More Women Specialists, but Gender Pay Gap Persists, Survey Finds

Marcia Frellick

September 18, 2020

More women physicians are becoming specialists, a Medscape survey finds, and five specialties have seen particularly large increases during the last 5 years.

Obstetrician/gynecologists and pediatricians had the largest female representation at 58% and those percentages were both up from 50% in 2015, according to the Medscape Female Physician Compensation Report 2020.

Rheumatology saw a dramatic jump in numbers of women from 29% in 2015 to 54% now. Dermatology increased from 32% to 49%, and family medicine rose from 35% to 43% during that time.

Specialist Pay Gap Narrows Slightly

As in the past 10 years of the survey, women physicians continue to make less than their male colleagues. The gender gap was the same this year in primary care — women made 25% less ($212,000 vs $264,000).

The gap in specialists narrowed slightly. Women made 31% less this year ($286,000 vs $375,000) instead of the 33% less reported in last year's survey, a difference of $89,000 this year.

The gender pay gap was consistent across all race and age groups and was consistent in responses about net worth. Whereas 57% of male physicians had a net worth of $1 million or more, only 40% of female physicians did. Twice as many male physicians as female physicians had a net worth of more than $5 million (10% vs 5%).

"Many physicians expect the gender pay gap to narrow in the coming years," John Prescott, MD, chief academic officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges told Medscape Medical News.

"Yet, it is a challenging task, requiring an institutional commitment to transparency, cross-campus collaboration, ongoing communication, dedicated resources and enlightened leadership," he said.

Women physicians working in office-based, solo practices made the most overall at $290,000; women in outpatient settings made the least at $223,000.

The survey included more than 4500 responses. The responses were collected during the early part of the year and do not reflect changes in income expected from the COVID-19 pandemic.

An analysis in Health Affairs, for instance, predicted that primary care practices would lose $67,774 in gross revenue per full-time-equivalent physician in calendar year 2020 due to the pandemic.

Most physicians did not experience a significant financial loss in 2019, but COVID-19 may, at least temporarily, change those answers in next year's report, physicians predicted.

Women More Likely Than Men to Live Above Their Means

More women this year (39%) said they live below their means than answered that way last year (31%). Female physicians were more likely to say they lived above their means than were their male counterparts (8% vs 6%).

Greenwald Wealth Management in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, says aiming for putting away 20% of total gross salary is a good financial goal.

Women in this year's survey spent about 7% less time seeing patients than did their male counterparts (35.9 hours a week vs 38.8). The average for all physicians was 37.8 hours a week. Add the 15.6 average hours per week physicians spend on paperwork, and they are putting in 53-hour workweeks on average overall.

Asked what parts of their job they found most rewarding, women were more likely than men to say "gratitude/relationships with patients" (31% to 25%). They were less likely than men to answer that the most rewarding part was "being very good at what I do/finding answers/diagnoses" (22% vs 25%) or "making good money at a job I like" (9% vs 13%).

Most female physicians — and physicians overall — said they would choose medicine again. But two specialties saw a substantial increase in that answer.

This year, 79% of those in physical medicine and rehabilitation said they would choose medicine again (compared with 66% last year) and 84% of gastroenterologists answered that way (compared with 76% in 2019).

Physiatrists, however, were in the group least likely to say they would choose their specialty again along with those in internal medicine, family medicine, and diabetes and endocrinology.

Women physicians in orthopedics, radiology, and dermatology were most likely to choose their specialties again (91% - 92%).

Female physicians were less likely to use physician assistants in their practice than their male colleagues (31% vs 38%) but more likely to use NPs (52% vs 50%). More than a third (38%) of male and female physicians reported they use neither.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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