Internists Still Low for Earnings and Net Worth, Report Finds

Ricki Lewis, PhD

July 23, 2020

Internists continue to fall at the low end of the earnings and net worth spectrum for medical fields, according to the Medscape Internist Debt and Net Worth Report 2020.

The results are from a larger survey that tracked physicians' efforts to reduce or eliminate debt, save, invest, purchase property, and prepare for retirement. The annual survey was completed just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold, and the findings provide a baseline against which to view the effects of the pandemic, which turned the lives of many physicians upside down.

Conducted from October 4, 2019, until February 10, 2020, the survey represents 17,461 physicians from 29 areas of medicine, including family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.

Earnings and Net Worth

Internists earned on average $251,000 annually, sixth from the bottom of the list and approximately half the amount of the most lucrative specialty, orthopedics. The annual salary increased from $243,000 in 2019.

The average annual salary for internists represents a 2.5% increase compared with the 1.5% increase for specialists, whose annual income rose from $341,000 in 2019 to $346,000 in 2020.

The low earnings for internists are echoed in the findings for net worth: 58% of internists have a net worth of less than $1 million, 37% have between $1 million and $5 million, and 5% have more than $5 million. For comparison, half of all physicians have a net worth of less than $1 million, 42% have between $1 million and $5 million, and 8% have over $5 million.

Forty percent of internists indicated that their net worth was less than $500,000, which is the fourth highest of the 29 medical fields surveyed. Forty-four percent of pediatricians, 46% of family practitioners, and 30% of obstetrician/gynecologists also reported their net worth at less than $500,000, so the primary care providers share low net worth compared with their colleagues. Forty-one percent of neurologists reported a net worth of less than $500,000.

Only 5% of internists reported a net worth of more than $5 million. The specialties with the most physicians with net worth exceeding $5 million are orthopedists, at 19%, and plastic surgeons and gastroenterologists, each at 16%.

Gender disparity in net worth appears to be lower among internists than in other fields. Among all physicians, 56% of men and 39% of women reported a net worth in excess of $1 million, but among internists, 46% of men and 36% of women did so. Sixty-four percent of the internists who took the survey are men, and 34% are women.

Higher net worth tracks clearly with age group, as expected in light of diminishing debt over time and an accumulation of wealth.


The top three expenses that internists face are mortgage on primary residence (60%), car loans (36%), and credit card debt (26%); 12% of respondents reported no debt or expenses. Among all physicians, the breakdown of expenses by category is very similar to that for internists.

Paying off school loans affects 24% of internists, which is in the middle of the 29 physician groups. The percentage ranges from physical medicine and rehabilitation, at 34%, to rheumatology, at 15%.

Forty-two percent of internists have a mortgage of less than $300,000, and 30% have no mortgage at all. Figures are similar for all physicians.

Internists are apparently savers and not spenders. Only 8% reported living above their means; 39% indicated that they live below their means. These figures are similar for all physicians who responded to the survey.

About 60% of internists put more than $1000 a month into tax-deferred accounts. Most internists also contribute to taxable savings accounts, which might reflect the fact that they had contributed the maximum amount to tax-deferred accounts.

Two fifths of the internists reported having worked with a financial planner. Of the nearly three fourths of responding internists who share finances with a spouse or partner, a few more than half pool resources.

In the world before COVID-19, 31% of internists reported significant financial losses over the previous year, most due to bad investments or problems relating to their practice. Financial losses since that time obviously have another predominant cause ― the direct and ripple effects of the pandemic.

As of July 22, primary care providers reported a 55% decrease in revenue and a 20% to 30% decrease in patient volume, according to Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a physician placement and recruiting company quoted in the Medscape report. Some practitioners have closed their physical offices because patient demand has plummeted and nonessential office procedures and exams have been postponed or canceled. The use of telemedicine has soared.

Medscape’s Internist Debt and Net Worth Report 2020, and the larger report from which it was derived, may come to serve as a marker between two very different financial worlds for clinical medicine.

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