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Analysis

Where Male Doctors Earn 50% More Than Their Female Peers

By John Commins  
   July 31, 2018

Hours worked, medical specialty, and productivity can't account for a huge gap in the average compensation between Maryland's male and female physicians.

In Maryland, male physicians earn almost 50% more than their female colleagues, according to a new survey.

The average annual compensation for male physicians in Maryland was $335,000, compared with $224,000 for female physicians, according to the survey of 508 physicians, which was commissioned by the Maryland State Medical Society.

The compensation disparity is consistent across medical specialties, and the survey suggests that the gap cannot be explained simply because male physicians work longer hours, or are more productive.

For example, the survey found that male family medicine physicians in Maryland earn an average of $243,000, compared to $164,000 for female family medicine physicians, a difference of 48%, and male internal medicine physicians working 41 hours a week or more earn more than 37% more than females working 41 hours a week or more.

"Something somewhat inscrutable is going on," says Travis Singleton, executive vice president at physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins, which conducted the survey. "I don't think time at work is the issue."

"When Merritt Hawkins recruits a doctor we virtually never see differences in starting salaries between male and female physicians. Most clients are more than happy to get a female physician, particularly in primary care or OBG, and will come to the table with a competitive offer," he says.

That changes, he said, "once the physician is off salary and on straight production, or is practicing in an independent setting, some sort of divergence is taking place between male and female doctor comp."

Merritt Hawkins' 2016 survey for The Physicians Foundation found that male physicians work about 4% more hours than female physicians—not a big difference.  

The 2016 survey also showed that female physicians see 9% fewer patients on average than male physicians.  "That’s a little more significant but not enough to account for the pronounced pay disparities noted in the Maryland survey," Singleton says.   

Singleton says the differences in compensation "may boil down to practice characteristics."

"It may be possible that women see poorer, less well-paying patients than male physicians, that they bill and code less aggressively than male physicians, are less outspoken in asking for raises, and are less likely to be in private practice, where doctors typically earn more than in employed settings—combined with working fewer hours, seeing fewer patients and perhaps some level of discrimination," he says.

"We remain puzzled by these numbers, however, which are reflected in other physician comp surveys," Singleton says. "This shouldn’t be happening to the extent it is, particularly given the receptive market for female physicians, but the reality is female physician compensation does not stack up to what male doctors earn."   

The survey also shows that:

  • Maryland physicians' earnings trail the national average. Of medical specialists tracked, 14 earn less in total compensation than the national starting salary in their specialties as tracked by Merritt Hawkins.
     
  • Only 41% of Maryland physicians surveyed said they participate in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. More than one-quarter said they do not participate, and one-third are unsure.
     
  • 78% of Maryland physicians said quality accounts for 20% of their compensation or less.  

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Average compensation for male physicians in Maryland was $335,000, compared with $224,000 for female physicians.

The compensation disparity is found in primary care and across medical specialties.

The survey suggests that the gap cannot be explained simply because male physicians work longer hours, or are more productive.


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