File photo courtesy: Pixabay.

A study from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto finds female surgeons earn approximately 24 per cent less per hour than male surgeons.

Past research has attributed the gender pay gap in medicine to differences in work styles. One proposed solution was the implementation of a “fee-for-service” pay system, where physicians are compensated based on the number of hours worked and the level of difficulty a surgery entails.

The study’s authors say their findings challenge the idea that the system is working.

For their study, researchers looked at 1.5 million surgical procedures conducted by 3,275 surgeons in the province of Ontario between 2014 and 2016.

The gap was found to persist even when male and female surgeons worked equal hours. It was also found that female surgeons had fewer opportunities to perform the highest-paid procedures.

Equal work ≠ equal pay

Even after researchers adjusted for specialty, the pay gap remained The Canadian Press reports (CP). The largest mean difference appears to be in cardiothoracic surgery, which logged a discrepancy of $79.23 (CAD) per hour. The second-highest gap was in orthopedic surgery at $73.66 per hour.

“Our findings show the drivers of financial and remuneration differences for men and women in surgery and dispels the myth that women don’t earn as much because they don’t work as hard,” Dr. Nancy Baxter, author of the study and a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s, said in a statement.

Male surgeons out-earned their female counterparts even in fields dominated by women, like gyaenocology. In that area, CP reports a mean difference of $22.90 per hour.

“Female surgeons are working in a system that wasn’t designed to support them. None of the disparities are due to choices — women are not choosing to make less — and we hope that the findings highlight the need for a solution,” said Dr. Fahima Dossa, co-lead author and general surgery resident at St. Michael’s.

The study doesn’t identify why women aren’t being offered equal opportunities. Bassa and Dossa hypothesize part of the discrepancy could be due to biases in fee-setting and referral procedures.

The paper was published on October 2 in JAMA Surgery.