Practice Points: Selling to the Woman Physician

Edition: January 2013 - Vol 21 Number 01
Article#: 4159
Author: Laurie Morgan, Capko & Company

Earlier this year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed what many women physicians probably already suspected: even when controlling for specialty, years of experience, work hours and other compensation-influencing differences, women doctors earn about $12,000 per year less than their male counterparts. With factors like specialty choice eliminated from the calculation, the researchers – and physicians – were left scratching their heads over what could be behind the differential.

The researchers behind the study suspect that unconscious biases are behind the physician pay gap. The lead author of the study, Reshma Jagsi, M.D., DPhil, noted that, “Studies show men and women are both more likely to hire a man than a woman and to give credit to a man.” As is often the case in business careers, too, the study suggests that woman may manage their careers less advantageously than men do. For example, Jagsi found that the women in her study had changed jobs less frequently than the men, perhaps missing out on pay raises or additional leverage with their employers.

Changing dynamics

As a distributor rep, should you be concerned about unconscious bias favoring male physicians? If you’re not correcting for it in your sales efforts, you might be missing out on a big opportunity. The percentage of women physicians has climbed steadily in recent years, and women now make up nearly half of the med student population. What’s more, 44 percent of patients aged 55 and up stated they preferred a female physician in a recent Harris Interactive/Vitals.com study – and, among younger patients, more than half preferred a woman physician. Women physicians provide extensive – and increasing – reach to your end customers.

The different work priorities of many female physicians present an opportunity for a creative rep.

  • Recognize their expertise. In many practices, a mid-level provider is the primary contact for reps. This can be a time-saver for both busy physicians and reps – but, there may be a missed opportunity to provide physicians occasional, relevant attention, especially for women physicians in primary care. As a study in the Journal of Human Capital reported, women physicians in primary care would actually be better off financially if they’d chosen a PA career path instead of an MD. With malaise among primary care doctors already widely reported, news like this can’t help the morale of women pediatricians, family practitioners and internists – but, those who call on them can help, for example by setting up occasional physician-only meetings that acknowledge their additional training.


  • Help them with networking. Women physicians – like women in businesses of all types – may find networking to boost their careers comes less naturally. Yet pharmaceutical meetings provide a wonderful opportunity for physicians to connect while learning important information for their practices. Setting up meetings for women physicians only, and setting aside time explicitly for networking, can be a great way to help busy female doctors squeeze in this critical career activity. Remember, too, that for women with young families, meetings in the evening may simply be impossible – but a weekend morning might be ideal. If you don’t know whether alternative meeting times would appeal to your female clients, be sure to ask! And, if a new physician comes to town, you can also help her build her network by introducing her to other doctors you work with.


  • Pass along job information. As the JAMA study indicated, women physicians may be less likely to pursue career opportunities that can boost their long-term income. Reps in the field may be among the first to hear about new opportunities – and your access to practices provides you with the opportunity to share this valuable information.