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Analysis

74% of Female Physicians Say Male Peers Earn Higher Compensation

By Christopher Cheney  
   December 09, 2019

Although medicine is arguably no longer a male dominated profession, gender discrimination remains widespread, a new survey finds.

A new survey found that most female physicians have experienced gender discrimination, and most believe they are paid less than equally qualified male physicians.

American medicine was a male dominated field through most of the 20th century. Researchers have found a persistent and widespread gender pay gap among physicians, including a Journal of Hospital Medicine article published in 2015 that showed female hospitalists earned $14,500 less than their male counterparts.

The new survey, which was published by the physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, found 74% of female physicians believe they earn less than their male peers.

"Women are entering medicine in record numbers and are having a profound impact on the medical profession. However, despite these achievements, female physicians continue to be paid less than their male counterparts and face other forms of workplace discrimination," Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins, said in a prepared statement.

The new survey is based on data collected from more than 400 female physicians across the country. Merritt Hawkins is a subsidiary of San Diego-based AMN Healthcare.

Gender discrimination data

In addition to the pay gap finding, the survey includes several key data points:

  • 39% of survey respondents said they earned less than their male peers in their current practice setting
     
  • 76% of female physicians reported experiencing gender discrimination as medical students and professionals
     
  • Inappropriate or offensive verbal communication from another physician was the most commonly cited (75%) form of gender discrimination
     
  • 41% of survey respondents who reported exposure to gender discrimination said they had experienced verbal sexual harassment and 14% said they had experienced physical sexual harassment
     
  • 79% of survey respondents said gender discrimination in the medical field is a serious or somewhat serious problem
     
  • 73% of survey respondents said gender discrimination lowered morale and career satisfaction
     
  • 29% of survey respondents said gender discrimination had prompted them to reconsider their career choice
     
  • 89% of survey respondents said gender discrimination in medicine would not spur them to discourage young women to enter the medical field

Given the physician shortage in the country, gender discrimination is a high-stakes problem, Singleton said. "Gender discrimination is more than just a challenge for individual doctors. "When it diminishes the overall supply of physicians, it becomes a matter of public health."

Gender pay gap causes

Survey respondents cited two primary factors as the cause of the gender pay gap in medicine: unconscious bias and level of aggressiveness in negotiating compensation.

Unconscious discrimination against female physicians in compensation was cited by 76% of survey respondents. This finding suggests cultural considerations in the medical field have a major impact on compensation for female physicians, the survey report says.

"When presented with two physician candidates for the same position who have equal training, skills, and 'bedside manner,' employers may unconsciously imbue the male candidate with a higher financial value, even if consciously acknowledging that both candidates have equal clinical ability," the survey report says.

Attitude or mindset was cited by 68% of the survey respondents as a cause of the gender pay gap in the medical field, saying, "female physicians are less aggressive or adept at salary negotiations than male physicians."

Attitudes or skills in negotiating compensation could be related to gender roles and behaviors, the survey report says. "Whether or not assertiveness is a learned or innate behavior, both female and male physicians could benefit from more training on the business aspects of medicine."

Other factors that survey respondents said play a role in the gender pay gap included conscious discrimination (38%) and fewer female physicians working as self-employed professionals (27%).

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

A new survey finds most female physicians believe gender discrimination is a serious or somewhat serious problem in the medical field.

Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said they earned less than their male peers in their current practice setting.

Inappropriate or offensive verbal communication from another physician was the most commonly cited form of gender discrimination.


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