According to a new survey from Medscape on social issues and gender discrimination, the gender pay gap continues to be a problem in health care, with female physicians bearing the brunt of its negative impacts.
How physicians feel about gender discrimination
For the survey, Medscape collected responses from 2,341 U.S. physicians across more than 29 specialties on 10 controversial social issues, including gender discrimination, between January 22 and March 2. In total, 62% of respondents were men, and 33% were women, with the remainder preferring to self-describe or not say.
According to Medscape, both male and female physicians said there have been significant improvements on gender discrimination over time, but female physicians were much more likely to say the current level of gender equality is unacceptable and that more work needs to be done to achieve gender equality in the United States.
"It doesn't surprise me that women still think we have a lot of work to do," said Judith Heller, VP of physician recruiting at Northwell Health. "I think the opportunities are there but often women need to reach for them more. Women may tend to think that certain positions are beyond their grasp rather than 'I want the chair or leadership role; whom do I need to talk to to make that happen?'"
Regarding gender discrimination in the workplace, female physicians were significantly more likely to have experienced or know someone who has experienced discrimination at work from both colleagues and patients.
Overall, 66% of female physicians said either they or an acquaintance had experienced gender discrimination from their colleagues, and 57% of female physicians said the same about gender discrimination from patients.
When it came to pay, more than a quarter of physicians surveyed said they were aware of a gender pay gap at either their current or a former workplace. In general, female physicians were more likely to report observing wage discrepancies based on gender than male physicians.
In addition, far more female physicians (50%) than male physicians (13%) said gender discrimination affects them and their families.
According to Heller, rigid work schedules that make it difficult for parents to get home may impact more female physicians since they are often the primary caregivers for their families. "At Northwell … we have adjusted some full-time positions so physicians can work 4 days a week or 0.8 FTE [full-time equivalent] instead of 1 FTE, which allows the workday to end sooner," she said.
How medical organizations are tackling gender discrimination
In the survey, Medscape highlighted how several medical organizations are working to combat gender discrimination among physicians and in medicine as a whole.
For example, the American Medical Women's Association has created opportunities for women to become leaders in health care and advocated for gender equity in pay, career advancement, and other areas.
The American College of Physicians has also published a position statement with recommendations on how to achieve gender equity in medicine, including:
- Encouraging transparency and routine assessments of physician compensation arrangements in organizations that employ physicians
- Providing universal access to family and medical leave, with a minimum of six weeks of paid leave
- Offering implicit bias training on a regular and recurring basis
- Increasing the number of women in practice, faculty, and leadership positions
Finally, the Association of American Medical Colleges has called for the academic medicine community to address gender inequities in their institutions, specifically focusing on gender equity in the physician and scientific workforce, leadership and wages, research, and recognition. (Lehmann, Medscape, 7/8; Reed, Axios, 7/20)