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Women doctors are earning less than men, at all stages of their careers

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The gender pay gap is seen among primary care physicians and specialists. Many women physicians say they aren’t being compensated fairly.

Women physicians are earning substantially less than male doctors, according to a recent report by Medscape.

Medscape surveyed female physicians as part of its broader annual report on physician compensation. Doctors were surveyed between Oct. 5, 2021 through Jan. 19, 2022.

Among all doctors, women physicians earned $282,000, while male doctors earned $373,000, a difference of 32%.

A slight majority of women (52%) said they don’t feel they are fairly compensated, while over half of male physicians (59%) said they were paid fairly.

Researchers have pointed out the pay gap is hurting women physicians and drawing more attention to equity in compensation in order to get more women to pursue careers in medicine. Women doctors have also suffered bigger career setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, with women more likely reducing hours or working from home, researchers have found.

In the Medscape survey, the gender pay gap for women persists among physicians of all age groups, including younger doctors.

Among those under age 35, the gap is almost $80,000, with male doctors in that group receiving $298,000, while women physicians earn $220,000. The gap is widest among doctors 50-54 ($409,000 to $298,000), followed by those 45-49 ($410,000 to $303,000).

The gap narrowed somewhat among doctors 55 and over ($367,000 to $289,000).

In primary care, women earn significantly less than male doctors, although they narrowed the pay gap a bit compared to 2021. Female primary care physicians earned $228,000, while male doctors earned $285,000, a gap of 25%. In 2021, the gender pay gap was 27%.

Among specialists, male physicians earn almost $100,000 more than female doctors. Women specialists earned $307,000, while men earned $402,000. The gap among specialists is 31% (it was 33% last year).

When it comes to incentive bonuses, male physicians are faring much better.

Among primary care physicians, men earned $36,000 in incentive bonuses, but women received $22,000 in bonuses, which is a difference of 64%. Among specialists, male doctors earned almost twice as much in bonuses, getting $71,000, while women physicians received $37,000 in bonuses.

It’s also worth noting that women and male physicians were both just about equally likely to have bonuses in their compensation packages, with 59% of male primary care doctors and 58% of women able to receive bonuses.

The report found that male physicians spent more hours per week seeing patients (38.3) than women doctors (35.4).

Women did see some progress, according to the report. In primary care, women physicians reported an 8.1% boost in earnings over the previous year, while female specialists saw an 8.5% jump.

Other studies have shown women physicians are spending more time with patients, and it could be costing them. An athenahealth report in January found female doctors spending more time with patients, and thus seeing a smaller number of patients.

“If you are seeing fewer patients in this healthcare world we live in, you’re probably making less money,” Jessica Sweeney-Platt, athenahealth's vice president of research and editorial strategy, told Chief Healthcare Executive in January.

The pay gap can add up over time. During the course of a 40-year career, women doctors typically earn $2 million less than male physicians, according to a 2021 study published in Health Affairs. Christopher Whaley, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and lead author of that 2021 study, noted the pay gap is likely even greater.

Male doctors are also getting paid more than women even at the beginning of their careers, undercutting arguments that the gap is based solely on career accomplishments or treating more patients.

“We found that those differences are apparent in year one,” Whaley told Chief Healthcare Executive last December.


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