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Gender gap widens and racial disparities persist in healthcare, new studies show

Two pieces of research conducted separately by Medscape and HIMSS found inequities when it comes to pay.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Salaries that physicians and health IT professionals alike earn continued to rise over last year but double-digit percentage differences between what men and women are paid for doing the same work remained, according to research from Medscape and HIMSS.   

"The growing need for more doctors as the population ages is pushing salaries higher. At the same time, the amount of paperwork and bureaucratic demands escalate, leaving doctors with less time to see patients. We also see the influence of the opioid epidemic and the demand for psychiatrists to treat aging patients leading to increased salaries," said Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine.  

[Also: Gender pay gap widens again: Regions where men and women doctors have the biggest differences in salary]

Physician compensation, for instance, saw an increase across most specialties, but it is still plagued by both gender and racial inequalities, according to the Medscape 2018 Annual Physician Compensation Report.

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Salaries for U.S. physicians rose higher this past year, with most specialties getting at least a bump and spiking 16 percent for psychiatrists. Physician salaries averaged $299,999 according to the report, an increase from $294,000 in 2017. 

Specialists, meanwhile, brought home about $100,000 more than primary care physicians, $329,000 versus $223,000, and plastic surgeons were paid the most with salaries reaching $501,000, eclipsing orthopedists for the first time since the report started by about $4,000. 

Pediatricians and family practice physicians reported the lowest pay at $212,000 and $219,000 respectively. 

[Also: Big salary gap between men, women in healthcare management, HIMSS survey finds]

Despite growing demand, however, male doctors are still getting paid significantly more than female physicians. Male primary care physicians earned nearly 18 percent more than their female counterparts, averaging $239,000 versus $203,000 for women. Men in specialties earned 36 percent more than women this year and that gap has widened since last year when it was 31 percent. Men in specialties earned an average $358,000 versus $263,000 for women, a gap of more than $100,000.

The situation among health IT professionals is strikingly similar. Males working in healthcare IT were paid $123,244, while women earned $100,447, according to the 2018 HIMSS U.S. Compensation Survey, which the association released at HIMSS18. 

Racial disparities persist as well. Medscape found that African-American physicians earned an average $50,000 less per year than white physicians, with those numbers reaching $308,000 for white physicians versus $258,000 for black physicians. 

Racial gender disparities paint a discouraging picture for African American women, who made almost $100,000 less than their male counterparts. Asian-American physicians earned an average $293,000 per year and Hispanic/Latino physicians earned an average $278,000. 

"You would think that as we narrow the gap of representation of women in medicine, that would narrow the wage gap, but it's not happening," says Ranit Mishori, professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. "The lack of salary transparency adds to the challenges of addressing gender-based pay disparities. Women don't even know what targets to shoot for."

HIMSS research also found disparities among select population groups such that female and non-white health IT employees are paid less than their peers. 

Finally, Medscape results show that salaries also can come down to location, with less populated states paying more. Physicians in the North Central region, for instance, earned the most at $319,000 and the Northeast was the lowest at $275,000. States with the highest average physician salaries are Indiana, Oklahoma and Connecticut, while New Mexico, Maryland and Washington DC ranked lowest.  

Medscape's survey was completed by more than 20,000 physicians representing 29 specialty areas and included both Medscape members and nonmembers. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 0.69 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. This is the 8th year for the survey and report.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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