6 ways to close the gender pay gap in medicine

Here are the sad the financial facts. You have heard them before:

  • Women physicians earn $0.62 on the dollar as compared to men (US Census Bureau, 2010).
  • Women physicians start out their careers with a $17,000 pay gap, after all other factors are accounted for (LoSasso, Health Affairs 2011).
  • Mid-career women physician researchers are paid $12,000 than their male counterparts (Jagsi, JAMA 2012).

Anyone who discounts that fact that we women physicians are discounted in the area of pay equity should get educated.  With that being said, “What’s a woman to do?”

Here are 6 ways women physicians can close the gender pay gap.

1. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.  Start out with the knowledge that whatever you are offered, it  is probably 40% less than you would be offered if you were a man.  Look at the first offer as only a first offer–expect to negotiate.  And having a good negotiating strategy– before you start–is critical to getting your “number.”

2. Do your homework.  Know what you are worth.  This means you have to access data from multiple sources:   other physicians are the best source, so don’t be shy about asking.  It’s time we talked to each other.  A few other sources to get you started:  Academic salaries are reported by the American Association of Medical Colleges.  The information is pricey and their self-reporting mechanism under-estimates worth due to the variations and complexities of the various faculty practice plans and how faculty salary is determined.  The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), has information about other group practice arrangements, again for a fee.  And Physician’s Practice can clue you in on your own worth as a physician in your own practice–membership required.

3. Leverage the doctor shortage.  Your services are going to be more valuable if there are fewer people who can provide them. Right now there are more than 6000 physicians jobs listed on one website.  Be prepared to walk away from a place that undervalues you.  And make sure you tell them why.  Nicely.

4. Know the market. Know that the highest (orthopedics, cardiology and radiology) and lowest paying specialties (general internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine).  Whether or not you agree with how it is, that is how it is.  If compensation is important in your career decision tree, know the facts.  (By the way, this speaks to horizontal segregation where women are openly encouraged in medical school to populate these lower paying specialties, thus further keeping the compensation rates down.)  Choose your career on your interests, but be mindful of the value placed before you go in.

5. Know your geography.  If you have flexibility, think about going to places that really need doctors.  Central US needs you badly.  The northeast, not so much.  This is going to vary by specialty.

6. Don’t overestimate the worth of flexibility, predictability and control.  The most commonly given reason that women physicians are paid less is that they “give away” salary compensation for flexibility, predictability and control of their lives.   And maybe we do, but we don’t have to do it disproportionally to their worth.  No big secret, men want the same things and don’t give away their money to get them.  All three can be sold as “assets” rather then “deficits.”  Don’t trade away more than you need to.

A lot of this is mindset but a lot is careful planning.  So, start off on the right foot.  Do your homework.  Create your prioritized “shopping list.”  Make sure you marshal all of your untapped assets.  And get the right help.  You will be much more respected as a physician if you are smart about you as your greatest asset.

Linda Brodsky is a pediatric surgeon who blogs at The Brodsky Blog.  She is founder of Women MD Resources.

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