Updated 3 months, 1 week ago

Gender gap in medicine remains in the spotlight in 2016

There's a gender gap in academic medicine, according to recent studies that have looked at issues from pay to leadership to scholarly publication.

In March of this year, Dr. Sandra Lewis, a cardiologist at Northwest Cardiovascular Institute in Portland, OR, and her colleagues reported the results of a Professional Life Survey (PLS) at the American College of Cardiology's 65th Annual Scientific Session.

The PLS followed on from two previous surveys conducted in 1996 and 2006. In total, 794 women and 1,227 men completed the survey, which highlighted clear differences in many areas.

Both men and women reported high levels of career satisfaction, and nearly three quarters of women said that they would recommend cardiology as a career. Still, women make up less than a fifth of cardiologists working with adults in the U.S.

But women continued to report that their career advancement was lower than their peers, with 26 percent of women compared with only 8 percent of men indicating this in the survey.

Over half of women had experienced some level of discrimination in the past. This was down to 63 percent from 69 percent in 2009 and from 71 percent in 1996, but it remained significantly higher than the 22 percent reported by men.

Also, in September, a study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital - published in JAMA Internal Medicine - reported the vast gap in the pay of American physicians. Data from 10,241 physicians working in 24 public medical schools was obtained using a Freedom of Information request.

The mean average pay gap across the entire data set was just over $51,000. The vast data set was then adjusted for age, experience, specialty, faculty rank, research productivity, and clinical revenue. A clear pay gap of nearly $20,000 remained between men and women overall.

What we have learned in 2016 is that there is a significant body of data that shows how the gender gap continues to affect women. Career progression, discrimination at work, research output, pay, and work-life balance are some of the areas that have been under scrutiny this year.

Possible explanations for the pay gap include differences between men and women in terms of money-related behaviors, according to Dr. Weaver. “Women don't negotiate as much, as often, or in the same way that men do, partly because that's not been part of their upbringing, partly because they've not been taught how to negotiate, and partly because there are messages that society gives to women that it's not OK to negotiate—that women should prioritize preserving their relationships instead,” she said.

Research confirms that women are less likely than men to ask for higher salaries and negotiate their first or subsequent jobs, which puts them further behind, said Michele G. Cyr, MD, MACP, associate dean for academic affairs in the division of biology and medicine at Brown University in Providence, R.I. “Certainly there are skills and ways that women can approach this and maybe improve some of this,” she said. “But I think we also need to look at what the institutions can do to close the gender pay gap.”

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