Recently I encountered the following headline on the web: “Specialist nurses paid higher salaries than family doctors.” Knowing that my students graduate to become the highest paid members of the nursing profession, I suspected that the “specialist nurses” were CRNAs (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists). Yes, I was right – the article is referring to CRNAs. But this article is misleading and reflects a bias that is crying out for comment. Here is the article followed by my thoughts.
How dare any nurses make more money than any doctors! Take note that apples are being compared with oranges, because the services provided by primary care physicians versus anesthetists are vastly different. Logically the salary of nurse anesthetists should be compared with that of anesthesiologists because both groups provide basically the same services. Likewise, the salary of primary care physicians (also called family doctors) should be compared with that of nurse practitioners who provide basically the same services. I “Googled” the missing 2009 average base salaries to make the comparisons shown below.
2009 Average Base Salaries
Nurse Anesthetist $186,000
Primary Care Physician $173,000
Nurse Practitioner $83,000
Note that nurse anesthetists are more cost effective than anesthesiologists, and nurse practitioners cost less than primary care physicians.
Nurses are upgrading their knowledge and skills and filling an increasing need. In many rural areas, nurse anesthetists are the sole providers of anesthesia. And as an instructor who continues to teach physiology and related sciences to future nurse anesthetists for the thirty-seventh year, I can tell you that the textbooks are the same as those in medical school. The same mountaintop is reached despite the somewhat different paths taken.
Maybe doctors think they should always make more money than any and all nurses and that nurses should always be subservient to them. But doctors and nurses are healthcare professionals in their own right, and it’s in the best interest of the patients that they compete in the market place like everyone else. Maybe the public should be asking whether the big discrepancy in remuneration to specialist MDs versus specialist RNs for the same work is warranted?
Veronica Drantz, PhD