Pay gap widens for women physicians; earnings average $105K less than men

The pay gap between male and female physicians is large and only growing, according to a new survey.

It doesn’t matter their specialty or where in the country they practice, women doctors are earning less than their male colleagues, a survey of more than 65,000 full-time U.S. doctors by the online medical professional network Doximity found.

Despite the fact the study found doctors saw an average 4% wage hike nationally from 2016 to 2017, the gender gap increased as female doctors earned 27.7% less, or an average of $105,000, than their male counterparts. That increased from a disparity in 2016 of 26.5%, when female doctors earned $91,284 less.

The survey showed women doctors make less in every single geographic area and in every specialty, Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., the report’s lead author and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, said in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

Christopher Whaley
Christopher Whaley, Ph.D. (Doximity)​​​​

There has not been a lot of transparency when it comes to physician salaries, making it tough for women doctors to know whether a salary offer is fair, he said. One potential solution to close the gender pay gap is for surveys such as Doximity’s to shine a light on the issue and give women an additional tool to help them negotiate a fair and equitable salary, he said.

Similar to 2016, “for every single medical specialty women do not make as much as men,” Whaley said. In 2017, the medical specialties with the largest gender wage gaps were:

  • Hematology (female physicians earn 20% or $78,753 less) 
  • Occupational medicine (20% or $59,174 less)
  • Urology (20% or $84,799 less)
  • Orthopedic surgery (19% or $101,291 less) 
  • Gastroenterology (19% or $86,447 less)

The fields with the smallest wage disparity, such as pediatric cardiology, plastic surgery and geriatrics, still saw female doctors earning 15% less than male doctors.

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Additionally, women earn less than men in all of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the country the survey analyzed. For instance, in Charleston, S.C., which saw the largest increase in the gender gap from 2016 (8.6%), female physicians earn 37% or $134,499 less than men.

The study did not delve into the reasons for the pay gap. “It’s really complex … getting to the depth of the reasons is challenging,” Nate Gross, M.D., co-founder of Doximity, told Fierce Healthcare. Like Whaley, he hopes knowledge is power when it comes to helping women doctors at the negotiating table.

“I hope transparency will be a good start,” he said. If physicians know how much their peers are making, they can negotiate with more confidence. Now with more than one million members, he also hopes the online network can help young women doctors connect with other physicians who can help mentor them.

Nate Gross
Nate Gross, M.D. (Doximity)

The pay gap may also begin to resolve itself as more women enter the profession, he said. For instance, for the first time in history, the overall incoming class among U.S. medical students in 2017 contained more women than men. The industry will start to see the influence of women spread, he predicted.

Doximity’s second annual survey found salary differences based on gender, location and specialties. Given the increasing concern about potential physician shortages, it’s more important to have a clear understanding of physician compensation, Gross said.

RELATED: Tipping point—AMA study finds physician practice owners no longer the majority

Other key findings from the survey include:

Salaries varied based on geography. The five metro areas with the highest average annual salary in 2017 were: Charlotte, N.C. ($402,273); Milwaukee ($398,431); Jacksonville, Fla. ($379,820); Indianapolis ($378,011); and San Jose, Calif. ($376,585).

As it found in 2016, metro areas with lower average salaries tended to have more academic institutions, which can pay slightly lower than private institutions, Gross said. Areas with a large number of medical schools also ensure a strong pipeline of well-qualified doctors competing for a relatively fixed number of medical positions, which can hold down salaries.

Compensation varied by specialty. The five medical specialties with the highest average annual salary in 2017 were: neurosurgery ($662,755); thoracic surgery ($602,745); orthopedic surgery ($537,568); vascular surgery ($476,300) and plastic surgery ($473,212).

Compensation varied by employment type. Physician employment in the U.S. was once dominated by private practices. For the first time in 2016, the share of physicians who own their own practices dropped below 50%.