Half of Anesthesiologists See Drop in Compensation

Marcia Frellick

May 17, 2021

Average annual compensation for anesthesiologists has dropped from $398,000 to $378,000 in the Medscape Anesthesiologist Compensation Report 2021.

By contrast, physicians overall report they saw little difference on average in compensation from 2019 through 2020, despite COVID-19 hardships. This year, primary care physicians averaged $242,000 and specialists made $344,000.

Nearly half of anesthesiologists said they saw their income drop over the last year. The vast majority (90%) said the drop was COVID-related. Respondents could pick more than one answer and 18% said other factors also contributed.

Middle of the Pack in Income

At $378,000, anesthesiologists fall in the middle of the specialties in pay. Plastic surgeons made the most at $526,000 annually, followed by orthopedists at $511,000. Pediatricians made the least at $221,000.

They are also in the middle when it comes to which specialties feel fairly compensated. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) anesthesiologists surveyed feel fairly compensated; oncologists were tops among specialists feeling justly paid (79%), whereas only 44% of infectious disease physicians felt their annual pay was fair.

Most see the income losses as temporary: 45% of anesthesiologists said their pay would return to normal in a year; 36% said that would take 2-3 years. Some (14%) said they would never return to pre-pandemic compensation levels.

Anesthesiologists surveyed said their patient volume has decreased slightly, from 47 per week before the onset of the pandemic to 45 now.

The survey asked whether a drop in patient volume is permanent and almost half (47%) of self-employed anesthesiologists said yes; they also predicted that the size of the permanent reduction could be as much as 25%. However, the field was split on the issue. Almost as many (44%) said any drop in patient volume would not be permanent.

The report reflects some good news in terms of how anesthesiologists spend their time.

They spend 10.1 hours per week on administrative tasks, including paperwork, electronic health record tasks, and clinical reading — the least amount of time among the 29 specialties in the survey. Ophthalmologists were a close second, reporting they spend 10.3 hours a week on administrative tasks.

By contrast, colleagues in infectious diseases and public health/preventive medicine spent twice as much time on administrative tasks (24 hours/wk and 20.7 hours/wk, respectively) and physicians overall spent 16.3 hours a week on them.

Narrower Gender Gap in Pay

Male anesthesiologists earned about 16% more than their female counterparts, a narrower gap than in primary care, where men earn 27% more, according to this year’s report. In all specialties, men earned 33% more than women this year.

Self-employed anesthesiologists earned $391,000 vs $367,000 for employed physicians. Self-employed physicians overall also earned much more than employed physicians: $352,000 compared with $300,000.

More than 1 in 5 physicians (22%) reported they worked fewer hours in the last year, but most say they have returned to more normal workloads.

Anesthesiologists are back to working 52 hours per week vs 53 pre-pandemic. The working hours for other specialists remain higher, including intensivists, infectious disease physicians, and physicians in public health/preventive medicine. In those groups physicians were working about 6-7 hours a week more than they did pre-pandemic.

Most (71%) anesthesiologists said they plan to continue to accept new and current Medicare and Medicaid patients. About one quarter said they remain undecided.

The survey asked respondents in each specialty to select the most rewarding and challenging aspects of their work.

The top reward, anesthesiologists said, was "making good money at a job I like" (an answer chosen by 25%) and "being very good at what I do" (24%).

The most challenging aspect? Long hours, an answer chosen by 23% of anesthesiologists. Close behind was "having so many rules and regulations," at 19%.

More than 18,000 physicians in 29 specialties responded to the survey this year.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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