Doctors' Incomes Are on the Rise -- Is Yours? Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2017

Leigh Page


April 04, 2017

In This Article

A Somewhat Disappointing Year for PCPs

In contrast to the income boom for specialists, last year's report was a bit disappointing for primary care physicians' income. Pediatrics, internal medicine, and family medicine were all close to the same income from the prior year.

This was a reversal from their performance in the 2016 report, when internists were up 12%, pediatricians up 7%, and family physicians (FPs) up 6%.

In the Medscape report, PCPs seemed to generally accept their relatively low earnings and lower increases in 2017.

The report shows that 53% of family physicians, 52% of pediatricians, and 49% of internists felt that they were fairly compensated, which places them in the middle of the pack. Satisfaction rates for orthopedists (47%) and plastic surgeons (52%) were about the same, even though they are seeing double-digit increases this year and earn much more money than PCPs.

In the report, those most likely to feel fairly compensated are emergency physicians (68%), dermatologists (65%), and psychiatrists (64%), while physicians in the least-likely-to-be-satisfied category were nephrologists (41%), endocrinologists (44%), and urologists (47%).

For physicians unsatisfied with their compensation, Medscape also asked how much they felt they deserved to earn. Fully 79% of primary care physicians felt that they should be earning from 11% to 50% more than they currently do, with 5% believing that they should be earning double their income. Among specialists, 74% feel that they should be earning from 11% to 50% more, and 7% believe that their income should be more than twice as much.

Self-employed PCPs Lose More Ground

While self-employed specialists continue to earn more than their employed colleagues, the income gap between self-employed and employed PCPs is narrowing, as employers continue to bid up employed physicians' salaries.

Overall, self-employed physicians earn 28% more than employed physicians: $343,000 versus $269,000 for employed physicians. That 28% gap was the same among specialists: $368,000 for self-employed specialists versus $287,000 for their employed counterparts.

But the gap in primary care was considerably narrower, with self-employed PCPs earning $223,000 versus $214,000 for employed PCPs. What's more, the primary care gap has narrowed from 2015.

Two phenomena have been narrowing the primary care gap. On one hand, self-employed PCPs saw a 2.6% decline in income from 2016 to 2017, according to the survey. Meanwhile, employers have been bidding up salaries for employed PCPs.

The federal government's planned switch to value-based care, Singleton says, requires having a large base of PCPs, so hospitals and health systems have been eagerly building a "critical mass" of PCPs.

In the past few years, hospitals that used to ask Merritt Hawkins to search for two or three new PCPs at a time are now asking for "20, 30, even 100 primary care physicians at one time," Singleton says. The hiring boom is not limited to hospitals and health systems, he says. Urgent care centers, federally qualified health centers, private equity firms, group practices, and even some solo practices are also hiring physicians.

However, it is much easier for employed than self-employed physicians to leave their jobs. "You don't own the building, equipment, patient panels," he says. Very few employers have been enforcing non-compete clauses.

What do you think about the state of physician compensation? Let us know in the comments section.


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