What’s Up, Doc? Not My Salary Because I’m a Woman

Mackenzie and her friend Jared both attended the same medical school for neurosurgery. They attained the same grades and earned themselves residencies at the same hospital. After they ended their residencies, they were hired to become full-time neurosurgeons and were both ecstatic over their accomplishments.

Excited to earn a substantial income and begin paying off their individual student loan debts of $140,000 each, Mackenzie and Jared entered their jobs optimistically and with the same exact credentials. However, when they received their first paychecks, it was clear they were not seen as equals in the eyes of their employer.

Jared’s paystub revealed he was banking a salary of $210,000 a year. Mackenzie’s paystub told a different story—she was banking $175,000.

Naysayers, particularly Republicans, tend to respond to such exposés of paycheck inequality as feminist propaganda, claiming that this disparity exists solely because women choose to pursue high-skill, but low-paying careers like daycare workers and pre-school teachers.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week proves these cynics wrong.

Conducted by three prominent medical doctors, the study shows that even in traditionally high-paying careers such as medicine, the pay gap does indeed exist. And it exists exponentially.

The investigators collected data from 10,000 academic physicians at 24 medical schools. After adjusting for a variety of factors that can influence income, such as the volume of patients seen by a physician and the number of papers he or she had published, they found that female physicians make $20,000 less than their male counterparts.

From neurology to infectious disease, from gynecology to cardiology, the disparity is substantial. In the highest-paying medical career of orthopedic surgery, the average pay gap between female and male orthopedic surgeons is nearly $41,000.

Dr. Vineet M. Arora, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago (who likely takes home a much smaller piece of the academic pie than her doctor bros), submitted the journal along with an editorial stating, “This paper is going to make women academic physicians start a conversation with their institutions to promote transparency and gender equality, because at the end of the day, it’s not fair.”

In the debate over pay equity, many folks are often quick to jump to the conclusion that women just don’t aspire to leadership roles or jobs that pay high salaries, or that if and when they do, they fail to negotiate their pay.

Arora’s editorial says that even if this were the case, it doesn’t solve the problem. It even speaks just as much to it.

Why would women not feel compelled to aspire to leadership roles? Why are they sold Susie Homemaker Barbies and encouraged to be ballerinas and not soccer players? Why does society often tell young girls that they can’t and shouldn’t work to become engineers or doctors?

This just reeks of patriarchy and sexism.

And this is where change needs to begin, according to Arora. “Educational and empowerment interventions to address stereotype threat could be helpful.”

The study also states that women may also sometimes choose not to negotiate because there are higher social costs. If they request better pay, they are seen by their bosses and colleagues as demanding or, even worse, bitchy.

Oh, what’s that smell? Inequality.

One somewhat sobering finding in this study was that at two of the institutions where data was collected, there was little income disparity. What hospitals must do now is to see what these institutions do differently and apply it to their own hiring policies and culture.

These charts and facts and statistics being published are just the beginning. They will mean and do nothing if action is not taken, just like antibiotics won’t cure infection if they remain in the bottle.

America’s hospital administrators need to take this medicine. Or they might face a highly infectious revolt among female physicians. And rightfully so.

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