Gender Wage Gap Among Doctors Is Widening

April 28, 2011

Close up of female doctor wearing surgical maskA survey released by Medscape/WebMD reported alarming news for women--the gender wage gap among physicians is widening, fast.

According to WebMD, male specialists earn a median salary of $225,000 a year. Female specialists, on the other hand, take home a median annual salary of $160,000--a difference of $65,000 a year. This difference in pay means that in the course of a 35-year career, female doctors lose a total of $2.3 million on average, noted Forbes.

The gap may be due to several different factors, such as medical specialty, firm size, hours worked and discrimination.

Cornell University labor economics professor Francine Blau noted that women doctors tend to choose lower-paying specialties. For instance, orthopedic surgeons and radiologists earn a median salary of $350,000 a year, but primary care physicians and pediatricians take home a median $150,000 a year. However, WebMD pointed out that the gender wage gap sometimes still existed within the same specialty--among primary care doctors, men reported earning a median annual salary of $170,000 while women earned a median $140,000 a year.

Female physicians also opt for greater flexibility and, therefore, choose smaller firms, reported Forbes. Doctors who work at large firms (over 100 physicians) usually earn $23,000 more per year than doctors at private practices. Furthermore, women tend to spend more time with each patient, which means that they see fewer patients than male doctors do in a week, according to WebMD.

However, the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) told Forbes that the reason for the pay difference is not always so objective.

"The problem [of discrimination] hasn't gone away," said AMWA President Eliza Lo Chin.

Despite the fact that women now earn almost half of all medical degrees, studies have consistently shown that the pay difference between women and men has increased in the last 10 years. Moreover, Forbes noted that a previous study published in Health Affairs revealed that the pay difference still existed even when controlling for variables such as specialty, practice type, patient care hours, location and physician age. In fact, in 2008 the pay difference between women and men doctors increased nearly fivefold from 1999.

Leaders of AMWA argued that medical organizations usually get women doctors for less by offering family-friendly work arrangements. Interestingly, however, WebMD reported that both women and men had mixed feelings about their salaries--slightly more than half of specialists and just under half of primary care doctors reported that they are fairly compensated.

Forbes stated that these findings should not discourage women from pursuing a career as a physician. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the health care industry is expected to add three million jobs by 2018 and physicians and surgeons was the No. 1 best paid profession for women in 2010.

The survey was fielded to 455,000 U.S. doctors. Responses came from 15,794 doctors in 22 specialties between February 2, 2011 and March 30, 2011.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Female Doctors Face A $2.3 Million Wage Gap," blogs.forbes.com, April 28, 2011, Jenna Goudreau

"Medscape/WebMD Poll: How Much Are Doctors Paid?" webMD.com, April 28, 2011, Daniel J. DeNoon

"Physician Compensation Report 2011," medscape.com, April 2011

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