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Business

September 9, 2012

Female doctors grapple with salary inequity

PHILADELPHIA — Jo Buyske recalls her salary negotiations in 1998 to become chief of surgery at Philadelphia's Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. A male colleague seeking the same position at Pennsylvania Hospital told her: " 'You shouldn't even look at it for less than 325 (thousand),' and they were talking 210 (thousand) to me."

Then she found the paperwork for the Presbyterian chief who preceded her. "He was making $125,000 a year more than me." When their respective job offers came, her male colleague at Pennsylvania got $150,000 more.

Buyske was furious, and also inexperienced in negotiating. It took some number-crunching to show how she'd miss $2 million over time with the proposed salary.

So, after an expert gave her a pep talk, she bluntly put the numbers to her boss. "None of this 'I feel' stuff."

"There was a 90-second pause," she recalled. "We were just staring at each other."

Eventually, she said, she got a significant raise, but not enough to bring her in line with her male peers.

Buyske, now associate executive director of the American Board of Surgery in Philadelphia, is one of many female doctors who saw themselves reflected in a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study observed salary differences for a group of 247 women and 553 men, all physician researchers who had won grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Women surveyed made an average of $167,669 while men got $200,433 — a difference of $32,764 overall. With controls for specialty, academic rank, leadership positions, publications and research time, women still made $12,194 less than men each year.

More women are in medicine now than ever, but they still face myriad challenges, including pay. They struggle to balance work and family with heavy schedules and unpredictable hours. Promotions are competitive and entail yet more time for work, research and networking.

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