With few barriers to landing jobs, nurses don’t necessarily take or want the first offer that comes along.
Which is why healthcare organizations cannot afford to skimp on nurse pay if they desire to hire highly skilled candidates. This becomes even more important during a nursing shortage.
The numbers are staggering. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for an additional 203,700 RNs annually through 2026, which translates into more than 1.4 million nurses.
Gender pay gap persists
In traditional female occupations in the U.S., women earn about 20% less income, when compared to their male counterparts, according to a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report.
Registered nurses top the list when it comes to gender pay gaps, along with surgeons and physicians, according to an American Association of University Women survey.
The survey reported female RNs brought home an average salary of $65,612, whereas their male counterparts were compensated $71,590 annually.
Our 2018 Nurse.com Nursing Salary Research Report also found a gender pay gap of more than $6,000 annually. In our survey results, male nurses earn $79,688 per year versus female nurses who earn $73,090 per year.
But there is some good news. The nurse pay gap is slightly smaller than the national average across professions, at less than 10%, said Kathleen McCormac, RN, Esq., a San Francisco nurse attorney in private practice.
Overall, she said, experts agree that gender wage gaps have not significantly improved since the 1970s, and the gap is even larger for black and Hispanic women.
“Males make up 10% of the nursing workforce and male nurses are paid more,” McCormac said.
The nurse pay gap grows even more noticeable as female nurses take on executive leadership roles in which they are no longer protected under their collective bargaining agreements, McCormac said.
Assess legal risks before you ask salary history
Hiring nurses is hard enough. But keeping them is even more challenging, especially if they feel unfairly compensated.
Although it might be tempting to ask a nurse about previous salary history during the interview, it’s a risky maneuver with potential legal issues, McCormac said.
“It is now illegal in a number of states and there’s a fine if you ask (salary history),” she said. “In 2017 it was banned in California. You cannot ask what someone makes. It’s a labor code violation to ask (under) Labor Code 1197.5. If you’re a recruiter repetitively asking the question those fines can add up.”
Granted, it’s legal if a job candidate voluntarily shares his or her previous income history, McCormac said. Sometimes candidates want employers to know they understand what a job title with their experience should earn, and they expect to receive fair compensation.
Credentials help narrow nurse pay gap
Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, CEO at the National League for Nursing in Washington, D.C., said the gender pay gap continues because we live in a culture where men fight for the pay they think they deserve.
They also negotiate for better pay compared to women, she said. It’s time for female nurses, and females in general, to ask for more competitive wages.
“At the bedside, it can be a $7,000 pay difference, between women and men, but executive nurses tend to make pretty good money,” Malone said.
She said men also bring home more pay because society places a higher value on men and their need for higher earnings.
“It’s also an expectation that we don’t need it as much as men,” Malone said. “It’s the old idea that men need more money to run their family.”
Because of the nursing shortage, nurses are highly valued, but those with higher education and additional certifications are in even greater demand.
Our Nurse.com survey found that earning certification helped women close the gender pay gap in nursing to about $1,000 instead of about $6,000 less per year.
Malone said it would be helpful if hospitals used that to their advantage when offering benefits to nurse candidates in line for the job.
The other advantage of qualified nurses? Patients receive the care benefit from well-educated nurses, Malone added.
“If I were a nurse recruiter,” Malone said, “I’d say, ‘Come to my hospital and I will make sure you get that certification and education you need and make sure you move into a new level of need. We will make sure we up your qualifications because it will help the institution where you work and will also help your career.'”