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Workplace Gender Discrimination, Sexism, And The Wage Gap In The Field Of Medicine

It’s common knowledge that full-time female workers earn 79 cents to the dollar compared to their male counterparts in average in America. While there are many reasons given, such as women working fewer hours or choosing lower paying jobs, research shows that even when statistics are adjusted for number of hours worked, number of services provided, and overall experience, women are still making less than men. These findings also hold true for the medical field, where in fields such as orthopedics the number of females is staggeringly low.

A new study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal found female physicians receive $18,677 less than their male counterparts in Medicare reimbursements. The study looked at data from more than 3 million Medicare claims from 2012 and adjusted for the criteria stated above. Before adjustments, female physicians received $34,126 less than their male counterparts. In 1999, male physicians beginning their career in New York earned $3600 more than their female counterparts. Fast forward to 2008, and the data shows male physicians are making $16,819 more, creating a gap of over 4.5 times more than in 1999. Although there may be many reasons for the gender wage gap in the medical field getting worse, this data shows an unnerving trend within the medical profession.

Given that approximately 50% of students enrolling in medical schools today are women, and that women are projected to make up about ⅓ of the total physician population by the start of the decade, it’s time for equality in the workplace. Currently, women physicians are still subject to sexism that male physicians will never experience. Women physicians are often mistaken for nurses by patients. Sometimes, patients tell male subordinates to keep the female physician in check, if they receive information they don’t want to hear. Women may also be completely ignored when there is a male in the room, even if they are the attending physician.

Sexual harrassment in the medical field

Even worse, women in the medical field have to make the hard decision about whether or not to report sexual harassment. Sexual harassment runs rampant in the medical field, however, if a woman reports it, she runs the risk of being labeled “difficult”, essentially blacklisting her from many job opportunities.

Case in point, Caroline Tan, a surgical resident at a hospital in Melbourne, Australia, was sexually assaulted by her male colleague one night in 2006. He kissed her, felt her breast and propositioned her for sex. She decided to take legal action against him and won her case. However, after going public, the colleague she took action against and his peers started undermining her work to the point where the college at which she was a resident delayed her fellowship for a year while investigating complaints about her work. Additionally, she was denied jobs from at least 8 different hospitals, despite having good marks and excellent references.  

While there is no concrete evidence as to why Dr. Tan was denied these jobs, given the amount of sexism and harassment in the work place, it is not hard to make an educated guess. The gender wage gap is a small piece in this much larger, sexist puzzle.

Workplace gender discrimination hurts everyone in society

By not respecting and not taking women seriously, we are losing out on information and expertise from half the population. Now that the medical student body is almost 50% female, that’s half the collective medical knowledge being flushed down the drain. As a patient, this should be unacceptable. Eliminating sexism in the medical field leads to better patient care because patients will have access to 100% of the collective medical knowledge.

Additionally, new research shows the gender of your physician may matter. Studies show that female patients prefer female physicians. Although there are no current studies as to why this is, researchers hypothesize the nature of the relationship between female patients and female physicians plays a large role, as does communication style.

On top of the fact that females make up 50% of our population, equality in the workplace creates a better, more equal environment for both sexes. Once females achieve equal pay, men will also receive equal rights in areas that are traditionally seen as “women’s work”.

Imagine a world where both men and women can feel comfortable and respected at work. Imagine a place and time where women can be doctors without question and men can be nurses without being called “gay” or having people think they’re not manly.

Imagine a world where men receive paternity leave because it is ingrained in our culture that a dad’s time with his child is just as important as a mom’s. Or where fathers can receive full custody of their child, without a struggle, because the mother is unfit. Imagine a world where everyone is happier, healthier, having better sex, and free to enjoy whatever they want, whether that’s deemed “masculine” or “feminine”.

Creating equal pay for women is the start of that world. And it sounds like a pretty good world to me.

 Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.

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