Study Highlights Pay Disparity in the Medical Field

White male doctors make far more than their black and female colleagues.
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A new study puts the median annual income for a black male doctor at $188,230. That sounds pretty good—until contrasted with the median yearly paycheck for a white male doctor: $253,042.

Soberingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, female doctors make still less. Median annual income for white female doctors was estimated at $163,234, compared to $152,784 for black female doctors—numbers relatively close to one another, but far smaller than the sums taken home by male peers.

The results of the study, published Tuesday in the BMJ and conducted by Harvard Medical School researcher Anupam Jena, emphasize just how pronounced the wage gap is in the United States. Doctors make an interesting case study, the researchers write, because they’re a comparatively homogenous group of people who go through similar education and licensing processes—factors that should, in theory, mitigate some pay discrepancies.

To reach their estimates, Jena and his colleagues analyzed data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS) and physician surveys from the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). Between the two, data from roughly 80,000 physicians was included in the study.

One major caveat, however, is that the larger of the two data points, the ACS, does not distinguish between general care practitioners, who typically make less across the board, and high-earning specialists, like cardiologists and plastic surgeons. That’s a limitation large enough that William Weeks, a health economist and physician at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, slammed the study in an interview with the Washington Post.

“This is really not good research,” Weeks told the Post. “It’s a poor design. It’s a poor study. It should be ignored.”

The researchers maintain, however, that they saw similar trends even after looking at HSC data adjusted to include specialty. Further, it’s worth noting that white male physicians are the most likely to pursue lucrative specialties, likely in part because of access issues; there are also simply fewer minority doctors practicing. So while the salary estimates calculated in the research may not be to-the-dollar accurate, they still seem to illustrate a troubling trend in medicine.

“What that means is that you are going to miss some bright minds,” Jena told Stat. “At the end of the day it’s not just an issue of fairness. You can certainly create a narrative where patients will actually be harmed by these sorts of policies.”


Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com