While the field of medicine was once dominated by men, female physicians now make up about one-third of the physician work force — and over half of all medical school graduates are women.
As it turns out, research suggests that men and women practice medicine differently — and one group is having more success than the other.
A new study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that female doctors working in hospitals have lower 30-day patient mortality and readmission rates.
What, exactly, does that mean? Well, according to according to researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, patients with female physicians are less likely to die.
Scientists reviewed 1.5 million 30-day hospitalizations of elderly Medicare patients taking place between 2011 and 2014. Within that time period, patients treated by female physicians had lower mortality rates than patients with male physicians (11.07 and 11.49 percent, respectively). Patients treated by female doctors also had lower readmission rates (15.02 percent compared to 15.57 percent).
While the percentage differences between patient groups may seem insignificant, the number of lives affected is, indeed, significant.
According to the study's authors, "32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians [each year]."
And how do we account for the gap in quality of care? Previous studies have found that female doctors are more likely to follow clinical guidelines, offer preventative care, and recommend psychological counseling to patients.
But more research will be necessary to determine the specifics. "Understanding exactly why these differences in care quality and practice patterns exist may provide valuable insights into improving quality of care for all patients, irrespective of who provides their care," the study's authors wrote.
Despite the difference in patient outcomes, female doctors are still paid less, on average, than male doctors.
In an editorial piece accompanying the study, doctors from the University of California, San Francisco noted that female academic physicians are also less likely to ascend to the rank of full professor than men.
However, some doctors believe that these new findings will catalyze equal pay for women.
With an ever-increasing focus on pay for performance, women are likely to begin making more money in the field — eventually narrowing the gender wage gap plaguing medicine.
As the doctors wrote in their editorial:
These findings that female internists provide higher quality care for hospitalized patients yet are promoted, supported, and paid less than male peers in the academic setting should push us to create systems that promote equity in start-up packages, career advancement, and remuneration for all physicians.