The questions "Are nurses underpaid?" and "Why do doctors make more than nurses?" are addressing different issues.
When anyone says that nurses are "underpaid," my response is always, "How do you know?" "Underpaid" is a market term, indicating that a nurse or nurses are being paid less than they were promised. (In other words, someone was promised $25 an hour, but is being paid $23 an hour. That's underpaid). But as I've pointed out before, there's no salary fairy up in the sky determining wages -- for nurses or anyone else. And when you include salary, benefits, working conditions and other intangibles, virtually every nurse reading this is being paid something different, and it's something you chose.
Many factors enter into that little dance that determines what you are paid: your educational level, certifications, background, experience and experiences, negotiating skill, and market savvy, among many other things.
Why are doctors paid more? The above factors enter in, but the primary one is that many physicians are self-employed, and have a better understanding of their value than nurses. (Those docs who are not self-employed benefit from those who are self-employed). Doctors are usually more assertive in standing up for what they want. They are usually better at communicating to the public that they feel that their skills are valued and needed. (Nurses continue -- on boards like this, and in more public forums -- to frequently disparage their skills and contributions to the health care industry).
Jim Huffman, RN