The frequently reported and persistent gender gap is not limited to Australia’s top companies and board rooms—we still have a long way to go in the health sector, particularly in medical specialisations such as cardiology.
For the first time, Monash University researcher and MonashHeart interventional cardiologist Dr Sarah Zaman has revealed the extent of the gender and pay gap in her profession, as well as the consequent and significant health implications for women with heart disease.
Until now, Australian gender diversity data in this field has been extremely limited. Published recently in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology(JACC), lead author Dr Zaman has exposed the shocking disparity.
While Dr Zaman’s study showed that from a total of 121,211 practising medical practitioners in Australia and New Zealand, 42 per cent were female, women comprised significantly lower proportions of overall specialists.
“Only 15 per cent of cardiologists in Australia and New Zealand are women, and a mere 4.8 per cent are interventional cardiologists,” Dr Zaman said.
“In Australia, 3 out of 8 states and territories had no female interventional cardiologists and 17 out of 19 (89 per cent) operated at a site with no other female interventional cardiologist.”
The study also revealed the proportion of female catheterization laboratory directors in public hospitals was significantly lower than male directors (3.4% versus 96.6%).
The average annual taxable income for 2015-16 for female cardiologists was AUD$266,805, just over half of the income of male cardiologists at AUD$484,086.
Dr Zaman said the gender gap in interventional cardiology impacts on female students, trainees, physicians, cardiologists, and our patients.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women and many studies indicate sub-optimal treatment and outcomes of female patients with heart disease in comparison to men.”
“In cardiovascular and interventional research, a low proportion of women are recruited to clinical trials, leading to underpowered gender-based analysis,” Dr Zaman said.
“Female cardiologists may be more aware of the differences in coronary disease between men and women and advocate for recruitment of female patients in clinical trials and gender-focused research.”
“Improving gender equality within cardiology has been identified as a powerful means to improve cardiovascular disease outcomes in women.”
“After subject matter itself, the two most commonly identified factors guiding trainees subspecialty selection, are a supportive role model and positive encouragement,” Dr Zaman said.
Cardiology literature is increasingly identifying the need for change, the value of diversity, and the uncomfortable silence that has historically existed regarding workplace disparity.
“Identifying the issue and its magnitude is the first step in addressing the significant
gender disparity within the cardiology and interventional cardiology community,” Dr Zaman said.
“In interventional cardiology, as a result of gender inequality we are likely to have lost potential leaders and innovators who could have improved outcomes for our patients and provided role models for trainee doctors to become interventional cardiologists.”
“We need to encourage a dialogue to identify barriers and provide potential solutions to empower more women to join this highly rewarding specialty.”