Gender Gap Widens in Physicians' Starting Salaries

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 3, 2011

Lo Sasso said the divergence may reflect the fact that women physicians want greater flexibility and family-friendly benefits, such as not being on call after certain hours. He said women may be negotiating these conditions at the same time that they are negotiating starting salaries. “It may be that lifestyle factors are increasingly important to newer physicians. It could be that women in particular want to have more of a lifestyle balance in their medical careers,” he said.

Women represent nearly half of all medical students and are projected to make up about one-third of all practicing physicians at the beginning of this coming decade. Historically, women have disproportionately chosen primary care fields. But the percentage of women entering primary care dropped from nearly 50% in 1999 to just over 30% in 2008. Despite entering higher-paying specialties, the widening gap in pay persisted. For example, the study found that:
Female heart surgeons were paid $27,103 less on average than males.

Female otolaryngologists made $32,207 less than males. Women specializing in pulmonary disease made $44,320 less than men.

Lo Sasso said physicians and specialty groups need to understand what is motivating the gender gap in physician pay and address it, especially given the increased need for physicians, particularly in the primary care field. He said policy makers and physician practices should reconsider how to attract providers, the structure of working arrangements, and how to pay providers.  

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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