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Gender Gaps in Physician Compensation: Best and Worst Medical Specialties

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The pay gap between male and female physicians widened in 2020, new surveys show. Last year, male physicians made, on average, 28% more than females, worse than the 25% gap reported in 2019, according to a study of 135,000 doctors by Doximity, a medical networking company.

Why? Analysts point to the COVID-19 pandemic for the backslide. Many physicians, both male and female, lost work hours due to the pandemic. However, those in pandemic-related specialties, like emergency medicine and infectious disease did better, and these tend to be more male-dominated.

Even before the pandemic, though, women physicians have been paid less than men, especially in certain specialties. Doximity’s survey points to a few that have especially large gender pay gaps, as well as some in which women doctors make salaries closer to those of men.

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Specialties With the Largest Gender Pay Gap

Medscape surveyed physicians in 2021, too, and found that male specialist physicians overall make 33% more than females, but did not break out the data by specialty. Doximity did so, finding that these five specialties pay women the least, compared to their male counterparts.

  • Otolaryngology (ENT): Men make 28% more than women in this field, with an average salary of $493,888 (compared with women, who earn $384,983). Only 23% of otolaryngologists are female, according to the survey.
  • Geriatrics: Men make 27% more than women, at $304,002 compared to $239,032, on average.
  • Orthopedic Surgery: Men earn 25% higher in this specialty, bringing in $614,447 on average, compared to $491,770, a gap of $122,677. It is a heavily male-dominated field, composed of only 9% females.
  • Research: Male researchers make 25% more than female ones: $181,633 compared to $145,694.
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology (Ob/Gyn): Male OBs are paid 24% more than female ones, earning $397,578 compared to $319,513, on average. This is despite the field being majority female (59% of doctors in this specialty are women), Doximity found.

Specialties With the Least Gender Pay Gap

Women tend to choose lower-paying specialties than men, who are over-represented in higher-paying fields, such as orthopedics, plastic surgery and cardiology, Medscape points out. Here are the ones in which women come closest to earning the same specialist salaries as men.

  • Nuclear medicine: Women in this field earn almost the same as men. The gender pay gap is only 2.5%, with men making an average salary of $368,829 and women $359,574.
  • Colon/rectal surgery: Men make only 8.4% more than women in this relatively lucrative specialty, bringing in $455,494 compared with $400,012 made by women. About 20% of general surgeons and 24% of gastroenterologists are female.
  • Hematology: The gender pay gap is 13% in this field, with men making $312,916 and women making $277,243.
  • Urology: Men make 14% more than women: $480,950 compared with $423,187. Only 11% of urologists are female.
  • Emergency medicine: Men earn 14% more than their female counterparts: $360,756 versus $315,376. About a quarter of emergency room doctors (26%) are women.

Why do male physicians make more than females?

The gender pay gap exists in almost every profession in the U.S., where it averages about 20%. It’s also a global problem. The specialist pay difference ranges from a low of 19% in Spain up to 47% in Germany, studies show. Women physicians of color face an even greater pay gap.

Some possible reasons female doctors make less include:

  • The motherhood gap: Females may be juggling childcare, which has become an even more acute problem during the pandemic, due to closed schools and daycare centers.
  • Implicit bias: Male doctors may be seen as more capable of handling referrals for complex cases (for example, more difficult–and lucrative–surgeries). They also may be given better schedules, allowing them to see more patients.
  • Different doctoring styles: Female primary care doctors spend 15.7% more time with patients per visit, than males, meaning they see fewer people and bill less. (However, a Canadian study where doctors are paid regardless of the number of services they perform found that male surgeons still earned 24% more than female surgeons.)
  • Different priorities: Some female physicians place compensation lower on the priority list, according to Medscape. The majority (64%) of female doctors surveyed in 2020 said work-life balance was among their top concerns, compared with 43% who cited compensation.

Geography may play a role, too. Doximity found that some cities ranked in the top 10 for physician salaries both overall and for female doctors. But a few made the top 10 solely for high pay for female doctors: Birmingham, Ala; Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Nashville, Tenn.

If you’re a female physician seeking compensation comparable to what males make, it may be worthwhile to consider which specialties have done the best job at closing the gender pay gap, along with which cities may best support equitable pay.

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  2. 2020 Physician Compensation Report. Doximity.
  3. Difference in time spent with patients part of gender pay gap among physicians. The Business Journals.
  4. Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2021: The Recovery Begins. Medscape.
  5. The Gender Pay Gap for Doctors Is Getting Worse. Here’s What Women Make Compared to Men. Time.