Gender Pay Gap, Workplace Discrimination Continue in Medicine: Survey

Megan Brooks

December 24, 2019

More than three quarters of female doctors say they have personally experienced gender-based discrimination in their careers, including unequal pay and harassment, according to a new survey from Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruiting firm.

The Merritt Hawkins 2019 Women in Medicine survey queried 429 female physicians practicing in a wide variety of specialties in all 50 states about their experiences in the workplace.

Of the 76% of female physicians who said they have experienced gender-based discrimination, 75% were subjected to inappropriate words or actions by fellow physicians and 57% experienced inappropriate words or actions from managers or employers; 23% experienced the same behavior from patients.

Verbal sexual harassment in the workplace was reported by 41% of female physicians surveyed, and 14% said they had experienced physical sexual harassment.

Unequal Pay

The Merritt Hawkins survey also confirms ongoing gender disparities in pay. About three quarters (74%) of female physicians surveyed believe they earn less than their male counterparts, even after considering specialty choice and work hours.

The two most significant reasons they feel this way are unconscious employer bias and less assertiveness by female physicians when negotiating salaries, Phillip Miller, vice president of communications, Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care, told Medscape Medical News. Other reasons include that women physicians spend more time per patient.

Perceptions on unequal pay aside, 39% of female physicians report that they do actually earn less than their male counterparts in their current practice, citing lower starting salaries and less favorable production bonuses.

Medscape salary reports over the years also show gender pay inequities. For example, Medscape's female physician compensation report for 2019 found that male primary care physicians earn 25% more than their female counterparts, and male specialists make 33% more.

"A Matter of Public Health"

"Women are entering medicine in record numbers and are having a profound impact on the medical profession. However, despite these achievements, female physicians continue to be paid less than their male counterparts and face other forms of workplace discrimination," Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins, said in a news release.  

Nearly three quarters (73%) of female physicians surveyed by Merritt Hawkins said gender discrimination has diminished their morale and career satisfaction, caused 44% to seek a different practice setting, 32% to consider early retirement, and 29% to rethink their choice of a career.

"Gender discrimination is more than just a challenge for individual doctors. When it diminishes the overall supply of physicians, it becomes a matter of public health," said Singleton.

Roughly 43% of those who responded to the survey are in primary care (family medicine, general internal medicine, and pediatrics), about 73% identify as white, and 41% are age 45 years or younger.

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