Oncologists'  Income in 2017 About the Same as Last Year

Pam Harrison

April 12, 2017

Compensation for oncologists working in the United States in 2017 remains virtually the same as it was last year, and the average income of $330,000 per year positions them in the middle of the pack of all specialties, according to data in the latest Medscape Physician Compensation Report.

Those specializing in orthopedics were the top earners, at $489,000, followed by plastic surgeons, at $440,000, and cardiologists, at $410,000. The lowest incomes were reported by pediatricians, at $202,000 a year, and those working in family medicine, at $209,000 per year.

Within oncology, there is quite a bit of variation. Where oncologists practice and whether or not they are self-employed make a substantial difference to their income. For example, the highest average compensation was reported by oncologists in the North Central region of the United States, at $424,000.

This was followed by those working in the southwest, at $367,000, and the southeast at $359,000. Compensation levels were lower among those working in the mid-Atlantic region, at $298,000; the northwest, at $292,000, and the west, at $284,000. The west includes Alaska and Hawaii.

Physicians who are employed by a hospital or other organization earn less than those who are self-employed, trading higher salary fees for less time dealing with administrative and business issues, the survey authors report. Self-employed oncologists earned 46% more than their employed peers, at $423,000 vs $290,000, respectively.

The 2017 report shows that the income gap between men and women has narrowed dramatically from last year. In 2016, female oncologists made $59,000 less than male counterparts.

This year, full-time male oncologists earned only 8% more than their female peers, reporting an income of $337,000 compared to $312,000 for female oncologists.

Fewer oncologists than other specialists work part time (less than 40 hours a week), with only 9% of female and 6% of male oncologists noting that they work part time.

Overall, more than half (57%) of all oncologists surveyed believed they are fairly compensated, placing them somewhere near the top third of all physicians. (At the bottom of the list were nephrologists and endocrinologists, although even among these groups, 40% felt they are fairly compensated.)

When oncologists who said that they were not satisfied with their compensation were asked how large an increase they felt they deserved, just more than one third indicated that they'd like to see an increase of between 11% to 20%; 18% indicated that their income should be increased by some 75%.

Influx of Patients

More than 45% of oncologists surveyed reported they had experienced an influx of patients as a result of the Affordable Care Act. This compared with 30% of oncologists surveyed in 2016.

The majority (80%) of oncologists also said they will continue to take and treat Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Oncologists appear to feel responsible for patients who are not covered well by insurance plans. Only 18% of those surveyed indicated they would drop insurers who pay poorly. (This question did not apply to physicians employed by hospitals or other organizations.)

There was a notable increase in the percentage of all survey respondents who participated in health insurance exchanges, at 37% in 2017, up from 19% in 2016. Among oncologists, 40% indicated they planned to participate in these exchanges, which is nearly double the 22% who said they would do so last year.

Participation in these health insurance exchanges appeared to have little effect on income. Approximately half of the oncologists surveyed said their participation made little difference to their income.

The high cost of providing oncology care to patients remains a concern for the specialty overall, with 86% of this year's participants reporting that they regularly or occasionally discuss the cost of treatment with patients.

Some 43% of survey respondents also indicated they spend more than 45 hours a week with patients — about the same as last year. Most oncologists spend between 13 and 24 minutes with each patient.

According to this year's Medscape Lifestyle report, bureaucratic tasks remain the primary cause of burnout among physicians — again, the same finding as last year. More than half of all physicians surveyed, at 56%, indicated they spent 10 hours or more a week on paperwork and administration.

Oncologists spent even more time on paperwork than other specialists, with almost two thirds of oncologists indicating they devote 10 hours or more a week to administrative tasks.

On the plus side of the ledger, more than one third of those surveyed noted that their relationship with and gratitude from patients is the most rewarding aspect of their work.

About one quarter said that the most appealing aspect of being an oncologist is feeling that they are good at what they do and that they feel they do it well.

One quarter of survey respondents said rules and regulations were the most challenging aspect of their work; 22% said it was having to work longer hours for less money.

For 15% of respondents, having to work with an electronic health record (EHR) system was the biggest challenge, with a lower but relatively equal percentage of respondents indicating that getting fair reimbursement from Medicare and other insurers and dealing with difficult patients was what made the job toughest for them.

Asked if they would choose medicine again as a profession, 81% of oncologists answered yes — the fifth highest percentage of all physicians and about the same percentage as was reported this year by psychiatrists and rheumatologists.

Of those who would choose medicine again, 95% of oncologists would pick their own specialty again — the same percentage as orthopedic specialists.

Dermatologists were just slightly most satisfied with their choice of specialty. Some 96% of dermatologists indicated they would chose dermatology again.

Medscape Oncologist Compensation Report 2017. Published online April 12, 2017.

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