Physicians Under 40 Make About $60K Less Than Older Peers

Marcia Frellick

September 05, 2019

Older primary care physicians and specialists earned more money their under-40 counterparts by about $60,000 this year, results of a new Medscape survey indicate.

In 2018, older specialists (ages 40-69) made $72,000 more than younger specialists, and older primary care physicians (PCPs) made $32,000 more in annual salary. This year, older specialists made $64,000 more ($358,000 vs $294,000) and older PCPs made $60,000 more ($253,000 vs $193,000.)

More than 3400 physicians under age 40 responded to this year's Medscape Young Physicians Compensation Report.

Travis Singleton, executive vice president at physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, told Medscape Medical News young physicians now have a shorter ramp-up period to hit their "peak earning potential" but the peak is hard to predict because of shifting payer and practice trends.

Debt Rankings by Specialty

Young physicians in plastic surgery had the most debt of any specialty: 74% were still paying off student loans. Young pediatricians (69%) had the next highest percentage. Young rheumatologists were least likely to still be paying down student loans (33%), followed by gastroenterologists (43%).

Among physicians overall, emergency medicine physicians, pediatricians, and physicians in physical medicine/rehabilitation had the most student loan debt.

Most doctors across all ages spend about 16 minutes or less with each patient. A larger portion of older physicians (45%, vs 39% of those under age 40) spend 17 minutes or more with patients.

Numbers of Young Women, Minorities Rising

The percentage of women in the younger ranks increased this year to 45% (up from 41% last year). That follows a recent trend of more women choosing medicine — 2017 marked the first time the number of women enrolling in US medical schools surpassed the number of men, as reported by Medscape Medical News. The percentage of women among older physicians (40-69) was 34% this year compared with 31% in last year's report.

Although the physician workforce remains predominantly white, the number of younger physicians who are from ethnic and racial minority groups is rising. This year 66% of older physicians and 56% of younger physicians were white/Caucasian. Last year, the numbers were 68% and 59%, respectively.

Satisfaction with compensation in particular specialties varied significantly between the age groups. The widest gap in satisfaction was seen in critical care (79% of young physicians were satisfied with their pay compared with 56% of older physicians).

Perhaps consequently, young physicians in critical care were near the bottom among all specialists to say they would choose their specialty again (68%). Only young physicians in nephrology and rheumatology were lower (both 67%).

Gastroenterologists were the most likely to say they would choose their specialty again. In fact, 100% answered that way in the survey. Next highest were young ophthalmologists (97%) followed by a three-way tie among those in dermatology, urology, and orthopedics/orthopedic surgery, all at 96%.

Most Are Happy to Be Doctors

Overall, about 80% of doctors of all ages were glad to be practicing medicine. Just over three quarters (78%) of young physicians agreed with that statement compared with 82% of their older counterparts.

The biggest challenges, younger physicians said, were "dealing with difficult patients" and "having so many rules and regulations" (tied with 22%). "Having to work long hours" ranked third (17%).

Younger physicians seemed to be less challenged by electronic health records. Only 10% said it was their biggest challenge, compared with 15% of physicians overall.

However, the time spent on administrative tasks is about the same across all age groups. About three quarters of young and older physicians spent 10 or more hours per week on administrative tasks, according to the survey, which was the number-one reason listed for burnout in the Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression and Suicide Report this year. More than a third (36%) in both age groups spent 20 or more hours on such tasks.

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