Although overall physician salaries are on the rise, the salary gap between male and female physicians remains firmly in place, according to the Medscape Female Physician Compensation Report 2022: Trying to Narrow the Gender Gap. This stark difference in women’s earning potential in medicine highlights the non-monetary forms of compensation available as part of employment packages – benefits such as paid time off, vacation, childcare offers, flexibility and funds for career advancement.
But these benefits are not enough to attract female physicians to positions where their male counterparts may have a higher salary.
“It’s all about money, of course,” says Haneme Idrizi, MD, a pediatric hospitalist for nearly 16 years and associate dean for student affairs and admissions at Southern Illinois University (SIU) Medical School in Springfield. . “And how you perceive those benefits depends on where you’re from.”
Idrizi, a first-generation American, is also a member of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), an organization focused on advancing women in medicine and advocating for equity. She says her journey to becoming a doctor colors her perspective on labor compensation.
“Salary has always been key for me,” she says. “I’m the main breadwinner in my family, I have multiple jobs to pay for my education and pay for my own medical school, so I come with a different perspective that I need to support my family. The other things, like money for moving expenses, make it possible to transition from job to job, but for me personally, how much you’re going to pay me is the most important thing.
Here’s a look at some of the most common non-monetary incentives offered to physicians and what women in medicine today think about non-monetary compensation.
Career advancement expenses
It is common practice for employers to cover the costs arising from obtaining the license to practice and the continuing medical education required of health professionals. Doing so for all employees, regardless of gender, promotes fairness in career advancement, especially when those benefits cover opportunities that promote progression into leadership positions.
“Sometimes when you’re a medical wife – or a medical mom – people assume that hard work is enough and you don’t necessarily want to progress or gain leadership skills, but that’s not necessarily true,” says one. fellow AMWA member, Tiffany Bell Washington, MD, MPH, Quadruple Board Certified Psychiatrist and Lifestyle Medicine/Obesity Specialist.
Mary Zupanc, MD, a professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recounts. She has practiced pediatric neurology since the 1970s and has seen a dramatic shift in physician demographics, but she notes that shift is not yet reflected in leadership in medicine.
“There were 25 women in my class at UCLA medical school, and it was the largest class of women they ever had,” she says. By comparison, in 2019, 53.5% of applications to medical schools granting doctorates in medicine were from women, and women made up 53.7% of the number of enrolled students, according to the American Medical Association.
“And yet if you look at the number of medical school deans, division heads, department chairs, there’s no parity there,” says Zupanc.
She says promotions are also lagging, especially for women with children. This means that the opportunity to advance often exceeds them. Therefore, the chances of growing into leadership – through conferences and paid leadership certifications – are crucial.
“I think there’s always this unconscious bias that women aren’t really serious about their careers, so they don’t necessarily get promoted that quickly,” says Zupanc. “The junior teachers I mentor think about it all the time – how to really achieve that good work-life balance.”
A 2019 study in Open JAMA Network showed that a significant number of female physicians in various specialties at all levels of training across the United States needed and wanted more support for parental leave and return to work.
Needs included support at the institutional level, such as paid time off, adequate speaking time without penalty, and on-site childcare.
“A surgeon colleague of mine, when I was a professor at Harvard Medical School, did an interesting study on pregnancy and childbirth complications in women in medicine compared to women in the general population. , and he found that they’re almost double,” says Anju Patel, MD, an otolaryngologist specializing in head and neck surgery, who is associate medical director at Mytonomy, a health technology company that focuses on patient education.
“And when you look at certain complications, infertility is double in women in medicine compared to the general population,” says Patel. This shows that women may be more physically taxed and may be more vulnerable compared to the general population, which is underappreciated when it comes to parental leave, adds Patel.
Idrizi says she’s seen more male colleagues turn to parental leave than in the past, but she also notes that leave has a different value when it comes to recovery.
“I’ve had three C-sections, so I needed that time to heal more than anything else,” she says. “But I think men are seeing the value of it more and more.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for schedule flexibility has become paramount. Telehealth and creative office hours opportunities matter more than ever.
AMWA board member Susan Thompson Hingle, MD, calls schedule flexibility “the most important non-financial incentive.” Hingle is also Associate Dean for Human and Organizational Potential and Director of Professional Development in the Department of Medicine at the SIU School of Medicine.
“The mindset that as long as high-quality work gets done, it doesn’t matter when or where it gets done — that’s important,” she says.
Patel notes that in addition to parental leave policies, job security in the face of schedule changes plays a big role in determining which position is best for her.
“In my current job, I have unlimited paid time off, which is huge when you have two young kids, especially during cold and flu season,” she says. “Having that flexibility is invaluable.”
Conclusion: pay equity matters
Idrizi points out that even non-monetary benefits often have to be negotiated and that women are more often disadvantaged in this area than men because they often do not negotiate and are therefore less used to doing so.
“I feel like women, in general, are more afraid to bring up these topics than men,” Idrizi says. “I needed those many years of experience to gain the courage and confidence to even conjure it up.”
Whatever the value of certain incentives, the wage gap between women and men remains an imbalance that colors the medical profession.
“In my experience, non-monetary benefits or compensation matter most when at least the pay is fair,” Washington says. “So if I’m in a situation where I’m clearly being paid below market value, and I know for sure that they’re offering others higher salaries, then there’s probably not a lot of non-monetary benefits they can offer that would influence me.”
Rachel Reiff Ellis is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and writer specializing in health and medicine. She writes regularly for WebMD and Fortune Well, with additional work appearing in Prevention, Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, Country Living and Women’s Day. She is a regular contributor as a patient advocate profile writer to the Global Healthy Living Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for people with chronic conditions.
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