Female anesthesiologists face less gender bias than those in other fields of medicine, according to a recent study. Yet women still earn far less than their male counterparts and face significant career hurdles.
Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University reviewed salary and male/female participation data from 15 medical specialties, including anesthesiology. The specialties were sorted and divided into three groups: those featuring low, average and high rates of female participation (Table).
Their findings, presented during the 2016 Annual PostGraduate Assembly in Anesthesiology, show that the national median salary across all specialties is nearly $80,000 lower for women. Additionally, the fields with the highest levels of female participation have significantly lower median salaries than those with lower female participation.
The results of this disparity can be staggering. “If you look over a 30-year career,” stated Julia Caldwell, MD, lead author of the study, “in the high male compensation group, men earn almost $5 million more than women.” Additionally, she added, men are four times as likely to become a department chair.
“Previously there was always the response that ‘there are more male doctors,’” Dr. Caldwell said. “Now that is changing.” According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 47% of medical students and 46% of residents are women. “Yet female trainees are still going into female fields,” Dr. Caldwell continued, “where they are still making less money, are less likely to become chair or full professor, or receive research funding.”
Anesthesiology fares far better than other surgical specialties—being the only field in its class with “average” or “high” female participation rates. Additionally, the mean salary for anesthesiologists is $428,208, far above the median income of $333,163 in the average female participation group.
However, even within anesthesiology there is much improvement to be made. “We still need to develop plans for how to fix this,” Dr. Caldwell stated. “The first step is have people recognize [the problem]: that even when controlling for children, part-time work, people who aren’t academic or aren’t actively producing high volumes of research, you still have [women facing] the ‘sticky floor’ and ‘glass ceiling’ phenomena.”
Sonia Vaida, MD, professor of anesthesiology and obstetrics & gynecology at Penn State College of Medicine, in Hershey, agreed. “Further studies will have to identify factors that can contribute to increased academic productivity in women physicians in general, and anesthesiologists in particular,” she said.
Yet while Dr. Caldwell is quick to state the importance of further work to lessen these disparities, the data reinforce her career decision. “I’m glad to be a part of the anesthesiology group,” she said, “as we have less inequality.”