Examining the Gap: Compensation Disparities between Male and Female Physician Assistants



      Compensation disparities between men and women have been problematic for decades, and there is considerable evidence that the gap cannot be entirely explained by nongender factors. The current study examined the compensation gap in the physician assistant (PA) profession.


      Compensation data from 2014 was collected by the American Academy of PAs in 2015. Practice variables, including experience, specialty, and hours worked, were controlled for in an ordinary least-squares sequential regression model to examine whether there remained a disparity in total compensation. In addition, the absolute disparity in compensation was compared with historical data collected by American Academy of PAs over the previous 1.5 decades.


      Without controlling for practice variables, a total compensation disparity of $16,052 existed between men and women in the PA profession. Even after PA practice variables were controlled for, a total compensation disparity of $9,695 remained between men and women (95% confidence interval, $8,438–$10,952). A 17-year trend indicates the absolute disparity between men and women has not lessened, although the disparity as a percent of male compensation has decreased in recent years.


      There remain challenges to ensuring pay equality in the PA profession. Even when compensation-relevant factors such as experience, hours worked, specialty, postgraduate training, region, and call are controlled for, there is still a substantial gender disparity in PA compensation. Remedies that may address this pay inequality include raising awareness of compensation disparities, teaching effective negotiation skills, assisting employers as they develop equitable compensation plans, having less reliance on past salary in position negotiation, and professional associations advocating for policies that support equal wages and opportunities, regardless of personal characteristics.
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      Noël Smith, MA, is the Senior Director, PA and Industry Research and Analysis at the American Academy of PAs (AAPA). Her research addresses current issues faced by the PA workforce, such as gender wage disparities.


      James F. Cawley, MPH, PA-C, DHL (hon), is a Professor in the Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University. His research involves PAs and health workforce policy.


      Timothy C. McCall, PhD, is a Research Analyst at the American Academy of PAs (AAPA). His research has focused on social psychological issues including social cognition and political psychology as well as the PA workforce.