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B.C. nurses sue Interior Health over wage disparity with doctors

"Nurses have, and continue to be, compensated at a lower rate than the practice of medicine by general practitioners," the suit states.
A nurse sits at her desk.

A group of nurses working at Kelowna's Urgent and Primary Care Centre are suing Interior Health for paying them less than their physician co-workers.

In the suit filed Tuesday, eight nurse practitioners allege Interior Health pays general practitioners at Kelowna's UPCC 70 per cent more than nurse practitioners, despite them providing what they say is “identical medical services.”

“Nurses have, and continue to be, compensated at a lower rate than the practice of medicine by general practitioners,” the suit states.

“This is so even as the distinction between their respective roles, and particularly between NPs and GPs, becomes narrower, with nurses' roles continuously expanding to include, as in the Kelowna UPCC, identical medical services as those provided by GPs.”

Marissa Dennis, Julia Walker, Genevieve Dube, Cammie Lewis, Marjan Vizcaino, Andrew Brown, Sydney Richardson-Carr and Damian Rawnsley claim the pay disparity between the two roles amounts to discrimination in breach of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter, because they claim the wage gap is ultimately based on gender.

“Gender is inextricably embedded in nursing. While not all the plaintiffs are women, the nursing profession – including in the nurse practitioner designation – has and continues to be closely associated with women and is made up largely of women,” the suit alleges.

“The historical and social conceptualization of nursing as women's work has resulted in a systemic disadvantage to all members of the nursing profession, namely the undervaluing of their labour, regardless of each individual person's gender.

“The disparate compensation scheme at the Kelowna UPCC is discriminatory because it is based on the view that the work of nurses is of lower value than the work of general practitioners, and by extension, that the work of women is less valuable than the work of men. This is true even when the work of NPs and GPs is identical.”

The Kelowna UPCC opened its doors in December 2019, and the following month, Health Minister Adrian Dix came to Kelowna to formally announce its opening. The UPCC, located near the corner of Harvey Avenue and Gordon Drive, was hailed as a partial solution to the shortage of family doctors in the region.

In the suit, the plaintiffs say under their current three-year contract, nurse practitioners at Kelowna's UPCC are paid an annual salary of $150,000 in their first year, with $5,000 increases each year after. This works out to $89.30 per hour in their first year, and $95.24 per hour by their third year. But for general practitioners at Kelowna's UPCC, they make $163 per hour – approximately 70 per cent more.

The suit claims general practitioners are also given other benefits that nurse practitioners are not.

Additionally, the suit notes a new Physician Master Agreement has been recently agreed to, and doctors' wages are expected to "significantly increase" next year as a result.

The suit claims nurse practitioners and general physicians perform “identical” work at Kelowna's UPCC, and that their vastly different compensation “reveals stereotypical decision-making” by Interior Health.

“The pay differential between the two groups is based on discriminatory concepts about the value of the work of nurses being lower than the value of the work of doctors because of the lower value attributed to 'women's work' than 'men's work,'” the suit claims.

The suit comes following a ruling in October from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which ordered Interior Health release a copy of the contract between Interior Health and service providers at Kelowna's UPCC to a member of the Health Sciences Association. This recent lawsuit has likely come as a result of the information from that release.

Interior Health opted not to comment on the recent lawsuit, with a spokesperson saying: “it would not be appropriate to speak to a matter that is before the courts.”