Doctors Earn Less If They’re Women or Minorities

About a third of doctors think they should be more highly paid.

Doctors earn six-figure salaries, but gender and race wage gaps within the profession are egregious, about twice the national average in some instances.

The wage gap among specialist physicians is at 37 percent, up 4 percent from last year, with women earning an average $251,000 a year to a man’s $345,000, according to Medscape LLC’s annual Physician Compensation Report, released on Wednesday. Nationally, women earn 83¢ on the dollar. Black women doctors suffer more than white women, making 69¢ for every dollar a white male doctor earns. The survey, which covers 27 speciality areas, polled more than 19,000 physicians nationwide. 

One of the reasons for the gender discrepancy, the report found, is that fewer women become specialists than men. This trend is changing, however, as young female doctors increasingly enter these higher-paying fields of medicine.

There are considerably fewer women in specialist fields than men, but their numbers are growing, particularly among young doctors, Medscape found. Women make up 18 percent of orthopedists under 35, but only 9 percent of the specialty overall are women. Orthopedists are the highest-paid specialists, with average earnings of $489,000 annually.

Urology, the fourth-highest-paid speciality at an average of $400,000 a year, shows a similar trend. Sixteen percent of urologists under 35 are women, compared with 10 percent across the field. 

“You do have a trend towards [young women] going into higher-paying specialities,” said Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine. “That makes a difference, certainly.”

The increase in young women entering specialty fields has narrowed the gender wage gap among young doctors, Kane said. For physicians under the age of 34, the wage gap is 18 percent—only slightly above the national average. The wage gap widens for doctors approaching middle age, to 36 percent between men and women age 35 to 44.

“There are tons of factors here,” said Kane. Women are more likely to work part time than men, she said, and older male doctors tend to be self-employed, meaning they run their own practice. “Self-employed physicians earn much more—it’s the older group that tend to have more self-employed people, and [it’s] much more male.” Self-employed specialists earn an average of $368,000 a year, compared with $287,000 by regularly employed specialists, according to Medscape.

Among black doctors, black male physicians average $303,000 annually, vs. $229,000 earned by black female doctors. This is the first year Medscape has collected wage data by race; as a result, year-over-year trends were unavailable.

Only about half of black, Asian, and Hispanic physicians think they’re fairly compensated, compared with 57 percent of white physicians.

Among younger doctors, Kane partially attributes the narrowing gender wage gap to societal changes. “There’s more awareness in society of gender disparities in pay,” she said. “It’s harder for employers to continue practices in which some women are earning less. People just can’t get away with it. The practices themselves are changing.”

Medscape reported a bit of good news for the wages of female primary-care physicians: The wage gap decreased from 20 percent in 2012 to 16 percent this year, just below the national average. 

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.