Salary, representation gaps persist for women teaching internal medicine

Gender-based disparities in academic internal medicine physicians’ pay are shrinking but remain stark among procedural specialties such as pulmonology, gastroenterology and cardiology, according to new data published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Women make up more than 40% of all full-time faculty teaching internal medicine, but that representation dips far lower among these same three specialties, according to the study.

These three were also the internal medicine specialties with the highest average remuneration, as well as the only specialties in which women’s salaries were less than 90% of what men received.

“[Internal medicine] procedural specialties have long been male-dominated in composition and leadership, despite increasing gender parity in the preceding training stages,” the researchers wrote. “Taken together, these findings suggest that workforce gender parity was associated with salary equity, and further investigation of the disparities in procedural specialties is needed.”

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The research is based on data collected during the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC's) 2018-2019 Faculty Salary Report. The analysis including median annual salary, faculty rank and gender for nearly 22,000 academic faculty across 13 internal medicine subspecialties.

Female physicians’ lower median annual salary pay was persistent across all faculty ranks, the researchers wrote, but held within an absolute difference of $25,000 for each rank up to chief. Meanwhile, female representation was closer to even at instructor (47%) and assistant (46%) but fell greater among higher positions such as professor (24%) and chief (26%).

Female physicians were equally or more common in general internal medicine (50%), endocrinology (52%) and geriatrics (58%), each of which generally trended toward lower median salaries among men and women. The representation gap was widest in the highest paying specialty, cardiology (21%).

The researchers said their findings generally fall in line with other studies on physician salaries across academic and nonacademic settings.

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For instance, another broader study of the AAMC’s salary survey from earlier this year found that medical specialties with greater female representation were consistently those in which all physicians had lower salaries. Another study from early 2020 found that male physicians just starting their careers received an average $36,600 more than their female colleagues.

Overall, physician salary growth remained stable during the past year of COVID-19 upheaval thanks in no small part to government relief. Recent survey data also outlined differing trends within specific specialties, with plastic surgeons, oncologists, cardiologists and rheumatologists seeing the biggest gains while otolaryngologists, allergy and immunologists, pediatricians and anesthesiologists were hit with the greatest declines.