Although salaries for U.S. physicians edged higher in 2018, gaps in compensation remained unchanged for women and blacks, according to Medscape’s latest Physician Compensation Report, which went online Wednesday.
“The gender gap, notably among specialists, remained unchanged, with men earning about 36 percent more than women specialists,” said Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine and author of the report. “It’s quite possible that bias was one of the contributing factors.”
“But in addition,” she said by email, “most of the specialties that women choose — with the exception of plastic surgery — are among the lower-paying ones, such as obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, public health and preventive medicine and family medicine.
“Specialties with the lowest percentage of women are orthopedics, cardiology, gastroenterology, otolaryngology, and radiology, which are higher paying,” she said.
Overall, physician salaries average $299,999 in the 2018 report, up from $294,000 in 2017. Specialists earn about $100,000 more than primary care physicians — $329,000 versus $223,000 — and plastic surgeons ranked highest at $501,000.
“While plastic surgeons have always been among the top in compensation, the impact of a greater acceptance for cosmetic procedures helped propel that specialty to the top of the list for the first time,” Kane said.
“The need for mental health services increased both from the opioid epidemic and issues such as dementia in the aging population, and the number of psychiatrists has not kept pace,” she said.
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Pediatricians and family practice physicians reported the lowest compensation, at $212,000 and $219,000 respectively.
Male primary care doctors earned almost 18 percent more than their female counterparts, and men in specialties earned 36 percent more than women this year, versus 31 percent in 2017.
In specific, male primary care physicians’ compensation averaged $239,000 versus $203,000 for women, and males in specialties earned an average $358,000 versus $263,000 for women.
Overall, black physicians earned an average $50,000 less per year than white physicians ($308,000 for white physicians versus $258,000 for black physicians).
African-American women made nearly $100,000 less than male black physicians ($322,000 for men versus $225,000 for black women).
What can be done to bridge disparities?
“Awareness and transparency can begin to make a difference,” Kane said. “Our physician experts have told us that women in medicine often have no idea what their male colleagues make.
“As in many professions,” she said, “salary is simply never discussed, so women don’t know that they are being paid less. Discussion between colleagues and recognition can spark change, which we’ve seen with other industries.”