Income Inequality and Other Gender Discrimination Afflict Most Female Physicians

Over three quarters of female physicians have experienced income inequality that often starts with their first contracts or through other forms of gender-based discrimination, according to a new survey by Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician search firm and a company of AMN Healthcare.

The Merritt Hawkins 2019 Survey of Women in Medicine can be downloaded at https://www.merritthawkins.com/trends-and-insights/article/surveys/2019-survey-of-women-in-medicine.

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

Of those female physicians who have experienced gender-based discrimination, 75% have experienced inappropriate words or actions directed toward them by fellow physicians, 57% have experienced inappropriate words or actions from managers or employers, and 56% have experienced lower compensation than male colleagues, according to the survey.

Income Inequality Begins Early

About 40% of female physicians said they currently earn less than male physicians in their specialty. When asked why, 73% said they received a smaller base salary and/or production bonus than their male colleagues. This suggests that gender-based income disparities in medicine begin at the initial stages of a physician’s career, when she is offered a first contract that may pay less than contracts offered to male counterparts.

“If this is the case, female physicians could chase that lost income for their entire careers, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process,” Singleton said.

Female Physicians “Less Assertive”

The majority of female physicians (74%) believe that male physicians earn more than females even when choice of a specialty or hours worked are accounted for, the survey indicates. When asked why this is the case, 76% of female physicians identified unconscious employer discrimination as the cause.

“While employers may judge two candidates for the same job to be equally qualified, they may unconsciously imbue the male candidate with more financial value than the female candidate,” Singleton said. “Even though female physicians are just as highly sought after as males, many female physicians believe their equal value is not reflected in their employment contracts.”

Over two-thirds of those surveyed (68%) said female physicians are less aggressive or adept at salary negotiation than males, and identified this as the second most important reason they are paid less. Conscious employer discrimination, the fact that female doctors spend more time with patients than do males, and that female physicians are less likely to be practice owners were other reasons female physicians cited for why they are paid less.

Increased Burnout, Early Retirement

The survey asked female physicians if gender discrimination has affected them in any way. About three quarters (73%) said gender discrimination has diminished their morale and career satisfaction. Various surveys, including other surveys conducted by Merritt Hawkins, indicate that female physicians experience higher rates of burnout than do males, and gender discrimination may be one reason for this, according to Singleton.

Forty-four percent of female physicians surveyed said that gender discrimination has caused them to seek another practice setting, while 32% said it has caused them to consider early retirement. Given a growing shortage of physicians, patients can ill afford the early retirement of female doctors, according to Singleton.

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

Merritt Hawkins 2019 Survey of Women in Medicine was sent to female physicians nationwide and includes responses from 429 female physicians with a margin of error on subjective factors accounting for gender pay disparities of +/-4.7% (95% confidence.)