Eye to the Future: Predicting 2017's Ophthalmology Compensation Trends

John Watson

December 23, 2016

In This Article

Gender Disparities Continue

Another sure contributor to dissatisfaction is the continued disparity in pay between male and female ophthalmologists. Results from the 2016 Ophthalmologist Compensation Report indicated that full-time male ophthalmologists took home $327,000 annually—on average, $85,000 more than their female peers. It should be noted that this is approximate to the 25% less in salary that female respondents across all specialties reported making in comparison with their male colleagues.

Several causes have traditionally been offered to explain the persistent gender gap in US healthcare, including women taking off time during their child-bearing years and gender differences in time allotted to patients and, therefore, reimbursement. However, data from public universities (where otherwise difficult-to-ascertain financial information can be obtained via Freedom of Information requests) indicates that significant sex differences in salary[2] and academic rank[3] exist even after such factors as age, experience, and specialty are accounted for. This does not seem to be a holdover from history, either: Entrenched gender-based salary disparities have recently been noted among early-career physician-researchers as well.[4]

"My previous job was also in an academic institution, so I haven't personally had to deal with this," said Dr Patel. "Except when I did start looking for a job and interviewed at a lot of private practices...just knowing what I was already compensated vs what I was being offered, I could perhaps see that that was in play."

Dr Patel sees a path forward in the standardization common in large academic institutions, where such factors as education level, fellowships completed, and relative value units determine established ranges of compensation.

"Obviously, there's a lot less negotiation that's done in these settings, so I guess in that way that's a minus. But that can also be a plus, because there's fair and equal pay for everyone."

The ranks of female doctors entering the field of ophthalmology have increased in recent years. A recent analysis observed modest increases since 1980, with women now accounting for 22.7% of practicing ophthalmologists, 35.1% of ophthalmology faculty, and 44.3% of ophthalmology residents.[5] The fact that the largest proportion of female ophthalmologists are starting out in their careers, and therefore making relatively lower salaries, is probably another contributor to the pay discrepancy; however, the latest Medscape polling was not designed to account for this factor.

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