In 1847, Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to enroll in a medical school in the United States. It wasn’t until 1936 that Harvard Medical School admitted its first woman, and that happened as a result of a clerical error. Today, there are roughly the same number of women as there are men in medical schools, but women in medicine are still not advancing at nearly the same rate as their male counterparts.
Gender inequality in the medical profession is rarely talked about in medical schools and among the general public. Because of this, many would like to pretend that it does not exist. Unfortunately, the statistics tell a different story. Despite nearly equal representation in medical schools, women make up only about one-third of the physicians in the United States.
Things are even worse for women in positions of authority in the medical field. Only 15% of department heads are women, and they comprise only 16% of the deans of academic institutions. Women also hold only about one out of five hospital CEO jobs. Enrollment in medical schools has been nearly equal between women and men for about 30 years, but women in medicine are still not advancing in their careers at the same rate as men.
Gender Pay Gap Not Improving
The pay gap between male and female doctors is wide, and it is not getting any better. A 2017 survey of over 65,000 physicians found that female physicians earn roughly 28% less than male physicians. This translates to an average pay gap in dollars of $105,000 per year. The 2017 numbers are worse than the 2016 survey, which showed an average pay gap of just over $91,000 per year. The disparity is not as wide in some of the other medical specialties, but among the 40 medical specialties surveyed across 50 major metropolitan areas, there was no medical specialty in which female doctors earn more than male doctors.
One of the challenges female doctors face is a lack of transparency in the medical industry when it comes to pay. It is very difficult to learn how much medical professionals earn, because their salaries seem to be a closely guarded secret. In fact, it is not uncommon for doctors who work in the same office or clinic to have no idea what many of their peers make. This creates a situation where doctors are often paid based more on their negotiating skills than their qualifications.
Widespread Discrimination in the Medical Field
Another major challenge women in the medical profession face is gender-based discrimination. From the time they enter medical school until they become practicing professionals, women deal with various forms of discrimination and harassment from male classmates, professors, colleagues, and even patients.
Much of the discrimination occurs because of long-held stereotypes about the roles of men and women in the healthcare field. For centuries, the vast majority of doctors were men and the vast majority of nurses were women. This did not start to change significantly until just the past three or four decades.
Part of the problem is that becoming a doctor takes years of schooling and the job is very demanding. Some hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices are still hesitant to hire female doctors because they assume they are either not up for the job or they will need to take time off in the future to have children and take care of their family.
Sexual harassment is another major issue that women in the medical field commonly have to deal with. Many women are afraid to speak up when this occurs for fear that they will be labeled “difficult”, “moody”, or other derogatory terms.
Women doctors are also commonly mistaken for nurses, physician’s assistants, and similar roles. Many are not taken seriously or even ignored completely by patients, especially when there is a male colleague in the room. These and other forms of discrimination are everyday occurrences for women in the medical profession.
What Can We Do about Gender Discrimination in Medicine?
The issues of gender discrimination in the workplace are not unique to the medical profession, women in many other fields have had to deal with similar challenges. But while many other industries have made significant progress on this issue, the medical field is still lagging way behind.
If we are going to see any progress, we need wholesale reforms in the medical industry. Hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and other healthcare delivery systems need an administrative overhaul, and the implementation of a fair and transparent pay structure. Steps also need to be taken to protect female medical professionals from a hostile work environment. Only when the industry acknowledges the severity of the problems they are dealing with will they make the commitment to fully address these problems.
Have you Experienced Gender Discrimination in the Workplace?
If you work in the medical profession or any other industry and you have been a victim of gender discrimination, it is important to stand up and hold those responsible fully accountable. Filing a claim against your employer is a complex process, however. Depending on the state you are in, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state agency. After the complaint is investigated, the EEOC may invite you to participate in mediation, issue a “right to sue” letter, or take other actions. Once you receive this letter, you may move forward with litigation against your employer.
Before you move forward with a gender discrimination case, it is important to have an experienced attorney in your corner who fully understands the complexities of this process and is committed to fighting for your rights. Any attorney you consider hiring should have a background in gender discrimination and a successful track record representing Plaintiffs who have suffered because of their gender.