Women anesthesiologists make significantly less than male colleagues

There's a significant pay gap in the practice of rendering patients unconscious, according to a new study by the California-based think tank RAND Corp published in the journal Anesthesiology.

Female anesthesiogists earn on average nearly 30 percent less than their male counterparts, according to the study, earning an average of $313,000 in 2012, compared to $404,000 for men. Men outnumbered women as anesthesiologists by a three-to-one margin in 2013, although more women are entering the specialty: 40 percent under the age of 36 are women, compared to 26 percent in 2007.

"What we're seeing over time is a narrowing and closing of that gap, and it's certainly a good thing. But I think what this study does for all of us is it tells us we're not there yet," Jane Fitch, M.D., immediate past president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, told Kaiser Health News.

Pay gaps are present in other clinical healthcare jobs as well, and have even widened over the years, as is the case among physician assistants, one of the highest-paid non-physician clinical positions. And women physicians overall receive about half the Medicare reimbursement their male colleagues do.

The study offered some suggestions as to why the anesthesiologists pay gap is so signifcant: Men hold more senior positions then their female colleagues, causing their pay to be higher on average (although there was still a 7 percent pay difference among the younger anesthesiologists), and women may seek more career flexibility.

"With more women entering the anesthesiology workforce, there are possible policy implications for the overall management of the anesthesiologist workforce, including employment arrangements at hospitals as well as within anesthesiology practices," Lindsay Daugherty, co-principal investigator of the study and a policy researcher at RAND, said in a statement. "Female anesthesiologists may demand more flexible or regular work hours to accommodate family responsibilities."

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the Kaiser Health News article 
- check out the RAND statement