CHICAGO -- Women physician-scientists are paid much less than their male counterparts, researchers found, with a salary difference that over the course of a career could pay for a college education, a spacious house, or a retirement nest egg.

To get the fairest comparison, the study authors took into account work hours, academic titles, medical specialties, age and other factors that influence salaries.

They included only doctors who were involved in research at U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals, all at the same stage in their careers. And they still found men's average yearly salaries were at least $12,000 higher than women's. Over a 30-year career, that adds up to more than $350,000.

The results are sobering and "disappointing. I think we have much work to do," said lead author Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a breast cancer radiation specialist and researcher at the University of Michigan.

Why the big disparity? Two women who have been prominent in medical research say this: Men tend to be more aggressive at self-promoting and asking for pay raises.

"Male faculty members are willing to negotiate more aggressively. It may be social and cultural. It seems to be fairly deep-rooted," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Manson, who as a division chief helps makes salary decisions, says men much more frequently than women ask her for salary increases and promotions.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, former head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agrees.

Gerberding did infectious disease research at the University of California at San Francisco before joining the CDC and says early in her career she was bothered that relatively few women held high-paying leadership positions in academic medicine.

"There were some moments when I was angry, but that was motivating. I thought it was an intolerable situation and it just motivated me to work harder," said Gerberding, who left CDC in 2009 and now heads Merck & Co.'s vaccine unit.

The new study did find more women in less lucrative specialties, including pediatrics and family medicine, and more men in the highest-paying fields, including heart surgery and radiology.

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