Pay gap between new female and male physicians is already wide, and growing wider

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published March 16, 2018

Key Takeaways

In a new report, researchers at the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS), University of Albany, Rensselaer, NY, found that the average starting salary of new female physicians was $26,367 less than their male peers in 2016.

It’s evidence that the disparity in pay between newly trained male and female physicians in the United States is not only wide, but continuing to widen. For comparison, the gender pay gap was less than $10,000 in 2005, and only $11,931 in 2010. It exceeded $20,000 as recently as 2012.

The finding seems out of sync with advances in the medical field. Notably, women have now outnumbered men in medical school enrollment, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“As has been observed in the general labor workforce, even as women have become a greater proportion of physicians in the workforce, the gender disparity in income has persisted and is growing,” CHWS researchers concluded.

Income differences

For this study, researchers used data drawn from annual resident exit surveys to track starting salaries for newly trained physicians in New York State. The exit surveys collect information on new physicians’ demographic and education characteristics, post-training plans, and job market experiences.

In their analyses, the researchers controlled for numerous factors—including age, race/ethnicity, specialty, setting, practice location, and patient care hours—to ensure that the observed income differences were valid.

After comparing the data, the researchers found that the starting income for the average male physician was $26,367 more than that for the average female physician in 2016, even after adjusting for the factors named above.

In a number of specialties—where incomes are generally higher than in primary care—pay gaps existed in starting salaries between male and female physicians in the same specialty, in the following amounts:

  • Obstetrics/gynecology - $12,697
  • Neurology - $17,518
  • Anesthesiology - $17,639
  • Gastroenterology - $20,168
  • Hematology/oncology - $22,348
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation - $25,210
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry - $26,360
  • Geriatrics - $26,564
  • Pulmonary disease - $30,827
  • Emergency medicine - $35,146

The largest gaps were found in dermatology ($79,815) and cardiology ($64,183).

The researchers reported only four specialties in which women’s starting salaries exceeded that of men, by these amounts:

  • Pathology - $2,052
  • Pediatric subspecialties - $3,253
  • Orthopedics - $9,388
  • Radiology - $19,644

The study did have limitations, the researchers acknowledged. Only residents and fellows who went to medical schools in New York participated in the survey, so the results may not represent newly trained doctors nationwide. Also, the response rate to the survey averages about 60% annually, and the job experiences of participants may have differed from those who did not participate.

Nevertheless, “the New York Resident Exit Survey provides a unique opportunity to monitor income trends over time due to its regular and consistent administration since the late 1990s,” the researchers wrote. They plan to continue monitoring the gender pay gap and exploring other factors that affect the wage disparity between female and male physicians.

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