Opportunities for Women in Allied Healthcare

June 27, 2017

Over the last century and a half, women’s roles in the workplace have increased dramatically in all fields, but perhaps one of the most striking improvements is the female presence in hospitals and clinics.

Today – just over a hundred years after being offered full membership to the American Medical Association – female healthcare workers are reaping the benefits of their pioneering mothers and grandmothers.

How Did Women First Break Into the Medical Field?

In the 1850s, the first all-women medical school was founded in Pennsylvania, though a handful of women were admitted to co-ed institutions. Social attitudes of the time, however, dictated that women were morally unfit to study medicine.  

Reproductive health was considered an especially vulgar concept. Ironically, the widely-held belief that women were delicate and timid creatures created a huge need for the first female doctors. Many women, by following these social norms, refused to visit physicians for serious medical issues because they didn’t want to be seen by a male practitioner.

Pioneering Spirits

In the mid-1800s, a handful of medical schools were required to admit female students, but most did their best to bar women from training in clinics and internships. This effectively kept female medical students from receiving their licenses. The Philadelphia Medical Society even went so far as to remove male members who consulted with female physicians.  

Innovative female physicians like the Blackwells began to open clinics in impoverished urban areas. These infirmaries focused on giving the working class adequate treatment, training female medical students, and giving future nurses healthcare education.

In an unexpected twist, medical schools' refusal to allow women medical licenses eventually backfired, as immigrant communities were quick to accept them. Female physicians also began receiving attention from high society’s welfare and charity groups.

Acceptance Into the Boys’ Club

Starting in the 1880s, medical societies throughout the United States began to begrudgingly accept women into their ranks. The upper class helped to ensure that this continued, by endowing medical universities with enormous sums of money on the condition they granted equal admittance to male and female students.

In fact, Johns Hopkins Medical school – one of the most respected institutions in America – was founded in 1898 by one such endowment.

By 1880, over 2000 female doctors were qualified to practice medicine in America. Within two decades, more than 7000 women held the distinction.

Progress in Gender Equality

By 1949, only 5.5% of medical school entrants were female, and they faced an uphill battle against sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Though the signing of the 1963 Equal Pay Act (by President John F. Kennedy) was an enormous stepping stone towards making employers pay their male and female employees the same wage for the same work, it didn’t offer protection for women seeking to attend medical school.

Image by Maura Barbulescu from Pixabay  

In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was passed, effectively outlawing sex discrimination for federal education programs. Progress came quickly and, since 1970, the amount of women holding college degrees has tripled, with their earnings rising as well.

In 1979, full-time female workers earned a mere 62% of what men took home. As of 2016, that figure has risen to an average of about 79%. So while this number is certainly increasing, there’s still a lot to be done in terms of general inequality.

Differences in State Implementation  

Even though most states have implemented laws banning gender discrimination, the gender pay gap varies dramatically. Washington, D.C.’s female workers earn 10.4% less than men, the smallest pay gap in the United States. Following close behind are New York and Delaware, with a wage gap of 11% each. 

Image by NikolayFrolochkin from Pixabay  

In Louisiana in 2014, however, the gender gap was more than triple Washington D.C.’s average, with women paid 35% less than their male equivalents! It’s clear that while equal pay has been ordered by the federal government, there is still a long way to go to close the gender wage gap.

The Wage Gap Widens for Women of Color

Image by skeeze from Pixabay  

Unfortunately, salary disparity increases further for women of color. A 2014 national study initiated by the Senate discovered that Black and Hispanic women are the minority groups most affected by the wage gap in the U.S., earning 65% and 55%, respectively. The national median average of Asian women is 84% of a white male counterpart.

Let's Examine the Medical Sector

With pressure from women in the healthcare industry, centuries of male-centric medicine and treatment has been shifting. In fact, nearly 79% of all American healthcare professionals are women.

Struggles for Physicians and Surgeons

In 1970, only 9% of medical students were women, but within ten years, the rate increased to 25%. By 2016, 49.8% of students enrolling in medical school were female. While this ratio is a tremendous increase from the those of the mid-20th century, rates of pay for female physicians and surgeons are still disproportionate to the earnings of male physicians and surgeons.  

According to the 2015 United States Census, 33% of physicians and surgeons were women, but on average, they received a median salary of $0.74 to each dollar their male counterparts make. This means that these female professionals average $91,000 less per year for performing the same work that their male peers do.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay  

With the cost of medical school running anywhere from $140,000 - $240,000 (which is one sum that doesn’t vary based on gender) that gap represents a sizable dent in newly licensed doctors’ student loans.

Why the Allied Healthcare Sector is Different

The majority of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States are overwhelmingly female, where occupational therapy assistants and physician assistants are composed of 85% and 73% female staff, respectively.

While no American sector has a perfectly balanced gender wage ratio, the field of allied healthcare careers offers some of the smallest gender wage gaps in the country.

Gender Distribution in Healthcare

The allied healthcare sector is made up of more female hospital workers than men. One of the major reasons for this is the stereotype that direct-care work is “women’s work.” Men tend to be more hesitant to take on job responsibilities that involve hands-on care, especially work that involves children and the elderly.

Image by Darko Stojanovic from Pixabay  

According to the 2015 census, in terms of wage equality, some of the best allied health careers are in the diagnostic technology and phlebotomy sectors. Sixty-five out of 100 diagnostic techs are women, and they earn $0.86 for every one dollar that their male equivalents earn. What’s more, 87% of phlebotomists are women and earn 93.9% of their male counterparts’ wages.

How Women Are Shaping the American Medical Sector

From Florence Nightingale to the Blackwell sisters, the American healthcare world has had plenty of women to look up to, and it’s only the beginning!

Judy Faulkner founded Epic, a healthcare software system that’s revolutionized the way database management functions. Under her watchful eye, she’s grown her business into a $1.5 billion industry. Jessica Grosset overhauled Mayo Clinic’s need for paper patient charts and records and saved the system over $40 million while inspiring countless medical centers to do the same.

When it comes to healthcare, there’s always room for improvement. And with more women entering the medical sector than ever before, the shift from outdated schools of thought continues to inspire new and improved technologies and strategies.

Women Entering Allied Healthcare Have Picked the Right Time

Image by Elena Borisova from Pixabay  

Between 2016 and 2060, the American senior population (65 years and older) is set to more than double from 46 million to 98 million. The need for qualified allied healthcare professionals will undoubtedly rise, and along with it, a sector that already has some of the most gender-balanced incomes in the United States. With solid wages, benefits, and job growth, women in the entry-level allied healthcare sector can also expect strong job stability.

To learn more about the job opportunities in the healthcare field, read Top-Paying Allied Health Careers!