Close the gender pay gap in medicine

On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, amending the previous Fair Labor Standards Act.  Under this law, pay disparities between men and women were clearly prohibited. More than fifty-five years later, women are still fighting to be paid the same as men holding the same jobs.

Gender pay disparities exist among all professions. Not only does a pay gap exist for physicians, that gap appears to be widening, rising 2 percent just from last year. In a survey conducted by Medscape, it was found that male specialists earn 26.5 percent more than their female colleagues. In another large study conducted by Doximity, male physicians earned 27.7 percent more than female physicians. Several studies found similar results, which held true for hours worked and position held. Despite working the same hours at an equal job, women doctors earn less than men, and this has been found true across many studies.

While politicians have failed to adequately do anything to close the gender gap, the American Medical Association (AMA) passed resolutions earlier this month to address gender equity issues, including compensation. In a recent article by Drs. Julie Silver and Michael Sinha, (the leaders of these resolutions), U.S. medical societies are called to lead the initiative to conclusively address gender inequalities in medicine. The AMA is the largest medical association in the U.S. and therefore in a unique position to play a pivotal role in once and for all ending inequalities. Where JFK failed, perhaps doctors can repair our own profession and other industries can follow our lead.

Opponents of gender pay equality in medicine have suggested that women get paid less because they work less. Women are the ones who bear children, they claim, and therefore need more time to take care of children. While it is true that women take maternity leave when they give birth (this is a medical reason by the way), the studies clearly show that the pay gap exists where men and women work the same number of hours and hold equivalent positions. Maternity leave is only a brief episode in a women physician’s career, and it is illogical to use that as a basis to say women physicians should be paid less from the time we finish residency until we reach retirement.

Other people protest that no true gap exists. They say it is illegal to pay men and women differently. They argue that there must be some difference in the work that men and women are doing to explain the gap. Yes, that would seem to be intuitive, but it is wrong. Study after study prove otherwise.

Some people still think that men and women should be paid differently, in spite of the actual law. While many people (both men and women) point out the fact of the gender pay gap, people still fight the notion that we need to address it as a very real problem. When a portion of a workforce is treated unfairly, the whole system suffers.

As the statistics loudly speak the truth, it is apparent that pay gaps exist for no other reason than gender. In the 21st century, this is simply unacceptable. Our leaders in the medical field need to uncover the reasons this gap still exists and then fix. An employee being paid unfairly is not in a position where they can change it. And it should not be only a women’s issue. Men and women should work together to achieve true equality.

Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.

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