often subjected to both covert and explicit discrimination and lack of respect for their intellect and professional achievements and contributions.

The Doximity Debacle

Unlike much of the toxic noise and insults on the internet, which typically comes from anonymous “trolls,” the derogatory remarks against NPs were published on Doximity, a respected social media and networking site for physicians and medical professionals. The comments read in part: “Nurse practitioners are not, I repeat, not physicians. They lack the education, IQ and clinical experience. There is no depth of understanding. They are useful but only as minions.” Dr. Glener later denied having posted the comments and blamed them on hacking of his account by way of an unattended laptop, but the damage was done.

Do Male NPs Face Gender Discrimination Too?

Male nurses may enjoy higher paychecks, but gender doesn’t necessarily shield them from the type of discrimination more commonly faced by their female colleagues. Male NPs may only account for approximately one out of ten nurses, but apparently, the respect gap does not stop at female nurses. The stigma surrounding male nurses is more commonly attributed to cultural and professional ideas about men working in traditionally “female” (read caregiving) roles such as nursing.

But as nursing shortages throughout the country and a decline in stable and well-paying opportunities in other industries persist, the number of men entering the nursing field is on the rise. As a recent nursing graduate in the Pacific Northwest admitted to The New York Times:

“When my wife told her grandfather that I graduated from nursing school, he just laughed. But I think there are more men who are less afraid to take on what have traditionally been considered feminine roles.”

Taking concrete steps towards addressing persistent issues, like the gender pay gap and gender discrimination, can go a long way towards addressing inequality in nursing and healthcare professions.

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