Physician Earnings: Income Is Up, Morale Is Split

Mark Crane


April 25, 2013

In This Article

Which Specialties Earn the Most?

For the third consecutive year, orthopedic surgeons earned the most (or were tied for the most), with a mean income of $405,000, and they posted a whopping 27% increase in compensation. Radiologists, who had been tied for the top spot since 2010, fell to third place, at $349,000. Cardiologists moved up from third place to second, with a mean income of $357,000. Gastroenterologists were fourth, at $342,000, whereas urologists were fifth, at $340,000. Anesthesiologists, who came in fourth the previous 2 years, fell to sixth place at $337,000.

Internists earned a mean $185,000 and posted a 9% boost in income from the prior year. Family physicians earned $175,000 and had a 5% gain. Pediatricians earned $173,000 and had a 7% jump. Diabetes physician/endocrinologists ($178,000) saw their incomes decline by 3%, and oncologists ($278,000) had a decline of 4%.

"As the economy has gotten somewhat stronger, many people who have been putting off elective procedures are now getting them," said Tommy Bohannon. "As the population ages, more knees and hips are giving out and need to be fixed. That helps explain the increase for orthopedists. And it isn't surprising that primary care income is going up. There's an intense doctor shortage, and healthcare reform is giving them a bit of a boost for Medicare patients." However, oncologists have been hit pretty hard with reimbursement cuts for chemotherapy, he added.

"Physicians often tend to be 'income targeters,'" said Judy Aburmishan, CPA, a partner in FGMK, LLC in Chicago, Illinois, a firm that represents physicians and other healthcare providers. "That means that they expect to make a certain amount of money. If reimbursements are going down, they'll work harder, seeing more patients and putting in more hours, to increase volume."

"Many more physicians are offering ancillary services to add a cash type of payment to their practices," she said. Indeed, Medscape's survey found that 19% of all physicians have added ancillary services to their practices. That percentage varies by specialty: For example, 30% of anesthesiologists are adding ancillary services, compared with 19% of endocrinologists and 20% of internists.

The Gender Gap Is Narrowing

Male physicians ($259,000) across all specialties earn about 30% more than female doctors ($199,000). This represents a significant narrowing of the pay disparity. In last year's survey, male doctors earned 40% more than female doctors.

In primary care, male doctors ($189,000) earn 17% more than female colleagues ($161,000). The gap was 23% the year before.

"As more doctors start working regular set hours for large health systems, there's little variance in income based on sex," said Judy Aburmishan.

"The disparity in hours worked and patients seen per day is also narrowing," said Tommy Bohannon. "In the employed model, the gap is narrowing not because female doctors are seeing more patients. It's that men are working fewer hours because of greater emphasis on quality of life."

One reason for the gap, however, is that there are fewer women in the higher-paying specialties. For example, in orthopedics (a high-paying specialty), only 9% of survey respondents were women, whereas in pediatrics (a lower-paying specialty), 53% of survey respondents were women.