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Only 3% of highest-earning physicians at top medical device companies are women


A study published last month in JAMA Surgery found that male physicians received significantly higher pay from top medical device companies than female physicians— a payment gap that saw a three-fold increase from 2013 to 2019, Lauren Berryman writes for Modern Healthcare.

Study details and key findings

For the study, researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Weill Cornell Medicine analyzed data from CMS' Open Payments database for the five female and five male physicians with the highest financial compensation from each of the 15 highest-grossing U.S. medical device companies.

To determine which physicians earned the most, the researchers looked at several factors, including consulting fees, compensation for speaking engagements, gifts, and travel expenses.

In total, the researchers sampled 1,050 payments from 2013 to 2019. During that period, 96.9% of the five highest earning physicians were men and 3.1% were women. On average, female physicians were paid $41,320 and male physicians were paid $1,226,377 each year.

After the researchers adjusted for variables like tenure and specialty, they determined that the payment gap between female and male physicians increased three-fold, growing from $54,343 to $166,778 in just seven years—a gap that could amount to a $2 million difference in compensation over the course of a 40-year career.

According to the study, the pay gap existed in male-dominated fields, including urology and orthopedic surgery, as well as female-dominated fields, including pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology. For example, male obstetricians and gynecologists earned three times more than their female counterparts.

Commentary

Sue Bornstein, board of regents chair of the American College of Physicians (ACP), said she was disturbed by the findings—but not surprised. 

"Women physicians, in all specialties, typically start out at lower salaries and compensation levels," Bornstein said. To address this disparity, she said professional societies like ACP should advocate for increased transparency and gender pay equity.

Other studies have found that female physicians, on average, spend more time treating patients and detailing visits on EHRs, which often leads to fewer visits and lower pay. 

"One of the challenges is that we still live in a fee-for-service payment model where the more [visits that occur], the more you get paid," Bornstein said.

Gender inequity also exists in top leadership positions. For example, among the 15 companies surveyed, only one had a female CEO. All of the companies had a higher number of men than women on their boards of directors. 

"This trend permeates throughout the healthcare industry," Berryman notes. "Only five of 41 health-sector companies on the Fortune 500 list for 2022 had female CEOs."

"Like a lot of things in society, we have to explore our own biases before we can fix this," Bornstein said. (Berryman, Modern Healthcare, 10/3; Sullivan et al., JAMA Surgery, 9/28)


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