AMA vows to fight medicine’s gender inequity problem

The American Medical Association House of Delegates pledged on June 11 to advance gender equity in medicine after multiple studies highlighted the wage gap and discrimination women physicians continue to face.

Three organizations—the American College of Cardiology (ACC), the American College of Gastroenterology and the AMA’s Young Physicians Section—proposed four total resolutions to address these issues. The AMA opted to combine the resolutions into one series of recommendations and planned actions.

Kim A. Williams, MD, co-chair of the ACC Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, credited fellow co-chair Pamela S. Douglas, MD, with kick-starting the gender wage conversation in 2016 with a study showing female cardiologists earned an average of $31,749 less than their male counterparts after adjusting for productivity and full-time status. A May article in JAMA Cardiology expanded on these findings, calculating that women earn $2.5 million less than men over the course of 35-year careers when factoring in investment returns.

U.S. laws including the Equal Pay Act of 1963 are supposed to prevent this sort of discrepancy and ensure equal pay for equal work.

In its resolution, the AMA stated it would “draft and disseminate a report detailing its positions and recommendations for gender equity in medicine … to be submitted to the House for consideration at the 2019 Annual Meeting.”

The AMA also resolved to:

  • Advocate for pay structures based on “objective, gender-neutral” criteria, as well as transparency in defining starting salaries and subsequent pay raises.
  • Examine salaries across the AMA and make the “necessary adjustments to ensure equal pay for equal work.”
  • Recommend institutions immediately eliminate the prior salary question from job applications.
  • Spread awareness about physicians’ rights under the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Equal Pay Act, while also educating all genders on how to negotiate equitable compensation.
  • Collect data on women’s representation in AMA leadership positions, speaker invitations, awards and grant funding, and disseminate those reports to the House of Delegates.

It remains to be seen how much these resolutions spur change—and how quickly—but Williams said it can’t hurt to have the AMA actively working to quash gender inequity in the profession.

“In general, when the AMA speaks, many people listen, Congress listens,” he said. “We might actually get some legislation that says, ‘(Pay disparity) was illegal before but now we’re going to enforce it.’ That would be an interesting twist.”

Having women’s rights on the organization’s radar could also help with research publications in JAMA and its subjournals, such as JAMA Cardiology and JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Just getting it in front of people, things can be fixed,” Williams said. “We don’t have (tuberculosis) sanatoriums anymore, we don’t have iron lungs for polio. This is one of those things that can be fixed.”