Male Physicians Receive Higher Payments from Medical Companies than Female Physicians

By Christopher Cheney

A new research article has found that male physicians are paid significantly more by medical supply companies than their female counterparts.

Several studies have found a salary gap between male and female physicians. Medical companies spend more than $30 billion annually for advertising and promotion, with most of the money directed at physicians.

The new research article, which was published by JAMA Surgery, features data from the Open Payments Database for female and male physicians who received the most payments from the 15 highest-grossing U.S. medical supply companies from January 2013 to January 2019. The companies selected for the analysis were Abbott Laboratories; Baxter International Inc.; Becton, Dickinson and Company; Boston Scientific Corporation; Cardinal Health Inc.; Edwards Life Sciences Corporation; Fresenius Medical Care AG & Company KGaA; Medtronic PLC; Novartis International AG; Olympus Corporation; Siemens Healthineers AG; Smith & Nephew PLC; Stryker Corporation; Terumo Corporation; and Zimmer Biomet Holdings Inc.

The research article has several key data points:

  • Among the 1,050 payments examined, 96.9% of the five highest earners were men and 3.1% were women.
  • Over the study period, female physicians were paid a mean of $41,320, and male physicians were paid a mean of $1,226,377.
  • From 2013 to 2019, the payment gap between female and male physicians jumped from $54,343 to $166,778.
  • For all academic ranks, male physicians received higher median payments than female physicians. For example, male physician professors received median payments of $129,499 compared to $19,559 for female physician professors.
  • Male physicians received higher median payments across all specialties. The largest payment gap was in orthopedic surgery, where male physicians received median payments of $1,752,573 compared to $24,387 for female physicians.
  • Even in the female-dominated obstetrics and gynecology specialty, male physicians received higher payments than female physicians. The median payment for male obstetricians and gynecologists was $87,596 compared to $31,166 for female physicians.

“This study found that male physicians received significantly higher payments from the highest-grossing medical industry companies compared with female physicians. This disparity persisted across all medical specialties and academic ranks. The healthcare industry gender payment gap continued to increase from 2013 to 2019, with a wider compensation gap in 2019,” the study’s co-authors wrote.

Interpreting the data

The medical company payment gap was dramatic, the study’s co-authors wrote. “We found that in the 15 highest-grossing medical industry companies from 2013 to 2019, there was a median 3-fold increase in the compensation of highest-earning men compared with the highest-earning women. Only 3.1% of women were within the 5 overall highest compensated physicians.”

Payments to male physicians were higher than payments to female in all specialties—even female-dominated specialties, the study’s co-authors wrote.

“We looked at all medical fields, including but not limited to surgery, radiology, pathology, dermatology, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology and found that men earned significantly more than women regardless of their medical specialty. Obstetrics and gynecology is a female-dominated specialty of which women [comprise] more than 60% of all physicians. Our study showed that 52 of the physicians receiving industry payments were from obstetrics and gynecology: 31 women and 21 men. Despite a higher female-to-male ratio, male obstetricians and gynecologists received 3 times the amount of payment compensation from industry,” they wrote.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.