Rheumatologists' Pay Up Slightly: Still Trails Most Specialties

Nicola M. Parry, DVM

April 13, 2017

In terms of compensation, rheumatologists' rank in the lower third of physician specialties, according to the latest Medscape Physician Compensation Report. Rheumatologists reported an average overall compensation of $235,000 compared with the top earners, orthopedists (at $489,000), and the lowest earners, pediatricians (at $202,000).

Among the specialties that reported an annual pay increase from 2016, rheumatologists also ranked among those that received the lowest boost, reporting only a 1% rise. Health insurance exchanges were cited as one potential contributing factor here, with 16% of rheumatologists reporting that their pay had dropped because of the exchanges.

In contrast, plastic surgeons saw the largest gain in annual pay, at 24%, whereas pediatricians reported a 1% decrease in pay.

However, despite the low pay increase, 42% of rheumatologists said they had an increase in patient volume because of the Affordable Care Act, which is a 5% increase from last year.

Only 48% of rheumatologist respondents reported feeling fairly compensated for their work. And among those who were not satisfied, 37% felt they deserved an 11% to 25% increase, whereas 11% believed an increase of more than 75% to be in order.

The data also once again highlight the stubborn gender pay gap that lingers among physicians. Full-time male rheumatologists substantially out-earned their female counterparts, as they have in all other years, this time by 21%, at $247,000 vs $204,000. Among all specialties, the pay gap between the average annual earnings of male and female physicians ($345,000 vs $251,000) increased by 4% from 2016. However, the relatively smaller percentage of women in some of the higher-paying specialties could influence this gap.

Interestingly, however, this gender gap was reversed with respect to whether rheumatologists aim for promotion. Among employed rheumatologists (48%), 43% of men indicated that they are seeking a promotion compared with 59% of women.

Findings from this year's Medscape Lifestyle Report have once again highlighted having too many bureaucratic tasks as the primary reason for burnout among physicians. According to the data, more than half (56%) of physicians spend 10 hours or more per week on paperwork and administration; this percentage has risen from 35% in 2014. And among the physician specialties, rheumatologists topped the list, with 68% spending 10 hours or more each week on such tasks.

Nevertheless, when physicians were asked whether they would choose medicine again as a career, 83% of rheumatologists answered yes to the question. In contrast, neurologists had the lowest positive response to that question, at 71%.

Rheumatologists, however, were less likely to say they would choose the same specialty again. Only 79% said they would still select rheumatology, ranking them in the bottom half among all physicians who would pick the same specialty again.

When asked about the most challenging part of their job, 27% of rheumatologists selected "having so many rules and regulations," followed by 20% who said "longer hours for less pay" and 18% who said "difficulties getting reimbursed."

Conversely, when rheumatologists were asked about the most rewarding part of their job, 38% cited "relationships with and gratitude from patients," and 32% selected "being good at what they do and doing it well."

Medscape Rheumatologist Compensation Report 2017. Published online April 12, 2017. Full text

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