Documenting—and Eliminating—the Wage Gap for Women Physicians

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‘If people want you, they will pay you an equitable salary’

Catherine DeAngelis was four years old when her father taught her to play poker.

“I sat on his lap and he would whisper in my ear how to read people,” she recalls. “He’d say, ‘this guy is bluffing, that guy has a really good hand,’ and so on.”

It was a skill that would serve her well as a physician when she was negotiating salary. 

“I would never accept a position in which I wasn’t being paid as much or more than a man in that position,” she says. “If people want you, they will pay you an equitable salary.”

Equity among men and women doctors has long been a passion for her. A pediatrician, Dr. DeAngelis is the first woman to be appointed editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. She also is the author of Pursuing Equity in Medicine: One Woman's Journey, in which she relates more than 40 years of personal experiences.

A Framework for Equity

In 1991, her first year as vice dean of academic affairs and vice dean of the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she published Women in Medicine: Fantasies, Dreams, Myths, and Realities. She documented the wide pay gap between men and women in medicine and lobbied Richard S. Ross, her dean at Hopkins, to correct the disparity within two years. He readily agreed.

“They couldn’t argue with the numbers,” she says.

In creating a framework to achieve equity, Dr. DeAngelis compared apples to apples: Internists to internists, neurosurgeons to neurosurgeons, nephrologists to nephrologists. By 1994, women physicians at Hopkins were earning equal pay to their male peers, accomplished at a cost of $2 million.

Dr. DeAngelis repeated the pay study each year to ensure that equity remained on track until she left for JAMA in 2000.

Recouping Lost Gains

In 2012, she returned to Hopkins and joined the dean’s advisory committee. She learned that women had lost some of their gains over the past decade.

“I was told that there were inequities in salary,” she says.

Hopkins had renewed its commitment to equity. Dr. DeAngelis continued her work, too, speaking and consulting on pay equity at Hopkins and more than 20 medical schools. In training and mentoring fellows and other women, she has coached them in negotiating salary.

"Women negotiate incredibly for others but not for ourselves,” she says. “Until we reach a point in this wonderfully developed, sane country where there is equity between men and women, we are giving up half of our intellectual capacity.”

Now 77, Dr. DeAngelis continues to advocate for equity and the importance of informed, effective negotiation.

"I play poker every day of my life, but never with cards,” she says.

Wage GapAlicia Lazzaro