Closing the gender pay gap in medicine: An action plan

Closing the gender pay gap in medicine in Canada requires a multipronged approach to overcome systemic bias, including payment and hiring transparency, changes to medical education, better parental leave and more, as outlined in an analysis article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Read the CMAJ paper

In Ontario, male family physicians earn 30% more, and male specialists earn 40% more than their female counterparts on average.

“The gender pay gap exists within every specialty and also between specialties, with physicians in male-dominated specialties receiving higher payments,” write Dr. Tara Kiran, St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, and Dr. Michelle Cohen, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. “The gap in not explained by women working less but, rather, relates more to systemic bias in medical school, hiring, promotion, clinical care arrangements, mechanisms used to pay physicians and societal structures more broadly.”

Research from the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that the pay gap persists after adjusting for physician age, specialty, number of hours worked and other factors. In Canada, the proportion of female physicians has grown from 11% in 1978 to 43% in 2018, but women make up only 8% of Ontario’s highest billing physicians.

“Women in medicine face discrimination throughout their careers,” the authors write. “This discrimination is rooted in the history of women’s exclusion from the profession, along with the institutional legacies of sexism in medical schools, clinical care arrangements, health organizations and the fee system itself. In the early stage of their careers, the ‘hidden curriculum’ both subtly and overtly encourages women trainees to enter specific, often lower-paid, specialties.”

Provincial and territorial governments, institutions and faculties of medicine, professional associations, clinical leaders and individual physicians all have a role to play.

Actions to close the pay gap include:

  • Transparent data, including reporting of physician payments by gender and other demographic characteristics
  • Antioppression training for leadership
  • Addressing gender bias in medical schools and medical curricula
  • Standard, fair, and transparent hiring and promotion practices
  • Actively seeking and encouraging women for leadership roles
  • Better maternity and parental leave programs

“[W]ork to address gender pay equity in medicine cannot be done in isolation,” write the article’s authors. “The medical profession should remain mindful of the relative privilege of physicians in society and support advances for women struggling in precarious, lower-paid work; solutions for the medical profession should not exacerbate broader societal income inequality. Efforts to close the gender pay gap in medicine should embrace efforts to measure and reduce pay gaps related to other intersecting forms of discrimination, including race and disability.”

Listen to the CMAJ podcast interview with Drs. Kiran and Cohen

Opinion: The end of the HIV crisis is within our grasp. We must apply the pandemic spirit to achieve it

By Sean Rourke and Bill Flanagan


Imagine having easy access to a home self-test for COVID-19. With instant results, you’d be able to make informed decisions about your health and decide whether you should stay in or go to work. Research teams around the world are devoting resources to making this a reality, in the hopes of helping to stop the months-old pandemic in its tracks. In the meantime, many Canadian jurisdictions are offering medically administered swab tests with quick turnaround times in accessible ways.

But this inspiring efficiency is in sharp contrast to how the HIV epidemic has been handled in Canada, where the rate of new HIV infections continues to rise – even as the numbers consistently decline in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.

The difference: Canada has not yet approved or implemented a full range of HIV testing options, including self-testing; we have not yet ensured linkage to care for all; and universal and free access to treatment is not consistently available across our country.

About 15 per cent of people living with HIV in Canada are undiagnosed: They have HIV but do not know it because they have not been tested. There is also a significant proportion of people who are diagnosed with HIV but are not in care. Recent estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicate that about 80 per cent of new HIV infections result from gaps in testing and treatment.

This suggests that if more Canadians had access to home self-tests, and were then provided with effective treatment – which can allow people with HIV to live almost normal lifespans, and in almost all cases can entirely suppress the virus so that there is no risk of transmitting it to sexual partners – the reduction in spread could in effect end the HIV epidemic in this country.

COVID-19’s impact on racialized communities

Black, Indigenous and other racialized people make up about half of Toronto’s population, but 83 per cent of the city’s COVID-19 cases says MAP scientist Dr. Andrew Pinto.

In the below interview, he spoke with CTV News about how systemic racism has affected racialized populations during the pandemic.

Most family doctors unaware of centralized intake services available in Toronto

What good are Ontario’s many health services if patients get lost in a maze of telephone numbers and waiting lists trying to access them? That was the dilemma the Toronto health region began tackling ten years ago, when it started introducing centralized intake services to act as a single point of entry for patients or doctors navigating Ontario’s complex healthcare system. A patient could call one of several centralized access lines to find a service that meets their needs, such as programs for senior’s supports, mental health and addictions, or diabetes services. Or, their family doctor can use it to refer them to that service.

Now a new study is exploring how well it works.

The study, published in Healthcare Policy, looked at how often family doctors are using central intake services and also whether family doctors were more likely to be aware of the program if they worked in an inter-professional team setting like a Family Health Team or Community Health Centre.

The study, which surveyed nearly 250 primary care physicians in Toronto, found that most family doctors are not aware of the centralized intake services available in the city. This creates a barrier between patients and the help they need. We spoke with Dr. Tara Kiran, family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital Academic Family Health Team and lead author of the study, about how the findings could improve the system.

U of T prof earns Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous health

“Health information is actually an extension of our sacred kin lines – of the blood and genetic memory that’s held in our DNA. It’s an observation about our health that’s rooted in blood memory. That’s a huge and awesome resource. We can use this to plan and develop thriving communities.”

Prof. Janet Smylie sees a change in the conversation about systemic racism.

The recently appointed Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Health believes she is the first Indigenous person with kin and land ties to what is now known as Canada. She hopes to use the platform to advance the conversation even further.

“First Peoples in Canada receive second class healthcare services that for the greater part have been designed using non-Indigenous models and approaches,” says Smylie, a University of Toronto professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine.

She is pleased about the award but prepared for the work ahead, which blends her medical and research background. From health care to research, it is all “relational.”

“I have the privilege and opportunity to develop those relationships with patients and carry that into my public health research and in Indigenous communities. Relationality, from my perspective, as a Métis woman is foundational to Indigenous social systems. The key, in my mind, is to never underestimate how important those relationships are,” she says.