Compensation: Are Physicians Better Off Now Than 6 Years Ago?

Carol Peckham


April 01, 2016

In This Article

What's Happening In Physician Compensation?

This year, Medscape posted its sixth annual compensation report. Nearly 19,200 physicians in over 26 specialties responded to this year's survey and, as in every year since 2011, were asked to provide their compensation for patient care. For employed physicians, patient-care compensation includes salary, bonus, and profit-sharing contributions. For partners, this includes earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses but before income tax. They also answered questions that included number of hours worked, minutes spent with each patient, the most rewarding part of their jobs, and practice changes resulting from healthcare reform.

The physician groups at the bottom and top of the earnings list have not changed much over the past 6 years. This year the lowest earners, starting from last place, are pediatricians ($204,000), endocrinologists ($206,000), and family physicians ($207,000). In 2010, those physicians groups were also in the bottom three.

The top three earners this year are orthopedists ($443,000), cardiologists ($410,000), and dermatologists ($381,000). In the 2011 report, orthopedists were also first, followed by radiologists, anesthesiologists, and then cardiologists. Dermatologists were eighth 6 years ago.

Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a national physician search firm, shed light on dermatologists' rise in compensation ranking over the past years. "The demand for dermatologists is driven by patient aging and, to some degree, by patient vanity, as the number of cosmetic procedures increases. The Merritt Hawkins' Survey of Patient Appointment Wait Times indicates it takes an average of 72 days to schedule a dermatology appointment in Boston, 56 days in Minneapolis, and 49 days in Philadelphia—all markets with a relatively high number of physicians per capita. A severe need for the 'nonglamorous' side to dermatology, dealing with skin rashes and burn victims, is also driving compensation."

How Much Has Physician Income Increased Over Time?

In the United States, inflation has grown by only 5.4% since 2011,[2] and according to the Social Security Administration, wages have grown between 2011 and 2014 by an annual average of only 2.77%.[3] The annual average increase for physicians, however, is much higher, according to Medscape surveys. Between 2011 and 2016, male physicians averaged an increase of 6%, and female physicians 7% (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Annual Average Physician Compensation: 2011-2016

In this year's compensation report, when compensation is compared with the prior year's figure, only two specialties—allergists and pulmonologists—experienced an important decrease in income (-11% and -5%, respectively). The compensation of pathologists and plastic surgeons was about stable. The rest of the physicians reported an increase, with the greatest appearing among rheumatologists and internists (12%), followed by nephrologists and dermatologists (11%). This year, several were in the double-digits, and most were above 4%.

When asked about the high increase in internist salaries, Travis Singleton commented, "The compensation increase for internists is really a dog-bites-man story in today's market—it's not a surprise. Traditional inpatient/outpatient internal medicine is an extremely challenging search to fill, because so many internists have migrated to hospitalist roles. The candidate pool is shrinking, while at the same time, over 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day—driving demand for internists, and their compensation, higher. Outside of traditional internal medicine care, we also see huge spikes in the need for geriatric care and home health, which require the full scope of care that internists can provide. In addition, more and more large integrated delivery systems employ internists vs smaller, independent group practices as in years past. They simply have more capital to spend on salaries and more return on investment to gain via downstream revenue than independent groups."

The rise in hospital medicine has been particularly significant for internists. According to a quote by Joe Mill, a senior vice president of the Society of Hospital Medicine, "Hospitalists continue to be in demand, demonstrating a steady increase in compensation. This, combined with the steady growth of the specialty, indicates that US hospitals continue to value the work of hospitalists."[4]


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