Unequal Pay in the Medical Field: The Gender Reimbursement Gap

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Women represent half the work force, but they’re still paid less than men in many different professional environments. According to the American Association of University Women, in 2014 women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid—a gap of 21 percent.

A variety of arguments are used to explain the persistence of the gender pay gap. One of them involves the concept of “choice”—women simply choose to study subjects that normally lead to less lucrative jobs, thus entering lower-paying professional fields when compared to men. Or they choose shorter working hours and greater flexibility—a choice known to negatively affect both earnings and ability to move up the professional ladder. Or they choose less demanding—and therefore less paid—jobs because they have more family responsibilities than men. However, there is more to it. For example, gender bias and social pressure—factors that are often hard to quantify—are likely to influence how much women are paid.


Photo credit: Phalinn Ooi, CC BY 2.0

Indeed, as pointed out by Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times, “a majority of the pay gap between men and women actually comes from differences within occupations, not between them—and widens in the highest-paying ones like business, law and medicine, according to data from Claudia Goldin, a Harvard University labor economist and a leading scholar on women and the economy.”

Recent research confirms a persistent gender pay gap in Medicine. Results from a study published a few months ago show that female academic physicians earn nearly $20,000 less a year than their male colleagues. The study, based on the analysis of more than 10,000 physician faculty members at 24 United States public medical schools, found that significant sex differences in salary exist even after accounting for age, experience, specialty, faculty rank, and measures of research productivity and clinical revenue.

Now, results from a new study—based on the analysis of Medicare fee-for-service reimbursements—show that, in the United States, female physicians are reimbursed significantly less than their male counterparts. For the study, researchers examined more than three million Medicare reimbursement claims received by female and male physicians in 13 medical specialties in 2012. The claim information was obtained through the Medicare Public Use File—one of the largest publicly accessible databases that contains reimbursement data. The study results show that female physicians received $34,126 less than male physicians. After adjusting for working hours, productivity, and years of experience, the researchers found that female physicians were reimbursed $18,677 less than their male colleagues.

The researchers call this disparity a “decades-old injustice”, while noticing that “perhaps most regrettably, we still do not have an answer as to why female providers are reimbursed less than their male counterparts.”

However, the findings show that “the commonly held theories of why monetary disparities exist need to be revisited.” Interestingly, the study results appear to dispute another factor often considered at the basis of the gender pay gap—salary negotiation. Although it is generally accepted that women are less likely than men to negotiate salaries or ask for a raise, this factor does not seem to justify the gender reimbursement gap. The researchers point out that, in healthcare, differences in reimbursements are more likely due to geographic considerations or concomitant services provided, rather than to the negotiating prowess of individual providers.

In final analysis, the study shows a clear gender reimbursement gap while also indicating that the currently accepted explanations for female/male pay differences may apply to some situations, but not to others.

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.


  1. @Semaje

    Think about what GP claimed at our visit: that they paid based on “merit” rather than position. This sentiment is common among employers; subconsciously, they often think that women simply deserve less. There’s also that they often will pay people as low as they can get away with to maximize their profit margins.
    But yes, some environments are better than others and women should be vocal about their rights, regardless.

  2. Whenever I begin to think about gender pay gaps, I immediately consider the gaps that exist within a single profession. No part of me believes that one sex is more capable of performing well in their careers than the other, and it leads me to really question what could account for this variability in pay, especially within the more lucrative professions. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about one of the other articles on this site, “Scientific Conferences: Gender Imbalance in Invited Speakers”. As you reach more lucrative professions, your reputation plays a more significant role in what an organization is willing to pay to have you to be a part of their team, and that article is a prime example of how men and women do not have an equal opportunity to build their reputations. I think the biases associated with pay inequalities are deeply rooted in many other factors, rather than a bias of valuing men more as employees. It makes sense for a company to invest more resources in an employee that is highly regarded in the field, but the issue is men have more opportunities to establish themselves as a valuable asset.

  3. I feel we continue to receive less because we just accept less. Women should be more vocal about their salaries when signing on to practice at these hospitals or private companies. Like the previous commentators have said, it is a shame that women earn more than $34,000 less than men in the same position. The medical field, especially, is one that should be free on gender bias solely based on the fact that science has proven men and women are no different in performing medicine.

