Being a doctor is a laborious, vital, and time-consuming job – and with the recent physician shortage, increasing the number of individuals in this field is becoming even more necessary. However, women still face hurdles and inequalities in the medical industry, and many are finding it difficult to feel respected and recognized on the same level as their male counterparts.
According to a survey by Doximity of 65,000 physicians, women doctors earned an average of 27.7 percent less than their male counterparts in 2017 – an average of $105,000 less annually. This disparity is not unheard of in the medical community. Many women physicians have recognized and been forced to deal with it.
“In my career as a physician, I know I have been paid less than male colleagues. No friggin’ way I should be, but I am,” Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, an associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, said. “It’s not just in medicine, but across industries.”
The pay gap between female and male professionals, which is estimated to be around an 80 percent difference in pay, has been breathing down the necks of professional women for years. And while this inequality is something that needs to be addressed in every industry, it is especially vital in the medical field where physician shortages are causing issues and women are choosing to leave the industry due to gender-based treatment differences.
“I’ve seen this shift happening with my friends. They are leaving medicine for the pharmaceutical industry, business and other industries where they feel they are better respected and compensated,” said Dr. Fatima Stanford, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. “At a time when we have a looming doctor shortage in America, we really don’t want it to get worse.”
It is not a secret that women in the medical field often receive less compensation than men in equivalent jobs, but it’s not just the pay gap that impacts a woman physician’s ability to perform her job to the best of her ability. Many of the women surveyed mentioned microaggressions in the workplace. Many of them stated that they’ve experienced male patients questioning their decisions, not trusting their judgement, or even failing to address them as “Doctor.”
“I wear a white coat; I introduce myself as Doctor,” said Dr. Theresa Williamson, a neurosurgery resident at Duke. “But patients still assume I’m a nurse or medical assistant or pharmacist. If there’s a man in the room – even if he’s a medical student and I’m the doctor – he’s the one they make eye contact with, tell their story to, ask questions of.”
This issue is perpetuated by the colleagues of female professionals as well. A study by the Journal of Women’s Health on how female and male doctors were announced at formal academic lectures found that male introducers used the formal title “Doctor” when introducing people only two-thirds of the time, and used it more often in regards to men than women. They used a woman’s professional title less than half the time. Female introducers almost always referred to the speaker as “Doctor,” regardless of gender.
“It gets down to perception of expertise, perception of competence,” said Julia Files, an associate professor of medicine at Mayo and the lead author of the study. “We know that in other settings, choices of words really impact women’s progress in careers.”
While these issues may seem minor on the surface, they hold significance when it comes to overall success and expertise in a field. On a basic level, doctors should be paid based on ability and knowledge, with no emphasis on gender. Especially now as the number of physicians continues to drop to dangerous levels, we cannot let inequality and gender-based assumptions force that number any lower by pushing qualified women out of their field.
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