According to a new Cleveland Clinic study, female physicians nationally receive less in industry-sponsored payments than their male counterparts.
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The study, led by Cleveland Clinic bioethicist Susannah Rose, PhD, found that female physicians received approximately $3,600 per year less from industry than men, on average. In fact, of the nearly $18 million paid to 220,000-plus physicians by biomedical companies in 2011, just 24.9 percent went to women.
Examining the numbers
The disparity held true for nearly every kind of industry relationship. Women received lower amounts for meals ($41 less than men, on average), education ($1,893 less), speaker fees ($2,898 less) and sponsored research ($15,049 less). The study — published online at PLOS ONE — analyzed publicly reported financial relationships among 747,603 physicians and 432 pharmaceutical, device and biomaterials companies.
“What’s most concerning to me is that women received almost $15,000 per year less than men for research funding,” Dr. Rose says. “Given that research funding is a key component for promotion for physician-investigators, this may put women at a particular disadvantage, especially considering that previous studies found that women receive less funding from the NIH than men. The combined disparity of federal- and industry-sponsored research funding represents a major gender-based barrier that requires attention.”
Part of a broader problem
Prior research has shown that female physicians, on average, make significantly less than their male counterparts, with the wage gap only increasing over time. In addition, women receive suboptimal promotions and fewer research dollars than their male colleagues. Cleveland Clinic’s study found that the same is true for industry-sponsored compensation, except in the case of travel expenses or consulting/advising activities, which showed no statistical difference between men and women.
The study authors point out that they cannot determine what causes the gender gap, only that it exists.
“It is important to note that our analysis does not allow for determinations of causation,” the authors write. “Among the possibilities are that 1) industry could be biased in favor of men; 2) women may be less frequently qualified to receive industry funds; 3) women are less driven by financial reward than men; 4) there is a downstream preference for males (for example, the audiences at educational events may be perceived to respond better to a male speaker); 5) physician preferences regarding working with industry may systematically differ between men and women; or 6) a combination of these factors.”
The study was funded by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative of Cleveland, KL2TR000440 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) component of the National Institutes of Health, and the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research.