The Wage Gap in Medicine: What We Know


Female physicians make almost $20,000 less a year

For the next several months, our feature stories will focus on the wage gap in the medical field. We’ll be reviewing the available data, and most importantly, talking to real women in medicine. While the wage gap touches all industries, we need to explore the specific challenges facing our field in order to achieve wage equality.

It’s been proven: Female doctors are paid less than their male counterparts.

How do we know?

In the most recent study on the issue, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analyzed salary data from 10,241 academic physicians at 24 public medical schools in 12 states. This data was made available due to the Freedom of Information laws mandating release of salary information of public university employees in several states.

Previously, there was limited evidence on salary differences between male and female academic physicians due to difficulty obtaining data on salary and factors influencing salary. As the researchers—from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital—noted, “Existing studies have been limited by reliance on survey-based approaches to measuring sex differences in earnings, lack of contemporary data, small sample sizes, or limited geographic representation.”

With the data now available for analysis, JAMA found that the average pay gap between male and female physicians was $19,878 a year. This was after adjusting for “age, experience, specialty, faculty rank, and measures of research productivity and clinical revenue.” Before adjusting for these factors, the absolute difference averaged $51,315 a year.

They also found that female cardiothoracic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and women in other surgical subspecialties made roughly $44,000 less than comparable men in those fields. Specifically, female orthopedic surgeons made nearly $41,000 less; female oncologists and blood specialists $38,000 less; female obstetrician-gynecologists $36,000 less; and female cardiologists $34,000 less.

Interestingly, female radiologists made $2,000 more than their male counterparts, the only specialty in which women were paid more.

In academia—despite outranking them—full female professors made roughly the same income ($250,971) as male associate professors ($247,212).

The Situation Hasn’t Improved Much Over the Years

In “Medical Professions: The Status of Women and Men”, a study from the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at UC San Diego published in 2013, it was found that women surgeons and physicians made 79% of what their male colleagues earned; women gastroenterologists made 79%; and female pediatricians earned only 66%.

Researchers Stacy J. Williams, Laura Pecenco, and Mary Blair-Loy found that “the income disparity between men and women physicians remains even when controlling for age, specialty and hours worked.”

“The pay gap is just one of the many disparities women in medicine face,” adds a recent Huffington Post article. “Promotions are scarce, leadership opportunities are often lacking and we see little to no recruitment into higher-paying specialties. All of this means lost opportunities for higher salaries, which only further feeds the pay gap.”

Where We Go from Here

We know that the wage gap isn’t caused by fewer hours worked, nor is it caused by performance. In fact, another JAMA study found that patients with female physicians had better outcomes than those with male doctors. If men provided the same quality of care as women, they could save an additional 32,000 lives per year.

This data proves all the more disconcerting when we consider that last year the majority of students who enrolled in US medical schools were women.

So how can we close the gap for the next generation of women in medicine? First and foremost, we need access to more data. When it comes to physicians’ salaries, transparency will help us better gauge where we stand and identify areas of improvement.

Furthermore, we need to learn from those who are achieving equality. According to the JAMA study, two of the 24 universities paid women and men equally across the board. Though the researchers declined to name them, access to these institutions to understand the policies, procedures, culture, and leadership they’ve fostered to counteract a wage gap would be incredibly beneficial.

And lastly, we need to help each other. Senior women in medicine need to reach out to those starting their careers to share their experiences, advice and most of all, support. As women in medicine, we have achieved quite a lot, and by leveraging the past, we can build a better future.

We look forward to sharing some of these women’s stories, and encourage you to reach out if you have an opinion on the wage gap in medicine or related topics, such as salary negotiation, organizational policies, specialization selection, or career development.