Cardiologists' Pay Increases, Vast Majority Would Make Same Career Pick

Megan Brooks

April 25, 2019

Cardiologists remain among the top earners in medicine and their annual pay has increased to $430,000, up from $423,000 in 2018, according to this year's Medscape Cardiologist Compensation Report 2019.

Cardiologist pay is the fourth highest of all specialties in the overall Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2019 , down from third highest in 2018, covering US physicians as a whole and including almost 20,000 physicians in more than 30 specialties.

Orthopedists are the top earners this year, with $482,000 annual pay, followed by plastic surgeons ($471,000) and otolaryngologists ($461,000), while pediatricians and public health and preventive medicine specialists continue to earn the least, although they did get a pay bump this year. Pediatricians made $225,000 on average this year, compared with $212,00 last year, while preventive medicine specialists' annual income rose to $209,000, up from $199,000 in 2018.

As with most other specialties, cardiologists who are self-employed earn more than those who are employed ($449,000 vs $422,000), although income for both groups has been rising in general. More than half of cardiologists (54%) feel they are fairly compensated, down from 65% last year but up from 44% in 2014.

Challenges and Rewards

Bureaucratic tasks continue to be a burden for physicians in all specialties. Overall, 38% of physicians spend 10 to 19 hours each week on paperwork and administrative tasks, and 36% spend 20 hours or more.

Cardiologists appear to have more of those burdens than other physicians; 87% are saddled with 10 or more hours per week of paperwork and administrative chores, with very little difference between male and female cardiologists.

For cardiologists, as for physicians overall, having so many rules and regulations is the most challenging part of their job (27%). Cardiologists find working with the electronic health record somewhat more challenging than did physicians overall (21% vs 15%).

Other challenges for cardiologists include having to work long hours (17%) and trouble getting reimbursed (12%). A few cited having to deal with difficult patients (7%) and worry about being sued (5%).

Despite the challenges, 83% of cardiologists said they would choose medicine again and 90% would choose cardiology again.

What is most rewarding about being a cardiologist? Relationships with and gratitude from patients (36%) tops the list, followed by being good at what they do/finding answers, diagnoses (23%), making the world a better place (18%) and making good money at a job they like (11%). A few cited pride in their profession (5%) and teaching (4%).

The large majority (90%) of cardiologists are either very satisfied or satisfied with their own job performance. "Doctors take great pride in what they do, even under difficult circumstances, and I would imagine that they all feel we do the best we can in spite of the challenges," commented Carol Bernstein, MD, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City.

Other key findings from the latest report regarding cardiologists include the following:

  • Most cardiologists (68%) have not seen any changes in their benefits packages. More cardiologists' benefits packages have gotten worse (21%) than have improved (11%).

  • Cardiology practices use physician assistants (PAs) more than do physicians overall (42% vs 36%); 62% of cardiology practices use nurse practitioners (NPs), compared with 50% of all physicians; 28% of cardiology practice don't use PAs or NPs.

  • 50% of cardiologists are in fee-for-service arrangements, about the same as last year (45%), while the percentage in accountable care organizations (ACOs) increased to 32%, up from 27% in 2018.

  • Most cardiologists (84%) say they will continue taking new and current Medicare/Medicaid patients; only 1% say they won't take new Medicare patients and 12% are undecided.

  • 39% of cardiologists expect to participate in merit-based incentive payment system (MIPS), but only 7% expect to participate in alternative payment models (APMs). Among all specialists, 37% expect to participate in MIPS and 9% plan to take part in APMs.

  • 30% of cardiologists work in an office-based single-specialty group practice; 23% in a hospital; 14% in a healthcare organization; 13% in an office-based multispecialty group practice; 10% in an office-based solo practice; 8% in an academic (nonhospital), research, military, or government setting; and 1% in an outpatient clinic.


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