Analyzing the Black-White Pay Disparity in Medicine

July 15, 2016

In this edition of the Physicians Practice Pearls Podcast, we speak with Anupam Jena, a researcher who studied the pay disparity between black and white physicians. Why do black physicians earn significantly less?

Welcome to the first edition of the Physicians Practice Pearls Podcast. In this podcast, we'll aim to bring you some of the most interesting, influential guests in the healthcare industry. If you have any ideas for podcast guests or topics, shoot us an email at editor@physicianspractice.com.

This week's guest was Anupam Jena, associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School and a physician in the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Jena was part of a team of researchers that studied income disparity between black and white doctors, as well as male and female doctors, in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal.

Citing survey statistics from more than 43,000 white male, 1,650 black male, 15,000 white female, and 1,250 black female physicians, Jena and his team of researchers discovered that white male physicians have an adjusted median income of $253,000 a year, while it's $188,230 for black males; $163,234 for white females; and $152,784 for black females. Characteristics of practice and specialty made no difference, researchers said.

Jena discussed the results of the study and where the idea for the research came about. "There has been little attention between the black and white difference in physician earnings, which is somewhat surprising because there is a tremendous field in labor economics that attempts to identify the size of the black-white earnings gap, how it's shifted over time, and what are the factors that cause it," he said.

In terms of how this issue could affect healthcare, and in particular, physicians - an educated profession - Jena surmises it could come down to negotiating power, over-discrimination, different billing tactics, and procedural volume. "There are a number of explanations that could be possible, the question for us is which of these factors reflect pure choice, [and] which reflect something related to race and not a preference," he said.

Later (8 min mark), Jena responded to critics of his study who said it didn't adjust for medical specialties, which traditionally earn more than primary care and don't have as many black males. He doesn't buy that critique, saying the researchers did account for specialties, using two databases to confirm their findings, including one that focused specifically on medical specialties.

 

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