Mind the gap: Do women docs make quarters on the dollar?

February 15, 2017
Study suggests women ophthalmologists still make less than men; what about optometry?

Lower clinical activity, coupled with fewer reimbursement claims, could be fueling a noticeable gender pay gap where female eye doctors earn only about 60% of what their male colleagues earn.

Published online in the January edition of JAMA Ophthalmology, a new study found that the average female ophthalmologist collected $0.58 for every dollar collected by a male ophthalmologist after reviewing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) payment database for years 2012-13.  

The study included 16,111 ophthalmologists—about 20% of which were women—and found that the mean payment per charge was about $66 in 2012 and $64 in 2013 for both men and women. But there was a strong association between collections and work product, researchers say, with female ophthalmologists submitting about 936 fewer Medicare charges than males in that timeframe.  

After comparing men and women with similar clinical activity, pay was still lower for women. Among those ophthalmologists with the highest clinical activity, only 8% were women. Researchers did note that they were unable to account for sub-specialization or seniority in this study, and further research is necessary to determine the root causes of this pay gap.  

Gender gap in optometry?  

Like many other professions, optometry is experiencing staggering growth in the numbers of women entering the field. Since the 1992-93 academic year, far more women have enrolled in schools and colleges of optometry than men, and the gulf has only widened in the years following—2015-16 enrollment was 67-33% in favor of women, according to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO).  

Unfortunately, even with its changing demographics, optometry hasn't escaped the gender pay gap. The latest AOA Survey of Optometry Practice (2015) found female practice owners earned about $41,000 less than their male counterparts in 2014, or about 33% less. But that hasn't stifled women's interest in the profession. On the contrary, it's emboldened them toward changing it.  

Sloan Rajadhyksha, fourth-year University of California, Berkley School of Optometry student, describes her reasons for pursuing optometry in an AOA Focus interview.  

"I've always admired the room for innovation within optometry, and with the increasing number of women, it opens the table to new, diverse ideas on how to enhance the profession," Rajadhyksha says. "I also think it sends a great message for young women to strive to enter a highly respected profession where women can thrive. Because, in all honesty, I didn't enter the profession worrying about it being once a male-dominated profession. I entered it because I saw my potential for leadership and success represented by the women who are in the profession today."  

For University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry student Kate Hamm, the gender pay gap is a frequent topic of conversation among her classmates: "I've heard about (the gender pay gap) in other professions, but I thought optometry was fairly women-heavy and that wouldn't be the case. I just didn't think that was a thing anymore."  

Still, optometry consistently ranks as one of U.S. News & World Report's best jobs with above average marks for flexibility and work-life balance, and high fulfillment. That, in part, fueled her choice of professions, Hamm told AOA Focus.  

"With so many different avenues in optometry, you can choose to lead whatever kind of life you want."  

Read more about optometry's changing demographics, and Rajadhyksha's and Hamm's stories, in the upcoming March edition of AOA Focus (member login required) .

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