Not to be a nudge, but you could vote for me for a Medgadget Medical Weblog Award in one (or both, presumably) of two categories: Best Medical Blog, or Best Literary Medical Blog. Voting will be open for another ten days.
Currently, over 48% of medical school graduates are women. Seven percent of medical school students are African American. About 8% report Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. So, while medical school classes increasingly look like a typical suburban high school in my part of the country, they do not look much like the US population at large. If you grow up in a Hispanic community and speak Spanish, you may have a hard time finding a doctor who speaks your language. If you are African American, you may have a hard time finding a doctor with potentially similar experiences to yours, and finding an empathic, understanding doctor is already difficult enough. Some of this is mitigated by the possibility that ethnic minority doctors may choose to practice in ethnic minority neighborhoods, but this has its own difficulties, including salary differences.
A newly released study reports on a significant disgrace in medicine, one which sheds some light on salary disparities in medicine. This study found the gender gap for starting physicians' salaries is growing, with new male physicians averaging nearly $17,000 more annually than new female physicians in 2008. This was a significant rise from the late 1990's when the gap was only about $3000, much of which disappeared when controlled for significant variables.
The gender gap in doctors' pay has been studied in the past, and has often been attributed to women working few hours, or choosing lower paying specialties, such as primary care. But during the time of the study, women increasingly shunned primary care in favor of higher paid specialties. Family status, although not followed explicitly, seemed a poor explanation, as the study looked only at starting salaries, and previous studies showed only small effects of family status. This data would have been nice, but is it truly relevant?
When looking at pay discrimination, there are always multiple factors that can be used to "explain" gender differences in pay. Do women physician, when looking for their first job, offer to work less in order to raise a family they may or may not have? Or do potential employers simply assume that women doctors will not work as much as men? Or does our society simply put a lesser value on women as highly-trained professionals, and paint over this judgement with various and interchangeable excuses?
The gender ratio in medicine is rapidly approaching parity, and may exceed it soon. As more women practice medicine, will the profession become ghettoized? Will we feel even more comfortable balancing our health budget on the backs of physicians?
That's a lot of questions without answers, but the gap is growing, and we can no longer feign ignorance.
Lo Sasso, A., Richards, M., Chou, C., & Gerber, S. (2011). The $16,819 Pay Gap For Newly Trained Physicians: The Unexplained Trend Of Men Earning More Than Women Health Affairs, 30 (2), 193-201 DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2010.0597