MAR 10, 2016 7:50 AM PST

Women cardiologists earn about $100K less than men

Women cardiologists often earn less than men—even when taking into account the different types of work they do—a new study suggests.
"It's important to be looking at this, because we as a profession are not having full access to our 'talent pool' of qualified internal medicine residents," says Pamela Douglas. "That becomes a business and health care issue."

Further, the ranks of women cardiologists remain disproportionally small compared to those in medicine overall.

“These results recapitulate the salary differences that have been found among male and female physicians, lawyers, business executives, and others,” says Pamela Douglas, professor of research in cardiovascular diseases at the Duke University Clinical Research Institute.

“Cardiology needs to be welcoming to women. One way to do this is to acknowledge these differences and work toward correcting them.”

For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers analyzed data from 161 cardiology practices in US communities surveyed in a 2013 report from MedAxiom, a firm that gathers and distributes data and business information specifically for cardiologists. The survey is considered a non-biased look at business practices, including hours worked, types of work performed, and pay rates.

7 key findings

  • Women constitute about 12 percent of cardiology ranks, which is disproportionately low, given that half of medical school graduates are female.
  • Women are more likely to specialize in general/non-invasive cardiology, with 53 percent pursuing this sub-specialty compared to 28 percent of men.
  • Almost 91 percent of male cardiologists stated they work full time, while about 80 percent of women said they work full time.
  • Men dominate in interventional subspecialties that perform higher-paying catheter-based procedures. More than 39 percent of male cardiologists reported an interventional subspecialty, compared to 11 percent of women.
  • Men earn more money, even after accounting for all measured differences in job description, practice setting and productivity. Inherent in the measure of productivity are the known biases in the billing system known as the relative value unit (RVU), in which procedures are reimbursed by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services based on a score that accounts for the complexity, time, and value of a service. Interventional procedures generally have higher RVU scores than cognitive services. As a result, men cardiologists generated a median 9,301 RVUs, while women generated 7,430.
  • The different procedures, working hours, and billing rates translate into higher earnings for men—a median of about $100,000 a year more for men than for women.
  • Even adjusting for differences in the amount and type of work performed, women in cardiology make about $32,000 less per year than their male counterparts. Over a lifetime of work, this totals more than $1 million.
“This is the first study to show that although men and women cardiologists share the same specialty, they have markedly different job descriptions,” Douglas says. “Thirty-nine percent of men are interventionalists versus 11 percent of women, and this sets the stage for higher compensation.”

“The differences in sub-specialization and practice were striking and merit note,” says Reshma Jagsi, associate professor at the University of Michigan and the study’s first author.

“But it’s also important to note that the difference in compensation between men and women couldn’t fully be explained by differences in subspecialty, procedures, or the many other personal, job, and practice characteristics that we evaluated.”

The study did not address the reasons why women steered to general cardiology rather than the interventional subspecialty, nor did it explain the differences in the workload. But researchers suggest that the differences could stem from enduring gender inequities professionally and differences in choices in work/life balance.

“It’s important to be looking at this, because we as a profession are not having full access to our ‘talent pool’ of qualified internal medicine residents,” Douglas says. “That becomes a business and health care issue, as we increasingly recognize the importance of diversity among providers to optimizing patient care.”

Source: Duke University

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