Male rheumatologists earn about 16% more than their female counterparts, according to new compensation data from Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). Although the data seem indicative of widespread gender disparity, experts say a deeper dive is necessary to better understand the phenomenon.
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“There’s a lot of nuance to the data,” says Todd Evenson, MGMA’s chief operating officer.
To be sure, male rheumatologists earn more. Their compensation was $276,138 in MGMA’s 2017 Physician Compensation and Production Survey, compared with $237,645 for female rheumatologists. That’s a 16.2% difference, or $38,493. Males across specialty fields reported earning 37% more than females in the same practice area, the report continued.
Male rheumatologists also work more, according to the data. MGMA reported that male rheumatologists generated 4,944 median relative-value units (RVUs) vs. 4,155 RVUs for female rheumatologists. That difference, 19%, outpaces the compensation differential.
“There is clearly a disparity, if you’re looking only at the aggregate data and bifurcating by gender,” Mr. Evenson says. However, “there are multiple dimensions that truly do influence overall total compensation. Adding the element of production results in greater compensation parity.”
Example: For male and female rheumatologists with less than 4,000 RVUs, the pay differential was 12.4%, according to data provided by Mr. Evenson. Men and women who generated 4,000–6,000 RVUs had a differential of just 5%. Only male respondents reported generating more than 6,000 RVUs.
“I acknowledge there are still realities around environments [in which] the gender gap exists, and it’s unacceptable when that is the case,” Mr. Evenson says. “There is latent time between efforts in discriminatory law, generational tendencies and compensation methodologies before we will see the expectation of equity in the aggregate data. But digging into the data suggests we are moving in the right direction.”
Anne Bass, MD, chair of the ACR’s Committee on Rheumatology Training & Workforce Issues, says the number can be jarring at first glance. But it’s important to put the number in the context of how male and female rheumatologists work differently. And although Dr. Bass is not one to put too much stock in one annual report, she agrees longstanding gender inequality with regard to compensation is pervasive in medicine.
In rheumatology, the issue will likely be only more acute in the coming years as the specialty is becoming a female-dominated field. According to the ACR’s 2015 Workforce Study of Rheumatology Specialists in the U.S., 57% of all rheumatologists who treat adult patients are projected to be female. As of the report, 68% of rheumatologists who treat pediatric patients were female.1