Medscape resident survey, embarrassingly interpreted, again

Medscape’s newest resident compensations survey is out and discussed in “Most Residents Say They Deserve Big Raise, Survey Shows.”

The main thrust is fine, discussing that today’s residents feel more underpaid than generations past, which is no surprise given the proliferation of mid-levels who work alongside them making considerably more (and likely combined with the envy caused by their better-off friends parading happily on social media [when #YOLO, #FOMO can be devastating]).

But then this:

Resident salaries in 2017 vary considerably by specialty. Trainees in hematology lead the pack, at $69,000, while family medicine residents bring up the rear, at $54,000.

The gender gap in resident pay is negligible. Men averaged $57,400 or 1.2% more than women, who received $56,700.

Ugh. Who writes up these Medscape survey articles? I even wrote about the same misleading fake resident gender pay gap back in 2014.

To summarize:

All trainee salaries are based on PGY year and location. There are absolutely no differences between specialties or genders of trainees of the same seniority. Any differences are related to the differing duration of training between specialties as well as the geographic spread of the relatively small sample.

Ultimately, any attempt to differentiate annual salaries by specialty is intrinsically misleading. Any differences that can be created between genders or specialties are simply reflective of different numbers of respondents at different levels of seniority within the PGY scale. The difference between a family practice resident and a “hematology resident” is that almost every family medicine resident finishes in three years while any hematology fellow will be at least a PGY4 or higher. The fact that hematology “led the pack” and not—let’s say—cardiology or gastroenterology just means of the respondents of the survey, slightly more senior hematology fellows answered compared to their other IM-fellowship peers.

There is a real gender wage gap in medicine, but it does not apply to residency. As I discussed almost exactly three years ago, any differences in gender pay during training are related to the known disparities in gender representation among certain fields, particularly surgical specialties (which have longer training lengths and thus get “paid more”). Now, if we want to talk about the “gender surgeon gap,” that would be a different and worthy story. Because there are fields in which women are underrepresented—that’s the story when it comes to residency. Not a misinterpretation of the statistics.

This sort of willfully misleading interpretation has no place on a website that caters to physicians. Medscape should know better. And, reading some of the comments suggests that some readers (primarily the nonphysicians) do latch on to these “differences” despite simply being a distraction from the real issues at play.

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