Report: Gender pay gap narrows, but physician wages plateau

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The gender pay gap closed for female physicians in 2018, although inequities still persist. (Getty/PraewBlackWhile)

First the good news: The gender pay gap narrowed last year, as the compensation for female doctors increased, although they still make less than their male counterparts.

And now the bad: Nationally, physician wages—which had been on a steady increase—plateaued for the first time since 2016.

That’s according to a new report (PDF) on physician compensation from Doximity, the social network for physicians and other medical professionals.

The 2019 report shows the gender wage gap narrowed for the first time since the company began putting out the analysis three years ago. “In 2017, the gap was at six figures,” Mandy Armitage, M.D., director of medical content at Doximity, said in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

At the time, female doctors earned an average $105,000 less than their male counterparts. “Now we are seeing the gap has shrunk by about 25% so it is now below six figures for the first time. There is still a gap, but the good news is that it is slowly closing,” she said. The gap shrank by almost $15,000 between 2017 and 2018, when the difference dropped to an average of $90,490.

RELATED: In Maryland, female doctors’ salaries about 50% less than male colleagues'

For instance, metro areas such as Birmingham, Alabama, were able to close the gender gap to just a 9% difference—a big improvement from the 2018 report when the city was number 15 on the list for lowest-paying cities for female physicians. However, the gender gap persisted in some areas, such as the Louisville/Jefferson County area of Kentucky and Indiana where female physicians still earn 40% less or a difference of $154,077.

Although pay for female physicians has improved, there’s still significant progress that needs to be made, said Armitage. Across metropolitan statistical areas, male physicians still earn an average of $1.25 for every $1 female physicians earn, the report said.

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

The report, based on the responses of almost 90,000 licensed U.S. doctors across six years, also showed that after years of steady pay increases, national physician wages have plateaued. The report blamed a consolidating market in which hospitals have acquired physician practices and fewer than half of U.S. doctors own their own practice. “In a consolidating market like this, wages may decrease or remain flat; competition is fierce, so hospitals and health systems cut costs to focus on efficiency,” the report noted.

Christopher Whaley
Christopher Whaley (Doximity)

While physician compensation saw fairly robust growth in the last two Doximity reports, there was a definite slowdown in 2018, Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., lead author of the study and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, said in an interview.

Major variations in pay were found across metropolitan areas and within medical specialties. Nationally, wages were flat with less than 1% decrease in compensation between 2017 and 2018. Less populated areas, where doctors are in greater demand, still tend to have higher average compensation than larger cities. While male physician pay remained flat since 2017, the pay for female physicians increased by 2%.

Increased transparency has called attention to the issue and has helped change the trend. “Compensation transparency is a powerful force. As more data becomes available to us, exposing the pay gap between men and women, we see more movements to rectify this issue,” said Whaley.

“Knowledge is power,” said Armitage. An analysis based on a large data set can give both male and female doctors the right information for when they go into contract negotiations.

Compensation for physicians varied by metropolitan area. Seattle saw the highest growth rate in compensation at 15%, while San Antonio, Texas saw a major decrease, with wages down by 10%.