2015 Compensation Report Describes Residents' Toughest Issues

Neil Chesanow


July 22, 2015

In This Article

A Positive Outlook—But Will It Last?

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once quipped that youth is wasted on the young. But maybe not in the case of today's medical residents. While many practicing physicians express dissatisfaction with their compensation and much more about the state of medicine in the United States, the new generation of doctors, who are still in residency, feel decidedly positive and optimistic about their future as physicians, economically and otherwise.

This was the overarching question posed by Medscape's 2015 Residents Salary & Debt Report: Are residents happy? More than 1700 residents in 24 specialties took part in an online survey from May 14, 2015, through June 22, 2015. All participants were enrolled in a US medical residency program. They shared details of their salaries, debt, personal treatment by attending physicians, relationships with nurses and physician assistants, quality of their learning experience, hours worked, and even how much scut work they were asked to perform.

The bottom line: Even in response to questions where some—or a lot of—discontent might have been expected and understandable, it remained scant. By and large, the upcoming generation of doctors entered residency with their eyes open, economically and in most other respects, and are glad they did.

But will their positive opinions on money and medicine continue after they leave residency? Once they become practicing physicians, today's residents may sometimes find themselves in a dramatically changed situation regarding their compensation that may reshape their youthful views on the subject. Already in our current survey we are seeing hints of what is to come. Let's take a look.

Compensation Satisfaction—For Now

In 2015, the average resident salary was $55,400, nearly the same as that reported in Medscape's 2014 Residents Salary & Debt Report ($55,300). Of the 24 specialties ranked, critical care residents earned the most ($62,000) and internal medicine and family medicine residents the least ($53,000), rankings that were unchanged from 2014.

Nearly two thirds (62%) of the residents we surveyed reported that they considered their compensation fair. This is higher than what was reported by practicing physicians; fewer than one half (47%) of primary care physicians feel fairly compensated, and 50% of specialists feel fairly compensated.

How residents will feel about their compensation when they become practicing physicians remains to be seen. The three top-paying resident specialties—critical care, oncology, and pulmonary medicine—were only in the middle of the pack of salaries for established physicians in our 2015 Physician Compensation Report.

This year, male and female residents averaged virtually the same salary ($56,000 and $55,000, respectively). In our 2014 report, the earnings gap was also slight, with male residents averaging $56,000 and female residents averaging $54,000.

Yet compensation satisfaction by gender appears to have grown significantly compared with last year. In 2015, 60% of male residents and 65% of female residents surveyed felt fairly compensated. In contrast, in our 2014 report, only 48% of male residents and only 57% of female residents felt the same.

But whether a majority of female residents will continue to feel fairly compensated as practicing physicians is an open question. In our 2015 Physician Compensation Report, self-employed male physicians reported earning $65,000 more than their female counterparts ($324,000 vs $259,000), and employed male physicians reported earning $46,000 more than their female colleagues ($249,000 vs 203,000).

However, part of this wage discrepancy is undoubtedly due to the fact that women tend to gravitate to primary care and other lower-paying specialties; fewer women are in the highest-paid specialties.

Salaries that residents earn based on their location will also change substantially when they become practicing physicians, our 2015 reports show. For example, residents in the Northeast took home the top salaries in our 2015 Residents Salary & Debt Report, averaging $62,000; in 2014, they earned $61,000, which placed them second. Residents in the Northwest ranked number two in earnings this year, averaging $57,000; however, in 2014, they placed first. Residents in the Southeast earned the least this year and last ($51,000 and $50,000, respectively).

But this bears little relation to their future earning potential. In our 2015 Physician Compensation Report, practicing physicians in the Northwest were the highest earners, but their colleagues in the Northeast ranked last (the difference in their average salaries was $28,000), and those in the Great Lakes, North Central, South Central, and Southeast regions were in a neck-and-neck race (within $3000 of each other) for the third-highest compensation.


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