Medicine’s Gender Pay Gap is Huge



A new survey conducted by Doximity, a social media site for physicians, shows that female physicians make an average of 26.5% (or $91,000) less than male doctors. The self-reported data—which was gathered from 36,000 licensed physicians and controlled for factors such as hours worked—shows that the pay gap exists in all medical specialties and in every U.S. city.


The largest wage gap is in neurosurgery, where female neurosurgeons are paid, on average, $93,000 less than males. One of the smallest pay gaps is in preventive medicine, where females still make $35,000 less on average. Meanwhile, in terms of geography, the largest wage gap exists in Mississippi, where female physicians make, on average, $118,000 less than males. The smallest gap is in Hawaii, where women make $45,000 less.


Medicine’s gender pay gap is especially concerning considering many medical specialties rely greatly on female physicians. For instance, specialties such as Pediatrics and Obstetrics & Gynecology are predominantly female, but male physicians in these specialties still make an average of 21% more than their female counterparts. These specialties, among others, will likely see more females in coming years as close to half of the graduates from U.S. medical schools are women. In fact, female graduates outnumbered males in states such as Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Washington. Furthermore, research suggests that female doctors perform better than males—a recent Harvard study showed that female physicians’ Medicare patients had better clinical outcomes than males’ patients.


Considering more and more female doctors are entering the workplace and are actually performing better than men in some areas, the fact that they’re making significantly less is absolutely unjust. While Doximity’s study is incredibly eye-opening, it’s only descriptive. It doesn’t explain the reasons behind the wide wage gap. However, some professionals have offered their takes.


Dr. Anupam Jena, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who has researched the gender wage gap, believes that women do not negotiate their pay as aggressively as men, resulting in lower salaries. Perhaps women’s timidness in negotiations is due a patriarchal society that encourages passive qualities in women. It could also be because women are more likely to be penalized if they do decide to negotiate—what’s the point of negotiating when your pay might actually be reduced as a result of it? It seems to me that negotiating power is more a systemic issue than an individual one. Jena believes that human resources departments allow pay gaps to exist and that performance should be the main determinant in salary.


Dr. Suzanne Harrison, president of the American Medical Women’s Association, offers another explanation for the pay gap. In an interview with STAT News, Harrison mentions that women are perceived to be inflexible because they raise children and require more flexibility in their schedules. This perceived inflexibility, Harrison says, is equated with less productivity. This reveals the crux of why discrimination is faulty and troubling—rather than being paid based on actual performance, female doctors are paid based on an expectation of how they will perform.


Medicine’s pay gap is palpable and atrocious—and it’s growing. Like Jena, Harrison believes pay inequities require a systemic response, including advocacy and a better review of pay by health care organizations. Regardless, it’s disheartening that the pay gap hasn’t been appropriately addressed, considering we’ve known it has existed for years. More needs to be done.

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Imaz Athar

Imaz Athar is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, double majoring in Neuroscience and Sociology. He aspires to become a physician and plans on attending medical school in Fall 2017. Imaz fell in love with the art of writing at a young age and is currently the Publisher of Pitt's undergraduate-run science magazine The Pitt Pulse. When he's not writing or keeping up with classes, Imaz enjoys running, playing basketball, watching Empire, singing (in the shower), and listening to all kinds of music.