The salary gap is real: One doctor’s story

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published February 8, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, on average. This salary gap holds true for women in medicine.

  • To get equal footing with their male counterparts, women doctors should always ask for more in job negotiations.

  • When women doctors up their salary, they’re not only helping themselves financially. They are also advancing gender pay parity by raising the standards for the women who will follow them.

Discussions and debates about the gender salary gap have headlined news stories for the past several years.

But the struggle for pay parity has been ongoing for decades, in nearly every sector of the economy—certainly including medicine. “Equal pay for equal work” has been a rallying cry for at least 50 years. And yet some people still doubt that the gender pay gap is real.

I can tell you from my own experience that it is real—very real.

Related: Why doctors go broke—and how to avoid it

To the tune of $50,000

For my first full-time job as a cardiologist, I was offered $50,000 less than a male colleague. He was no more qualified than I (and, in fact, was less so in certain aspects) and he would be doing far less clinical work—and I was offered $50,000 less.

This was, in fact, almost exactly in line with the oft-quoted statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that women earn an average of 82 cents for every dollar their male colleagues make.[]

Here’s what making $50,000 less means over the long haul: at 5 years, a quarter of a million dollars less in base earnings (not counting bonuses, which are often a percentage of base pay—and thus automatically lower if you start with a lower base).

Half a million lost by 10 years. And a million dollars less, just in base pay, over 20 years of a long, hard, clinical career in a male-dominated specialty. A million dollars less than the less-qualified male colleague who is doing less work.

It also means less standing on which to negotiate pay raises, a lower percentage from which to begin, and a lower salary figure to present for my next job, when asked what I was making at my previous one.

"In short, it means starting behind—far behind—and staying behind for an entire career. That is what the gender pay gap means. That is its reality."

 Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

Good advice

Fortunately for me, one of my male mentors with inside knowledge stepped in and advised me on what amount I should insist upon receiving to achieve parity.

He also, presciently, advised me to have a minimum annual raise written into my contract, not only to keep up with inflation but also with the value of my services as my clinical experience grew.

I was so lucky to have someone like this on my side. But I have always wondered about the outcomes for women in medicine who don’t.

Related: Yes, I'm female, and I'm your doctor

Lessons learned

People expect you to negotiate. I did not know this right out of fellowship, but soon learned it. 

"Don’t take the first offer. Always ask for more."

 Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

Some degree of increase in the salary or compensation amount with which you are initially presented is usually possible—and expected, so that expectation is built into the first offer.

So always ask. You only lose by not asking. If the compensation you want is not available, maybe they can get close, and make up the difference on other counts—more PTO, or a director-level title, or a dedicated assistant, or a more flexible schedule.

"Think of what matters to you, and lobby for it."

 Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

And by all means, talk to your male mentors and colleagues to get an idea of what the real salary ranges are for them. Thankfully, more states are requiring transparency in salary ranges by law, and you can research those to find out what you should be making, according to an article published by Business Insider.[]

"Put yourself on an equal footing and get paid what you are worth. Don’t be shy about this. The long-term consequences are too great."

 Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

By insisting on getting paid for the value of your work and your experience, regardless of your gender or any other essential part of your identity (like race or ethnicity), you will be setting the stage for how you and all who come after you expect to be treated.

You will not only help yourself and those who depend on you. You will also help the women who come after you by raising the standards and expectations for gender parity.

What this means for you

Based on this author’s experiences, as well as research findings, one can conclude that the gender pay gap is as prevalent in medicine as it is in other industries. Women physicians can help offset this gap by upping their prices during job negotiations. Male doctors can support their female colleagues as mentors. Such efforts can help improve the situation for future generations of women doctors.

Read Next: How much do women in medicine earn compared with men?
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