Female physicians missing out on pharma sponsorship

By Geir O'Rourke

28 Aug 2023

Are female doctors being treated differently by pharmaceutical companies than their male colleagues? And does that matter?

The questions have arisen in the wake of research out of New Zealand showing women received less than a third of industry payments disbursed in the country and only a quarter of speaker and educator fees.

Published in the MJA, the study was based on reports voluntarily released by eight pharmaceutical companies for 2021, the first year of a new Kiwi scheme encouraging the sector to disclose its financial support to health professionals.

All up, 283 so-called ‘transfers of value’ were reported, with 197 or 70% being distributed among 119 men.

By contrast, only 55 female doctors received a payment over the year, with 86 payments going to  women in total.

This was despite women comprising 47% of New Zealand’s medical workforce, the study author noted in the MJA (link here).

Interestingly, while female doctors were less likely to benefit from industry support, median payments to women were higher at NZ$975 ($900 AUD) versus NZ$733 ($675 AUD) for males.

The women also tended to be slightly earlier in their careers than the men receiving industry support (26 years post-graduation versus 30 years post-graduation), the research found.

On the other hand, female doctors received 38% of meeting attendance cost payments (26 of 69 payments), but only 25% of those for speaker and educator fees (24 of 97 payments).

Female physicians received fewer support payments from pharmaceutical companies than their male colleagues, and a larger proportion of payments to women subsidised event attendance rather than representative activities, the author noted.

“The low proportion of speaker or educator fee payments to female physicians could indicate fewer women in leadership roles, which could be related to their slightly shorter mean period of professional experience,” they suggested.

“The median payment level, however, was similar for men and women. Transparency of pharmaceutical company support provides an opportunity to assess gender differences, and should encourage companies to consider social equity when making funding decisions,” the author concluded.

Specialty All grants Grants to male physicians Grants to female physicians
Internal medicine (all) 210 152 (73%) 58 (28%)
Gastroenterology 55 40 (73%) 15 (27%)
Respiratory medicine 49 42 (86%) 7 (14%)
Endocrinology 42 26 (62%) 16 (38%)
Haematology 29 17 (59%) 12 (41%)
Rheumatology 20 17 (85%) 3 (15%)
Infectious disease/immunology 9 8 (89%) 1 (11%)
Medical oncology 5 2 (40%) 3 (60%)
General medicine 1 0 1 (100%)


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