Female physicians make less money than male doctors, here’s why

Female doctors make less than male physicians.

That conclusion gained major media traction recently.  A recent post on KevinMD.com by medical student Emily Lu had some great conversation discussing some reasons why women make less money in medicine.

To recap, the study from Health Affairs concluded that,

newly trained physicians who are women are being paid significantly lower salaries than their male counterparts according to a new study. The authors identify an unexplained gender gap in starting salaries for physicians that has been growing steadily since 1999, increasing from a difference of $3,600 in 1999 to $16,819 in 2008. This gap exists even after accounting for gender differences in determinants of salary including medical specialty, hours worked, and practice type, say the authors.

Everyone hypothesized all sorts of reasons.  Female doctors prefer more family-friendly hours and less call, which may impact their salary.  Women are simply worse negotiators than men.  Blatant sexism exists when hiring new physicians.  Money isn’t as important to women as it is to men.

All of which may, or may not, be true.

Of course, the reasons probably are multi-factorial.  But there’s one that I haven’t seen discussed much.

Women, in general, spend more time with patients — up to 10% more.  Pauline Chen, in a New York Times column last year, noted stark differences in how men and women practice medicine, and whether, in fact, women make better doctors by spending more time in the exam room.

So, even though women may work the same number of hours as their male counterparts, they’re likely to see less patients during that time.  And since physician compensation is still mostly based on fee for service or productivity-based incentives, women doctors are going to come up short on compensation scale.

As I commented to CBS News, “By spending more time with patients, female physicians are financially penalized by seeing less patients during the day.  It’s another reason why we need to change the way doctors are paid, and reward them for spending time with patients, instead of penalizing them.”

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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