Compensation gender gap in health care

Negotiating wages might help balance the compensation gap

Batya Swift Yasgur MA, LMSW | August 26, 2015

If you are a woman practicing medicine today, you are probably being paid less than your male colleagues.

The data come from several sources. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings of female physicians and surgeons in 2014 was $1,246, compared to the weekly earnings for male physicians and surgeons of $2002—a 62.2% gap. And 2015 data from Medscape found that male physicians are earning more annually ($284,000) than their female counterparts ($215,000).

The conventional wisdom about the gender gap says that one cause is “the reality of lifestyle choices,” explains Michael Ferry of the Halley Consulting Group in Columbus, Ohio. “Many women prefer to work part-time, which creates challenges around appropriate compensation and practice sustainability.”

The problem with that explanation is that numerous reports have found that the gender gap applies to men and women working full time as well. A 2011 study found a $16,819 pay gap between the starting salaries of male and female residents. The authors of that study, however, concluded that the proliferation of family-friendly options are likely taking a bite out of female physicians’ paychecks. Researchers suggested that female physicians “may be seeking out employment arrangements that compensate them in other—nonfinancial—ways, and more employers may be beginning to offer such arrangements.”

Another reason for the compensation gap may be the choice of specialty. “More women than men are in lower-paying specialties,” observes Dennis Hursh, JD, of Hursh and Hursh PC, a Pennsylvania-based law firm that focuses on representing physicians. “In my practice, I have seen many more female pediatricians than female orthopedic surgeons.”

Finally, several studies have suggested that women are less likely than men to negotiate, both in general and in the medical profession. A report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that it doesn’t occur to many women to negotiate if they think wages are non-negotiable, in contrast with men who are more likely to negotiate.

But when women realized that they can negotiate wages, the difference between the genders often disappears and the trend even reverses. So when the time comes, “you need to drive a hard bargain,” Mr. Ferry advises.

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