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Analysis

Gender Gap in Physician Compensation Narrows Modestly

By Christopher Cheney  
   March 26, 2019

The overall disparity between male and female physicians decreased from 2017 to 2018, but there was wide regional variation.

From 2017 to 2018, the national divide between male and female physician compensation eased, a report published today says.

In recognition of the ongoing disparity, the American Medical Association last year adopted several policy prescriptions to help close the gender gap in physician compensation, including a call for pay structures that are objective and gender-neutral.

According to today's report from San Francisco-based Doximity, the chasm between male and female physician compensation dropped below the six-figure mark for the first time last year.

"In 2017, the physician gender gap was at 27.7%, when female doctors earned $105,000 less than their male counterparts. In just one year, the gender pay gap in 2018 dropped to 25.2%, or $90,490 less than the average male doctor," the report says.

Doximity has collected compensation data from nearly 90,000 physicians over the past six years.

While there was significant variation in physician compensation by gender in markets across the country, female physician pay could be trending upward compared to their male counterparts, the report says.

"Financial compensation for men stagnated while female compensation grew by 2%. After years of examination, the gender wage gap is now demonstrating a downward trajectory, suggesting that the industry is moving toward equally compensating female physicians."

The report focused on 50 metropolitan areas across the country. Diminishing the gender wage gap has been uneven. "Despite the progress in the overall gender wage gap, most metro areas with larger gaps saw an increase between 2017 to 2018. However, metro areas with smaller gender wage gaps saw the gap improve," the report says.

The headway in moving toward gender parity in physician compensation is heartening—to a point, Mandy Huggins Armitage, MD, director of medical content at Doximity, told HealthLeaders last week. "One of the important findings is the gender gap has decreased. Obviously, there is more work to be done."

Compensation by the numbers
 

The report generated several other key data points.

  • The Top 5 metropolitan areas for physician compensation were Milwaukee at $395,363; New Orleans at $384,651; Riverside, California, at $371,296; Minneapolis at $369,889; and Charlotte, North Carolina, at $368,205
     
  • The Bottom 5 metropolitan areas were Durham, North Carolina at $266,180; Providence, Rhode Island at $267,013; San Antonio, Texas, at $276,224; Virginia Beach, Virginia, at $294,491; and New Haven, Connecticut, at $295,554
     
  • The Top 3 specialties for annual compensation were neurosurgery at $616,823; thoracic surgery at $584,287; and orthopedic surgery at $526,385
     
  • The Bottom 3 specialties for annual compensation were pediatric infectious disease at $185,892; pediatric endocrinology at $201,033; and pediatrics at $222,942

"In 2018, medical specialties that require more advanced training continue to have higher salaries and distinct specialties earn significantly higher income than the average annual compensation," the report says.

Compensation growth levels off
 

Physician pay plateaued last year, the report says. "Nationally, wages were flat with less than 1% decrease in physician compensation between 2017 and 2018."

The slowdown in wage growth was modest, according to the lead author of the report. "It's a relatively minor change—it's not like a 10% decrease. It's more of a leveling off, Christopher Whaley, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of California's Berkeley School of Public Health told HealthLeaders last week.

The flat wage growth last year is probably a reflection of consolidation in the healthcare sector, he said. "In the past couple of years, there has been a wave of physician practices being bought by health systems. So, if you are working for a larger company like a hospital or health system, you may have less agency over your pay."

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


KEY TAKEAWAYS

From 2017 to 2018, the gender pay gap among physicians dropped 2.5 percentage points, new research shows.

The Milwaukee metropolitan area topped the country in annual physician compensation at $395,363.

Neurosurgeons garnered the highest annual pay at $616,823.


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