Pediatricians' Income Largely Stable in Pandemic

Jaleesa Baulkman

May 18, 2021

The average income for pediatricians did not vary greatly from 2019 to 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Medscape Pediatrician Compensation Report 2021.

The report, which was conducted between October 2020 and February 2021, found that the average pediatrician income was down $11,000 – from $232,000 in 2019 to $221,000 in 2020, with 48% of pediatricians reporting at least some decline in compensation.

The specialty also earned the least amount of money in 2020, compared with all of the other specialties, which isn't surprising since pediatricians have been among the lowest-paid physician specialties since 2013. The highest-earning specialty was plastic surgery with an average income of $526,000 annually.

Most pediatricians who saw a drop in income cited pandemic-related issues such as job loss, fewer hours, and fewer patients.

Jesse Hackell, MD, vice president and chief operating officer of Ponoma Pediatrics in New York, said in an interview the reduced wages pediatricians saw in 2020 didn't surprise him because many pediatric offices saw a huge drop in visits that were not urgent.

"[The report] shows that procedural specialties tended to do a lot better than the nonprocedural specialties," Hackell said. "That's because, during the shutdown, if you broke your leg, you still needed the orthopedist. And even though the hospitals weren't doing elective surgeries, they were certainly doing the emergency stuff."

Meanwhile, in pediatrician offices, where Hackell said office visits dropped 70%-80% at the beginning of the pandemic, "parents weren't going to bring a healthy kid out for routine visits and they weren't going to bring a kid out for minor illnesses and expose them to possibly communicable diseases in the office."

About 52% of pediatricians who lost income because of the pandemic believe their income levels will return to normal in 2-3 years. Meanwhile 30% of pediatricians expect their income to return to normal within a year, and 8% believe it will take 4 years for them to bounce back.

Physician work hours generally declined for some time during the pandemic, according to the report. However, most pediatricians are working about the same number of hours as they did before the pandemic, which is 47 hours per week.

Despite working the same number of hours per week that they did prepandemic, they are seeing fewer patients. They are currently seeing on average 64 patients per week, compared with the 78 patients they used to see weekly before the pandemic.

Hackell said that might be because pediatric offices are trying to make up the loss of revenue during the beginning of the pandemic, from the reduced number of well visits and immunizations, in the second half of the year with outreach.

"Since about June 2020, we've been making concerted efforts to remind parents that preventing other infectious diseases is critically important," Hackell explained. "And so actually, for the second half of the year, many of us saw more well visits and immunization volume than in 2019 as we sought to make up the gap. It wasn't that we were seeing more overall, but we're trying to make up the gap that happened from March, April, May, [and] June."

Most pediatricians find their work rewarding. One-third say the most rewarding part of their job is gratitude from and relationships with their patients. Meanwhile, 31% of pediatricians said knowing they are making the world a better place was a rewarding part of their job. Only 8% of them said making money was a rewarding part of their job.

Hackell said he did not go into pediatrics to make money, it was because he found it stimulating and has "no complaints."

"I've been a pediatrician for 40 years and I wouldn't do anything else," Hackell said. "I don't know that there's anything that I would find as rewarding as the relationships that I've had over 40 years with my patients. You know, getting invited to weddings of kids who I saw when they were newborns is pretty impressive. It's the gratification of having ongoing relationships with families."

Furthermore, the report revealed that 77% of pediatricians said they would pick medicine again if they had a choice, and 82% said they would choose the same specialty.

The experts disclosed no relevant financial interests.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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