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By Kevin Pezzi, MD


Are nurses paid as much as they deserve?

nurseQ: As a nurse, I don't feel that I am paid as much as I should be. Do you think that nurses are adequately compensated, or should we be paid more?


Answer by , MD: I addressed this subject in one of my postings on an emergency medicine forum to which I belong. Here is what I wrote:

In a truly free market, a shortage of workers in a critical field (such as nursing) would result in pay escalating to a level sufficient to induce more people to enter that profession as well as to entice nurses who voluntarily quit before retirement age to resume working as nurses. Working conditions would also have to be improved. The fact that a nursing shortage persists is proof that not enough is being done. In my opinion, the improvements in pay and working conditions are, at best, sporadic half-measures.

There is no law (other than the law of supply and demand) dictating what nurses are worth. The existence of a nursing shortage is proof that nurses are not paid what they are worth. Although this artificial wage ceiling is probably multifactorial, I think one explanation for it is that hospital CEOs tend to be classists who discriminate against nurses and adamantly refuse to let nurses' wages rise to what they should be, based on supply and demand.

Not enough money in the system to pay nurses, you say? I disagree. The current healthcare system is horrendously inefficient. Improving efficiency would save billions of dollars that could be used to give nurses a substantial pay hike. Here's just one example. One of my friends who is a nurse says that when she charts I & O, she must do so in 11 different places! And, believe it or not, but her hospital has computerized medical records! If their programmers were as smart as they should be, a nurse should need to chart something once, and that result could be automatically propagated to other systems as needed. Wouldn't it make more sense to have the programmers integrate their systems once rather than burden every nurse every time she enters something that now requires multiple entries?

Another perennial problem is that nurses are generally not treated with respect by administrators. Many of my nurse friends complain that their supervisors and administrators treat them like children. However, the big shots are incorrigible and stupid enough to think that nurses can be duped by the trinkets of appreciation they're given. For example, at our local hospital, nurses are given candy (laden with trans-fats . . . another subject!) and a $5 gift certificate as tokens of appreciation once per year. Such trivial gifts are more insulting than giving nothing—it's like giving a waitress a one-cent tip.

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