  4. The fact that women continue to be paid significantly less than men still baffles me. Men and Women work the same amount of hours and have the same work ethics and women are not compensated the same as men. This is still hard to believe and process because wages still depends on sex you were born as. If feel this is a reoccurring theme in all fields, it is not just the medical field, but business as well. The more we continue to talk about the gender gap the more we hear about how unfairly women are getting paid.
    It is arguable that in the past the reasons stated for women to not take the higher paying jobs are true, but if society is progressing as everyone thinks it is then men should be just as involved in household and in the office as women. The reason that is always used to explain why women are not achieving high paying position or c-suite status is “family responsibilities.” This reason is never given to men; men are always given the “bread- winner” role. The fact that this gender gap is still happening is concerning.
    The medical field is always expanding and women and men are entering this fields. It is sad to say that some jobs are still seen as for men and others for women. Women already have to work harder to prove themselves in the field, but now they have to worry about how much they are getting paid. Compensation for work should not matter on sex or genitalia, it should matter on work ethics, ability and quality of work. Hearing that the gender gap between men and women can discourage women from entering a field because it will devalue the work women are putting in.

  5. The medical field is one where traditional gender roles tend to stay in tact. Men are expected to be the doctors, and women are expected to be the nurses. I even had a couple of male friends who are nurses, and they get made fun of for doing “women’s work”. I plan on going into healthcare, so this concerns me greatly. The medical field is one in which you must be passionate about helping people in order for it to be worth it, so it’s not always important to be paid a lot of money. That being said, just because we have a passion for helping people doesn’t mean we are less competent or able than men. The gender pay gap is so unbelievably inappropriate. How can you say that a a woman who saves lives shouldn’t make as much as a man. I chose to go into the healthcare field because of job security, and because it’s truly my passion to heal people. I believe that if my work proves my worth, I should be paid just as much as any man who does the same work. I think the gap is closing, but very slowly. We, as women, need to speak up and advocate for ourselves because if you feel underappreciated and taken advantage of at work, then your work will likely suffer and you’ll start hating your job. We need doctors and nurses and therapists to be around for as long as we populate this planet. If we’re saving lives and healing people, the last thing we should have to worry about is if we’re getting paid enough for our work.

  6. I find that the concept of the gender gap being due to the “choices” of women puts the blame solely on women. You cannot blame the victims of a system of oppression for the oppression. However, that seems to be what happens in so many aspects of society. I agree with Kristiana in that this is baffling! How does it make sense for women to be 50% of the workforce while receiving unjust compensation; In the medical field especially. I feel as if there is some “beating around the bush” going on. If we must tackle this problem, we must tackle it head on. The gender gap exists because people in top positions, men or women, have sexist views and biases that hinder women (especially women with children) from receiving adequate pay.

  7. The idea that it’s 2016 and female physicians are paid $34,000 less than their male counterparts should signal for a call to action. It baffles me that women can work just as hard as men, within the same position, and still get paid less. If anything, women should be paid more than men because more than likely women are the head of single family home with no spouse to help rear and raise children. There is still some holes in the system that I believe big businesses and government officials very well know about with gender gaps in income and why it’s there, but they just want to keep it concealed. If companies abide by the equal rights amendment and are equal opportunity employers, there shouldn’t be any speculation and research going on as to why women are not being paid as they should. Excuses like ” women don’t negotiate” is ridiculous. Just because a woman is humble enough not to ask for it doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve it. There’s also the opposition saying a “closed mouth doesn’t get fed, ” but if a woman is obviously qualified, the establishment should be competent enough to understand that they have a jewel working for their company.

    I have had a full-time staff member, female, in my department leave Georgia State and landed a job with a higher paying position because she felt stagnated. A closed mouth doesn’t get fed right? Therefore she said something to her boss, a male. Her boss took it up to his boss, a female and she rejected it. It looks like some girl on girl crime was going on, so after seven years of committing her life to the department, she took a position elsewhere because she knows her self-worth. Overall whether women are doctors, administrative assistants, educators or executives, the gender pay gap very much exists and until millennials wake up and finish the job that our predecessors started for us it will never end.

    • I agree completely with everything you said. It’s sad when both genders work their butts off to achieve the same goal, but one gets paid more than the other for the same work. It’s a wake up call for us as women, especially since most of our class is pre-medicine. The cost of medical school and the amount of effort put in to become a physician is a big price that we pay in order to accomplish our goals. So the fact that we are deducted approximately $34,000 just because of different anatomy does not make sense. We worked hard to achieve the goals of our male counterparts so we should expect the same pay for the same work and effort we put in. We as women must speak out against these discrepancies. Before we sign these contracts with these hospitals, having a lawyer present is crucial because we may be losing more than we are gaining. Knowing statistics, facts and our rights we can speak out against the unfair treatment and lead the way towards equality.

    • I agree that it’s about time for change in this area and that we must keep finding our way forward the jungle gym (not as staightforward as a ladder) of career advancement even if it sometimes means being bold and leaving an environment that is limiting you (like in the example you gave). But in what other ways would you say we can counteract this gender compensation/reimbursement gap? Sure we can individually not take this kind of treatment and move on to the next job, but if the whole system is broken, we’ll be job-hopping indefinitely. Is policy the answer? Picketing? What’s going to bring large-scale change?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *