Female Doctors' Pay Still Falls Short -- Why?

Anne L. Finger, MA


May 15, 2015

In This Article

Is There Gender Equity in Any Specialty?

In the 2015 Medscape survey, specialists in ob/gyn and women's health reported earning $249,000 for patient care activities. ACOG's most recent study of gender gaps in this specialty, which appeared in 2007,[9] explored the years 1990-2002. It concluded that by 2002, the income gap was nearly completely explained by differences in practice patterns and productivity.

According to Hal Lawrence, ACOG's CEO, that finding essentially holds true today. Medscape spoke with him when he was at a meeting in North Carolina with female ob/gyns of varying ages, asking them about the income gap. "They said the pay differential doesn't exist," he says. "One woman said she had the highest income in her six-person group, and the one with the lowest income simply practiced differently."

Roughly 82% of ob/gyn residents today are women, Dr Lawrence states, and ACOG membership is more than 80% female. Lifestyle issues are important to them, he says. Some women limit their working hours during their childrearing years and then return. And some men do, too. "We're seeing male ob/gyns who only want to work 3 days a week," he says.

What Lies Ahead for Women and Compensation?

The authors of the Health Affairs study[5] theorized that female physicians may be responding to situations that offer "greater flexibility and family-friendly attributes," and may be looking for nonfinancial compensation that affects such matters as time on call and weekend work. If so, this will continue supporting women's lower pay in some specialties; but it's a tradeoff, since the women involved are getting more of what they want in other realms.

Women in the surgical specialties often point to mentoring and encouraging their female colleagues to accept support with childrearing as factors that can help them succeed in their careers.[8] To them, it doesn't have to be an "either/or" situation.

Yet the playing field still isn't level.

Does the ob/gyn model suggest that once women enter various specialties in greater numbers, they're more likely to achieve pay equity? Or, as some suggest, will pay in medicine generally decrease because there are more women in the profession? "It could happen," says Dr Laine, "if people don't know how to negotiate and are willing to work for less."

In the years ahead, notes AMWA's Gender Equity Task Force, "Physician shortages are predicted, and, unfortunately, the onus is already being placed on the heads of women who may have different work styles and schedules. Thus our abilities to fully understand and to optimally harness the work habits of women physicians are critical to the future of medical care in the US."[7]


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