How to fix the pay gap for women doctors

Written by A.S. Shah, CNN

Silvana Farinella, an Italian obstetrician-gynecologist, encountered a low salary while climbing the career ladder.

In the early 2000s, she was offered a job at a bigger hospital in Milan, a five-minute drive from her home, which was doubling her salary. She turned it down.

“I’ve always believed there’s the one-minute difference between those who have opportunities and those who don’t,” said Farinella, adding that as a doctor, “in Italy, the fear of being discriminated against a doctor is real.”

Now living in New York, she is the chief executive of BNP Paribas Surgical Center, the largest surgeon-owned center in the world, with more than 60,000 square feet of space. The organization has around 100 surgeons on staff and represents a $1.3 billion sales territory.

For Farinella, women are different, she said.

“We saw women coming in to change a baby’s gender, having sex-reassignment surgeries.”

The problem does not affect all countries equally: Across the world, women who pursue careers in medicine earn $2 million less over their careers than their male counterparts, according to new research.

In 2016, on average, women made less than two-thirds of what their male colleagues earned on average, with disparity between the sexes across every country except the Nordic countries, the research found.

“It’s much worse in the developing world,” said Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld, a nonprofit that conducted the research. The nonprofit commissioned the research as part of a new campaign to raise the salaries of women doctors.

Raising salaries

Gallop, who started her career as a car saleswoman, sees an opportunity for the campaign to focus on the issue of higher wages for women doctors.

Earlier this year, ifWeRanTheWorld released a study finding that women are paid less in all industries but in medicine, they are paid less still, based on a survey of more than 1,000 global med-school graduates.

The new campaign says 70% of young doctors are currently in the field wanting to become women.

The organization currently pays female doctors $27,200 a year, much less than what the organization’s male doctors make.

There are various reasons for the disparity, Gallop said. For instance, when doctors go to school to become academic physicians — those who specialize in hospital medicine — they do not need to become specialists for surgery.

Over time, female med-school graduates fall into that category and are not as well paid as men who have specialty training.

The organization’s campaign focuses on providing greater financial stability for doctors who are struggling, with its “Change for a Change Hero” initiative offering free ultrasounds and mammograms for mothers who are expecting, and giving $250 payments to doctors in Ghana who have performed free, free surgeries to women trapped in poverty.

“Doctors are the safest of any profession because we are under continuous supervision, so when something goes wrong, we have a paper trail,” Gallop said.

But she said that even in countries with the best health systems in the world, on average a woman who has graduated from medical school will earn $265,000 less than her male colleagues.

In some countries where health services are poor, as in South Sudan, for instance, women make less than $100,000 less than men.

In 2019, ifWeRanTheWorld plans to launch a program targeting women in medicine in less developed countries to share resources and help address the issue.

Gallop said that the organization’s research shows discrimination has to be tackled on the human rights front.

“The way to start is from your own perspective and your own experiences. If someone doesn’t have this ambition that you have, it’s your ability to change that when you become an entrepreneur,” she said.

Farinella believes addressing the situation by closing pay gaps and strengthening the pay gap would encourage people to go into the field.

“We have to change our mindsets. These doors (for doctors) were for us.”

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