Why Are Female Doctors Making Less than Male Doctors?

September 9, 2016
Gabriel Perna

In this edition of the Physicians Practice Pearls Podcast, we discuss a recent study which found a significant gap in pay between male and female doctors.

Welcome to the latest 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 we speak with Vineet Arora, an internal medicine physician and associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

Arora got a brush with fame recently when she became the "face" behind an article from The New York Times highlighting the disparity in pay between male and female doctors. The comments came about after Arora wrote an editorial accompanying a research study in a recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. Lead researcher, previous Pearls podcast guest, Anupam Jena, associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, found that in academic medicine, male doctors earn on average more than $50,000 per year - $20,000 when adjusted for various factors such as specialty and years of experience - than female doctors.

Arora's editorial review focused on many of the potential reasons there is such a large variance in pay. "It's often difficult for women to negotiate their salary or renegotiate their salary. In my experience, my male peers can make a more credible threat that they're leaving to go some other location … and that will result in a counter-offer, which will be a significant salary boost. Women have a harder time doing that," she surmised to us in the podcast.

After her comments were published in The New York Times, Arora said she heard from people across the world about their own experiences with pay disparity. "I was struck how people from all walks of life - from all over the world - were kind of sympathizing and empathizing with this story," said Arora.

Arora noted that while there were stark differences in most specialties, especially in the surgical specialties, some areas of medicine stood out for having no gap in pay.

"One of the most fascinating things in two of the specialties in the study there were no pay gaps ... in radiology there wasn't a gap. There was this idea of positive deviance. It's easy to find a problem, but it's hard to fix it, but maybe if we look at places that already fixed it, we could learn something," she said.

While the study from Jena and his team focused on academic medicine, Arora said she heard from many in private practice who had the same experiences with pay disparity.

Arora had a few ideas for solving this problem. In particular, she said, "One of the things that needs to happen is major transparency with [salary] data." If an organization publishes any kind of medicine-related salary data, she said, it should be broken down by men and women. "Arming women with this knowledge will allow them to ask for parity."