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White Physicians Earn More Than Black Counterparts

BOSTON – Race makes a substantial difference when it comes to salaries for male physicians and, while incomes of black and white female physicians are similar to each other, overall they are significantly lower than those of their white male counterparts, according to a new study.

The report, published recently in The BMJ Today, notes that in one survey from 2010-2013, white male physicians had an adjusted median annual income of $253,042, compared to $188,230 for black male physicians — a difference of nearly 35%.

Those differences persisted even when factors such as medical specialty, experience, and hours worked were considered, according to study authors from Harvard Medical School.

"We found that the inequities in pay for physicians mirror disparities in the overall U.S. economy," said senior author Anupam Jena, MD, PhD. "Unfortunately, this means that medicine has not been spared the disparities by race and sex that plague the rest of the U.S. labor market."

The researchers sought to determine racial differences in physician salaries because data is limited, despite evidence that black workers in general earn less than whites in the United States economy.

For the study, researchers used recent data from two nationally representative surveys: the 2000-13 American Community Survey (ACS) and the 2000-08 Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) physician survey. Annual income was adjusted for several factors from both surveys, including age, specialty, hours worked, years in practice, and percentage of revenue from Medicare and Medicaid.

Results indicate that white female physicians earn an adjusted median annual income of $163,234, compared to $152,784 for black female physicians. Both were substantially lower than the salaries of male doctors of either race, study authors pointed out.

“We found substantial differences in annual income between black and white male physicians in the U.S., and between male and female physicians overall, that persist after adjustment for several characteristics of physicians and practices, including specialty and work hours,” the researchers noted. “Further study is needed to understand the etiology of these race and sex differences and whether they stem from disparities in job opportunity or other factors.”

The study also cautions that, as with any observational study, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

Study authors maintained that race- and sex-based disparities in earnings potential "cannot be closed simply by opening up opportunities for minorities and women in higher paying specialties" and suggested "efforts to eliminate these disparities might need to look beyond medical school admissions and training to the broader workplace."

"These findings are deeply concerning," Jena added in a Harvard Medical School statement. "If the goal is to achieve equity or to give incentives for the best students to enter medicine, we need to work on closing both the black-white gap and the gender gap in physician incomes."