More women are entering medicine.

3 issues facing women in healthcare

In the past few decades, the number of women practicing medicine has seen a sharp increase. According to ThinkProgress, just under 10 percent of women were doctors in 1970. Today, that number has more than tripled. However, that jump does not mean that the medical field can yet be considered completely equitable. Despite relatively greater representation in the field of medicine, women nonetheless face issues. Here are three of the most pressing:

Imbalanced pay
According to the Medscape 2016 compensation survey, reports Healthcare IT news, female physicians still earn less than their male peers. This discrepancy holds across a variety of sub-specialties: male primary care physicians earn $225,000 annually, while women in the role make just $192,000. For specialists, those figures are $242,000 and $173,000 respectively. Approximately 65 percent of all physicians are men, while 35 percent are women. 

However, this gap is closing. Salaries for female general practitioners are rising more quickly than for males, 36 percent to 29 percent. For specialists, compensation for women jumped 40 percent compared to just 34 percent for men. These figures suggest that the discrepancy may be eliminated in the near future. 

Cultural impacts on specialization
While women make up roughly 35 percent of residents, according to the American Medical Association, there remains an imbalance in some disciplines. Most notably, women make up 85 percent of gynecological residents, leading some doctors to shun the specialty unnecessarily. Dr. Brandi Ring, a fourth-year resident in obstetrics/gynecology at York Hospital, explained to the AMA the impact that this sort of imbalance can have:

"In medicine, specialties swing from one extreme to the next," she said. "Years ago, gynecology was dominated by men but today, it's just the opposite. Now I'm seeing a lot of male medical students who completely disregard OB as an option because they think it's a 'female specialty,' which is a huge disservice."

The same  trend can be seen in pediatrics, which is 75 percent female. On the flip side, male-dominated fields of study include radiology, 73 percent, and Anesthesiology, 64 percent.

Lack of institutional support
Part of the reasoning for the gender imbalance in the number of physicians could come down to a lack of support from institutions. Research cited by American Medical News looked into over 4,500 full-time faculty at 26 medical schools. Across the board, researchers found that women were less likely to report that they felt supported, and more likely to feel like the values of the institutions were misaligned with their own.  

"The study proves wrong the notion that women are less ambitious than men. It shows that both genders have equal leadership aspirations and are equally engaged in their work," Dr. Pololi, director and principal investigator of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine told American Medical News. 

That institutions are actively studying these issues is a positive first step towards enacting meaningful change. Ultimately, it remains to be seen what direction these shifts will go in, and how they will help physicians create positive patient outcomes.