Roberta Gebhard, DO, thought that her 20 years of experience as a physician in the U.S., 10 of them as a hospitalist, would mean she would get paid more than a new graduate just out of residency would.
She was wrong.
Dr. Gebhard was working at a hospital run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs when she learned that the less experienced doctor—a man—was making $10,000 more a year than she was.
“After that, the job was no longer interesting to me,” says Dr. Gebhard, who left the hospital over the pay discrepancy and now works as a hospitalist at WCA Hospital in Jamestown, N.Y. “Women think that things should be fair, so they assume that they are. I’m a good negotiator, and when that happened to me, I was like, ‘Wait a minute! I didn’t just take what they offered me.’ I pushed a few times and was basically told it was a government position, there was no wiggle room, and I couldn’t get more salary.
“It happens, and women need to know that it happens,” she says.
Earnings data and research show that the gender pay gap lingers. More problematic is pinpointing why the gap won’t close. Explanations range from ignorance of the issue and trading in compensation for other job benefits to women’s lack of negotiating skills to subtle gender discrimination.
Because gender pay discrepancies persist and because theories abound as to the cause, the issue will be addressed during a “Women in Hospital Medicine” session at HM12 next month in San Diego, along with such topics as leadership challenges and work-life balance, says Patience Reich, MD, SFHM, a hospitalist and assistant professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“When we conceived the session, we were actually thinking about women in leadership, but decided to go for more general topics that affect women hospitalists, whether they are in leadership or not,” says Dr. Reich, a member of SHM’s Leadership Committee who helped coordinate the HM12 session.
According to the 2011 SHM-MGMA compensation and productivity survey, mean annual compensation for female hospitalists in family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics is lower than that of their male counterparts. For example, female hospitalists in family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics have mean annual compensations of $219,995, $215,012, and $170,535, respectively, or $4,448, $29,211, and $23,402 less than male counterparts in similar positions (see Figure 1). Such factors as practice location, practice ownership, and productivity have an effect on compensation and could be the reason behind the disparity, says Liz Boten, a spokeswoman for Englewood, Colo.-based Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).
But research that is controlled for numerous observable factors has shown that the gender earnings gap continues to exist among physicians.1,2,3,4 Of particular note are two studies, including one focused on hospital medicine.
In 2004, a study authored by Timothy J. Hoff, PhD, an associate professor at State University of New York at Albany, controlled for a wide range of work and non-work variables, including clinical workload, compensation type, employer type, tenure, marital status, and tenure in hospital medicine.5 The data show that female hospitalists earned approximately $22,000 less per year than male hospitalists, despite similar work patterns. Additional study results showed that married female hospitalists with children worked just as much and carried as heavy a clinical workload as married male hospitalists who had children.