K2P Recognizes Women in Medicine

By Suzanne Hughes, MSN, RN  |  September 15, 2020  |  Working in Healthcare

Each September, the American Medical Association (AMA) celebrates Women in Medicine (WIM) Month. The observance is intended to highlight the many accomplishments of women physicians and to increase advocacy related to women physicians and to the health care of women patients.

Women Now Constitute the Majority of Medical Students in the United States

Just over seventy years ago, only 5.5% of students entering medical school were women. A male-dominated environment continued with very slow progress until the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex for federally funded educational programs. Medical schools responded by prioritizing the admission of women into their medical education programs. By 1974, 22.4% of medical school entrants were women.

In 2017, a milestone was reached in the United States, when, for the first time in history, women comprised the majority of first-year medical students. And then, in 2019, a second milestone was achieved. Women now truly “hold up (more than!) half the sky” in medical schools in they now comprise 50.5% of all medical school students.

Gender Distribution in Graduate Medical Education Programs

The percentage of women in residency programs is likewise increasing, with women now comprising 45.6% of active GME trainees in the U.S. In terms of the types of residency programs chosen by women, in 2019, women greatly dominated in Ob-Gyn programs (83.4%). Other specialties in which women dominate include allergy and immunology (73.5%), pediatrics (72.1%), medical genetics and genomics (66.7%), hospice and palliative medicine (66.3%), and dermatology (60.8%). Interestingly, of these, only dermatology ranks among the top ten highest paying specialties. At the other end of the spectrum, women comprise less than 20% of residents in orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery, and interventional radiology.

Physicians in Clinical Practice

A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that women comprise 36% of the “professionally active physicians.” The 2020 Medscape annual physician compensation report breakdown of women physicians by specialty indicates that women constitute the majority in ob-gyn, pediatrics, and rheumatology. There is a relatively small percentage of women in many of the higher-paying specialties like urology, orthopedics, and cardiology.

Inequity in Compensation?

Among the survey respondents who identified as specialists, male physicians report an average annual salary of $375,000 compared to $286,000 for female respondents, data that are partially explained by the smaller numbers of women in the higher-paying specialties. However, the pay disparity is also demonstrated within primary care, where a male physician earns a mean annual salary of $264,000 to a woman’s $212,000, a clear 25% difference.

What Else Matters?

A 2020 Medscape survey of women physicians delved deeper into the issues that are important to women physicians. Respondents were asked to choose and then rank their top three concerns. Nearly 2/3 (64%) identified work-life balance as their leading challenge. Interestingly, work-life balance was cited most often not only by women age 45 and younger, but it also remained the leading important issue for those over age 45. Just 43% identified compensation as their top concern.

Professional Societies Weigh In

The American College of Physicians, in a 2018 position paper, “Achieving Gender Equity in Physician Compensation and Career Advancement: A Position Paper of the American College of Physicians” summarized those challenges (in addition to compensation inequity) faced by women in medicine, citing “lack of mentors, discrimination, gender bias, cultural environment of the workplace, imposter syndrome, and the need for better work-life integration” and called for strategies that would allow for the “…realization of the full potential of female physicians.”

This September, (and All Year Long): Knowledge to Practice Salutes You!

In recognition of Women in Medicine Month, K2P salutes all women in medicine, in particular those physicians who have contributed as K2P faculty, and to the sincere and diligent physicians (both men and women) who generously remember to “reach back” (or “send the elevator down”) to lift up and mentor those following in their footsteps!

(Photo Credit: Just a handful of the nearly 100 K2P women faculty.)

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