In academic medicine, women doctors are paid less from the start

Female doctors get lower starting salaries in nearly every subspecialty, and that gap continues later in their careers, a new study found.

Women physicians in academic medicine are earning less than male doctors, and the gap can be seen even at the beginning of their careers, a new study found.

In 42 of 45 subspecialties, female physicians in academic medicine had lower starting salaries than male doctors, according to the study, which was published in Jama Network Open on Feb. 18. After 10 years, women physicians were earning less than their male counterparts in 43 of 45 areas.

The study tracked the pay of 24,593 women physicians and 29,886 male physician across 45 subspecialties in academic medicine. In about half of those specialites, women had lower annual salary growth.

“The findings of this study suggest that gender-based disparities in starting salary and early career earning potential are pervasive in academic medicine in the US. Equalizing starting salaries would address the majority of the differences in earning potential,” the authors wrote.

Eva Catenaccio, a doctor at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is the lead author of the study.

Some have argued that if women take time off to have or raise children, it would explain why they earn less. But the study upends that argument, since women in academic medicine have lower starting salaries across the board.

For women physicians, the median starting salary in most subspecialties was 10% lower than men, which translated to $26,800. Starting salaries for women were about $13,000 lower at the bottom end, but on the high end, the starting salary was nearly $41,000 less.

“Although annual salary growth rates might vary on the basis of many factors, differences in starting salary seen immediately after the completion of training for new faculty, who are, in theory, equivalent except for their gender, are less easily rationalizable,” the study stated. “This is especially true as the data used for this analysis reflected comparative salaries based on full-time employment.”

After 10 years, the median salary for women was nearly $23,000 lower, or 9% below their male counterparts. At the 10-year mark, the gap in pay for women ranged from about $16,000 to nearly $50,000.

In starting salaries and after 10 years, women earned more than men only in pediatrics, which the analysis noted “is traditionally a lower paying area of medicine.”

The study on female doctors in academic medicine is the latest to examine inequities in pay in medicine.

Women doctors earn $2 million less than male physicians over a 40-year career, according to a study published in Health Affairs in December. Among surgical specialists, women typically earn $2.5 million less over their careers, while women who are non-surgical specialists earn $1.6 million less than men. Female primary care physicians earned about $900,000 less over their careers, the study found.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be having a disproportionate impact on women doctors, according to a study published in Jama Network Open in November. Women doctors were more likely to assume child care responsibilities, work from home or reduce their hours, the study found.

A report from athenahealth last month showed women doctors are spending more time with their patients and in documenting their records. The study suggests it could be hurting women doctors financially, because they are seeing fewer patients and physicians’ earnings are typically based on the volume of patients.

Some advocates for equity are urging healthcare leaders to take a closer look at pay equity and work-life balance to encourage more women to pursue careers as doctors and to stay in the field.

Women make up a little more than a third (37%) of the nation’s doctors, and healthcare leaders said getting more women to pursue careers in medicine is critical in addressing the nation’s physician shortage.