Medscape Report: US Oncologists' Pay Increased by $27,000

Nick Mulcahy

April 04, 2016

Oncologists in the United States earn an average of $329,000 in annual pay for patient care, according to the 2016 Medscape Physician Compensation Report, which provides the most recent salary data from nearly 20,000 doctors and 26 specialties.

This represents an 8% increase over last year (average 2015 income, $302,000), and was the fourth largest increase among all physicians this year.

Oncologists were the ninth highest earners among the specialties participating in the 2016 report, up from last year's eleventh place finish.

Orthopedists and cardiologists were numbers one and two this year (with average annual incomes of $443,000 and $410,000, respectively), as they were last year.

Analysis of the data collected specifically on oncologists shows that those making the most money work in outpatient clinics ($453,000) and single-specialty group practices ($391,000). This is a change from last year, when earnings were highest for oncologists in multi- and single-specialty groups ($354,000 and $344,000, respectively).

This year, male oncologists earned $344,000, which is a dramatic $59,000 more than the $285,000 earned by their female peers.

A labor force expert had no explanation for the difference. "The persistence of these disparities is puzzling because we see no contractual bias from our clients against female candidates," said Travis Singleton, from Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruiting firm.

However, being employed or self-employed appeared to play a role in the gender disparity in oncologists' salaries.

Self-employed female oncologists earned $390,000, which is 97% of the $402,000 earned by men. However, employed female oncologists' earned $261,000, which is 84% of the $312,000 that their male counterparts earned.

Geographic supply and demand continue to play a role in compensation.

For example, this year, the highest earnings for oncologists were reported in the North Central region ($414,000), which includes the Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. The next most highly compensated regions were the Great Lakes ($374,000) and the Southeast ($358,000). The lowest were the well-populated regions of the West ($267,000) and Northeast ($279,000).

Only 55% of oncologists believe they are fairly compensated, which is in the middle of the pack. Urologists (42%) and allergists and endocrinologists (both 43%) feel most underpaid. Notably, dermatologists (66%) feel most fairly compensated and are also the third highest earners this year.

Who you work for (yourself or others) influences your sense of fair pay.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of employed male oncologists and more than three-quarters (77%) of employed female oncologists report being fairly compensated, compared with only 34% and 19%, respectively, of their self-employed counterparts.

Oncologists do not appear to like their career choice as much as in the past.

Five years ago, in the 2011 Medscape report, 76% of oncologists said they would choose medicine again, and 79% would select their own specialty. This year, fewer oncologists (68%) would choose medicine, and fewer still (54%) their own specialty.

However, at the same time, oncologists have a high level of career satisfaction, according to the report.

To determine the level of general career satisfaction, Medscape averaged the percentage of oncologists who again would choose medicine, those who would choose their own specialty, and those who thought they were fairly compensated.

At 59%, oncologists rank second from the top among all physicians, trailing only dermatologists.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had an impact on practice, but not overwhelmingly. Less than one-third (30%) of oncologists report an influx of patients because of the ACA.

Oncologists continue to take new and current Medicare and Medicaid patients. This year, 81% of self-employed and 87% of employed oncologists say they are continuing to take these patients; both figures are higher than last year.

The high cost of cancer care continues to be a concern in the United States. In fact, 84% of oncologists say they discuss the cost of treatment with patients, and 33% do so regularly. However, 11% of oncologists said they do not discuss the costs of treatments because they do not know them, and 5% said they do not discuss costs because they feel that such discussions are inappropriate.

Forty-five percent of oncologists spend 30 to 45 hours per week seeing patients.

Female oncologists spend more time with patients. In Medscape's report, 51% of men and 76% of women spent 17 minutes or more with patients (these data comes from office-based physicians only).

Relationships with patients are a big reward for many oncologists; 41% believe that relationships with patients are a major source of satisfaction. The second highest score for this satisfaction question was the 26% of oncologists who cited "being very good at their job."

Making a dent in job satisfaction, however, are bureaucratic tasks, which were found to be the prime cause of physician burnout in this year's Medscape Lifestyle Report. Second was spending too many hours at work.

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