The ranks of women physicians are steadily growing, and the number of women physician executives appears to be growing, too, according to a survey of chief medical officers.
This year's annual pay survey by Tampa, Fla.-based recruiter Physician Executive Management Center had responses from 68 hospital CMOs, of whom eight were women, up from one last year. Of 106 CMOs from integrated health systems responding to the survey, one was a woman, compared with none last year.
Participants self-report, so the survey lacks statistical rigor, but David Kirschman, president of the recruiting firm that has performed the survey since 1986, says the growth in the number of women physician executives has validity. "I think we're going to see a continuing increase," Kirschman said. "Women are really good at this job."
In 2003, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced that for the first time ever, the number of women applying to medical school was greater than the number of men, while a majority of physicians in residency programs for OB/GYN, pediatrics and dermatology already are women. Still, 20 years ago, when many of today's physician executives were in training, things were different.
"It's always been my opinion that women had a tougher road getting through med school," Kirschman said. "They had a lot of pressure. They couldn't be just average. They had to be tough to put up with the crap. And they're also overachievers. And once you get a good clinician into management, they're really good."
In the workforce in general, women earn 76 cents to the dollar paid men for similar work, according to 2001-2002 Census Bureau data. Pay for women physician executives surveyed was about 20% lower than for their male counterparts, Kirschman said. One explanation is the impact on the small sample of women of female physician executives who responded and who work in government positions, which pay less than similar positions in the public sector.
"In any of the searches we've been involved with, there was never an issue that 'Well, we can pay her less because she's a woman,'" he said.
Women CMOs surveyed on average were four years younger, at age 50, than their male counterparts. The average age of CMOs, 54, has remained remarkably consistent over the years for all physician executives surveyed.
Women also had an educational edge over their male colleagues, with 75% reporting they either had or were working on an advanced management degree, compared with 61% of male respondents.