It’s rare, but every now and then a press release will hit my inbox that really makes me recoil with surpris

The subject line is either a prank or some poor soul has really mixed up study findings, I figure. But I have to read more.

Such an event happened Tuesday with the release of the latest Nurse.com salary and satisfaction survey results. 

During a time when nurses have never been in higher demand, and salaries for them and so many other healthcare professionals are leaping, researchers reported that the salary gap between male and female nurses is … widening. Excuse me?

The expansive findings from more than 2,500 respondents quantified much of what we have known for a while: Pandemic stress has been high, many nurses have left the profession or are considering it, and RN salaries, on average, jumped nearly 7% from 2020 to 2021.

But then the real eye-opener: The nursing gender pay gap has widened.

The median salary for male RNs was $90,000, compared to $76,000 for females. That’s a $14,000 difference for anyone whose abacus might be in storage — nearly double the $7,297 gap reported in Nurse.com’s 2020 survey. 

Study administrators didn’t specifically report on why the gap might have grown in a year’s time, but they did sprinkle some clues as to why disparities might exist or have grown.

For one, males were about 30% more likely to say they “always” or “most of the time” try to negotiate a higher salary. Broken down, 40% of male respondents said they do this, compared to 31% of women.

Responses also showed that 30% of males reported nursing salary increases during the pandemic, compared to 25% of females.

A deeper dive into the Relias company’s research, which is appropriately touted as a valuable career guide for nurses in all kinds of settings, reveals other differences.

Just 9.5% of the survey respondents were male when this survey was conducted at the end of 2021. That represents leaps and bounds from just a decade ago and is up from 7% in 2020.

There were about 30% more male respondents across all license types: RN, APRN, and LPN/LVN. In fact, a higher proportion of male nurses (8%) hold an APRN license than female nurses (5%), study authors noted. That is significant because median APRN salaries were by far the highest ($120,000) among the licensed categories, and they rose by the greatest percentage and amount (up $13,000) between study periods, according to respondents.

Female APRNs, and LPN/LVNs, however, still average slightly higher salaries than their male counterparts. It was at the RN level that males registered the eye-poppingly higher average salary.

Men were also a net 12% more likely to hold a full-time nursing position (91% vs. 80%). That also indicates a slight gap-widening, when compared to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

It’s notable that many more women left the workforce, and healthcare specifically, during the pandemic.

In addition, male nurses were more likely to work higher-paying night shifts than female nurses, the Nurse.com results showed. In addition, at 5%, men were more likely to report being travel nurses than female respondents (3%).

Across all license types, male nurses were more likely to report longer work hours (39 per week, plus five OT hours vs. 37 and four for female counterparts).

During the height of the pandemic, the levels rose to 44.6 hours per week for male nurses and 39.3 for female nurses. Long-term care nursing numbers were likely much higher, with an LTC all-respondents average being 45.5 hours per week during the height of the pandemic, vs. 41.6 hours per week for their acute-care counterparts.

Felicia Sadler, MJ, BSN, RN, CPHQ, LSSBB, Partner in Acute Solutions at Relias noted that the RN pay gap “could be due to explanatory variables such as clinical settings, higher acuity specialties that pay higher differentials, and certifications.”

Certainly, some of those variables played a role but it’s hard to fathom how a few percentage point differences here and there among genders blows up the gender gap difference to make it almost double what it was.

More than likely, differences in the response set had a hand in driving some differences. The survey did not claim to be scientific and there was no way of gauging “same store” responses between the last two surveys, so a group of more experienced, higher-paid male nurses responding this time could have helped skew answers.

But the fact that the topic of gender-pay differences is anything but a blip on anyone’s radar in 2022 is mind-boggling.

Here’s to cutting down the nursing pay differences any way possible so that the only variances in the future can be truly attributed to whether Joe wanted to work more nights or Mary decided to work with higher needs patients.

The patients aren’t going to care what gender the hands caring for them belong to. The paymaster shouldn’t either.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.