The Glass Ceiling in Medicine

Female physician MedPageToday recently commented on a JAMA Internal Medicine study looking at female physician salaries compared to male physician salaries. The findings were significant and disheartening. The study (not limited to the specialty of Internal Medicine, but included all specialties) found that male physicians earned 25% more than their female colleagues, for an average of $56,019 more per year from 2006-2010. And, even more discouraging was the fact that the gap seems to be widening. From 1996-2000, male physicians earned only (only?!) $34,620 (16.3%) more. What’s going on in medicine? Why is medicine bucking the trend of the pay gap closing that we are seeing in other professions?

Looking at additional available data doesn’t offer any encouragement and just seems to solidify the findings. According to data from the AAMC, in their Women in Academic Medicine Statistics and Medical School Benchmarking, 2011-2012 study, a study that has tracked data from academic medicine for almost 30 years, women currently account for about 47% of students entering medical school. So, it seems that women are starting off in fairly equal numbers into the field. But, what happens next according to the AAMC data, though not totally representative of the field of medicine, because the AAMC only looks at academic positions, is still telling. Looking at data from 2006 and 2011, though increasing overall, the numbers for women getting tenure-track positions, promotions to Associate Professor and Full Professor are significantly lagging behind men. In 2011, women still only accounted for 35%, 37% and 33% of tenure positions, promotions to Associate Professors and Full Professors, respectively. In addition, in 2011, men outnumbered women as Division/Section Chiefs 3,888 to 1,067. And, male Department Chairs outnumber female Department Chairs 2,384 to 380. Thus, in academic medicine, we see that female physicians are not attaining the same number of leadership positions in medicine. And, of course, with these higher positions, would also be higher salaries.

Click to read the original, JAMA Internal Medicine abstract and letter.

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