Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.

Lady Docs get the Shaft

Lest you think that we’re working towards some concept of equality, new research once again proves otherwise.(1) Not only has the gender gap in physician salaries not improved, it’s actually gotten worse over the last 10 years — nearly five times worse. This gap is often explained away by the fact that many women opt for the lower paying specialties and fewer hours because their vaginas need time to pop out some babies, but when factors like specialty and hours are accounted for women STILL earn an average of $16,819 less than their male counterparts.

And that’s just average. Need heart surgery? Your female surgeon will make an average of $27,103 less than a dude. Kid needs ear tubes for all those ear infections? A lady otolaryngologist/ENT (ear, nose & throat) makes $32,207 less than a male. Been a little short of breath from your lung disease lately and need to see a pulmonary disease specialist? The one with the boobs makes $44,320 less than the one with danglies. And remember, that’s AFTER normalizing/accounting for differences in specialty choice, hours worked, and even area cost of living. These women are receiving the exact same training, accumulating the exact same debt, and performing the exact same job, yet they are earning only a fraction of the pay.

This and previous studies have sought an explanation for the gaps and have yet to produce satisfactory explanations and results. One previous argument proposed that female physicians are just a males; these studies tend to merely measure number of patients seen and ignore things like the quality of care, patient outcomes, and patient satisfaction. Maybe it’s just my little lady-brain, but I seem to remember a few lessons from med school and life that seemed to say quantity does not equal quality. The other main historical argument has been that women disproportionately go into the lower-paying primary care fields, but not only has that trend diminished in recent years, women are still earning significantly less than their male colleagues in the same field. Family/marital status has also been shown to have little direct influence on physician salary.

The only explanation that still seems plausible after the data analysis is that there are fundamental differences in the jobs taken by female physicians beyond the specialty field and hours worked. Perhaps women are willing to sacrifice equal pay for a position that allows them more flexibility or is more amenable to their family responsibilities. It has recently been demonstrated that the field of medicine is indeed shifting to a greater focus on quality of life, but here’s the thing — both men and women are placing greater importance on jobs that permit a greater quality of life, NOT just women.

Again – both men AND women increasingly want family-friendly jobs that afford greater flexibility, yet women continue to earn $16,819 less than men. That’s nearly five times worse than the gap of $3,600 in 1999. FIVE TIMES WORSE. Disgusting.

Rants? Theories? Condolences? Distract me with your comments!


1. LoSasso AT, Richards MR, Chou CF, Gerber SE. The $16,819 Pay Gap For Newly Trained Physicians: The Unexplained Trent of Men Earning More than Women. Health Affairs. Feb. 2011; 30(2):193-201


Comments on: "Lady Docs get the Shaft" (3)

  1. mrs.set.element said:

    I think that one thing that’s going on is that women have a much, much harder time negotiating salary than men do. We aren’t taught how (this should soooo be a part of med school training, btw.) And it’s been my personal experience that even when you do go in with a comparable negotiation starting point to the men, you either won’t get the job, or won’t get the raise, and might even have to deal with social ramifications for having the gall to value your own work. (I was once called “rapacious” and “grasping” by a lady boss, just for asking for a review of my work after a year of employment! And those are synonyms!)

    I also think that head-hunting agencies are also a huge part of the problem, because they often do a lot of the negotiating behind the scenes, well before you even apply for jobs. And we often believe them when they sell us a bill of goods about how we ladies are getting a deal with getting more flex time for our lowered salaries. WOMEN: DO YOUR RESEARCH, and don’t back down!!! Btw, I got my review, took it to HR, and got my raise. Damn straight, I’m grasping. Lol.

  2. One of the problems that I see is that as women, we also have a tendency to go into working part-time in order to care for children, etc. In our internal medicine dept., every female internist but ONE currently works part-time. She is quitting to go to work for the VA system in order to have the benefits and better hours. This is understandable, but it definitely lowers the number of patients that they see. Our part-timers also see a lower volume of patients than do their nurse-practitioner counterparts who are females and work full-time.

    I am not judging, btw. I totally understand working part-time or seeing less patients … but payments are tied to patient volume/procedures, etc. I worked part-time at the University, btw, and as a result, if my pay was lumped into any sort of a survey about salary, I would have brought the numbers down…

  3. Mrs.Set.Element, you are one of my heroes; I’m glad you stood your ground and pushed until you got what you deserved — what you earned. Society has trained women to believe that they are bitches if they stand up for themselves and ask for more — and indeed, that is often the exact reaction towards us when we do so. So. Many. Issues.

    Kris, it makes sense for a person to earn less if they are working less, which sounds like is the case with the part-time internists where you work. My problem with this new article is that it confirmed my suspicions that women just earn less, period. This new research specifically accounted for specialty choice and hours worked, and it confirmed that even when you normalize for these variables women are still earning less in the same specialties while working the same hours as their male colleagues. I can’t speak for your or all clinics, but at the ones I work with the male and female docs are seeing the same number of patients in the same amount of time, so the pay difference can’t be accounted for by patient volume either. It just blows my mind that even when adjusting for all these variables, women are earning nearly $17,000 less per year for the same hours, specialties, and patient volumes. I wonder if the quitting internist was aware of the discrepancies and chose to seek out a job where perhaps the benefits and hours correlated more appropriately with her work? I’m not sure. I certainly hope that you’re being compensated at the same level as any men in your position.

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