After years of study and training to become highly educated health professionals, female doctors often find they don't earn the same as their male colleagues. Unfortunately, that's not a new revelation, but data spotlighting the pay disparity has been difficult to collect and routinely challenged as flawed by critics and defense lawyers. Until now.
A new study published by JAMA Internal Medicine may be the first to overcome those hurdles and withstand such attacks, providing long-overdue support in the fight for pay equity for women physicians.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain salary information for 10,000 doctors (including more than 3,500 women) employed at 24 public university medical schools, with additional data from a physician networking website Doximity.
Overall, women doctors earn an average of $51,315 less than their male counterparts. Adjusting for relevant factors such as specialty, employer, years in practice, age, and rank, women doctors make an average of $19,878 less than male doctors.
Findings regarding the average pay gaps among certain types of doctors are equally sobering:
- Female physicians in the operating room take the largest hit with an average gap of nearly $41,000 for orthopedic surgeons and roughly $38,000 for other surgical subspecialties
- Male oncologists and hematologists outearn their female colleagues by an average of roughly $38,000
- Although women have accounted for half of the obstetrics and gynecology residents for the past 20 years, female OB/GYNs make $36,000 less than male OB/GYNs
- In cardiology, male heart doctors are paid $36,000 more than women heart doctors
- According to the report, radiology was the only area in which women earned more - about $2,000 more
Race also plays a role in compensation. The research shows white male doctors earn an average of $64,812 more each year than black male doctors ($253,042 versus $188,230), and though female white doctors make an average of $10,450 more than black female doctors, both take home far less in annual income than their male colleagues - $163,234 for white females and $152,784 for black females respectively.
The pay gap isn't limited to doctors. A 2015 JAMA report revealed that males working as registered nurses had salaries averaging $10,000 higher than female RNs. For entry-level positions and other less demanding health care jobs, the deficit isn't usually as great, largely due to union protection and mandatory minimum wage rates that tend to be gender blind.
In the past, critics and naysayers of gender pay disparities in the medical profession have resorted to victim-blaming, accusing women doctors of being less aggressive in negotiating compensation packages and seeking higher pay (though they may be penalized if they do), taking time off from the practice to have children and raise families, and not fully dedicating themselves to their careers.
The recent JAMA study is significant because of its narrow focus and careful consideration of doctors' specialties, experience, geography, and other key variables - making it clear that talented, educated, and accomplished females are at a financial disadvantage.
We represent women in medicine and other professions fighting to be paid fairly. we regularly encounter employers and defense counsel arguing that because the Equal Pay Act and other employment laws require equivalent compensation for equivalent work, even the subtlest of job nuances and the lack of valid comparators justify the disparity. Though we have successfully overcome these and other obstacles, the findings of the JAMA survey provide welcome support.