In a Year of Change, Young Doc Salaries Remain the Same: Survey

Aine Cryts

September 24, 2021

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians younger than 40 faced uncertainty regarding physician office closures, the treating of patients with and those without the virus, and the possibility of contracting the virus themselves. But financially speaking, young physicians landed on their feet, according to a new report.

Young primary care physicians took home $242,000 in 2020, while their specialist colleagues earned $344,000, according to the Medscape Young Physicians Compensation Report 2021. Those are generally the same amounts as in 2019, when young primary care physicians earned $243,000 and specialists took home $346,000.

Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) young doctors in emergency medicine reported satisfaction with their compensation, in contrast with 60% of their older colleagues. There were large differences in satisfaction with annual compensation among neurologists and otolaryngologists, but older physicians were more likely to be satisfied than their younger colleagues.

For employed physicians who responded to the survey, compensation included salary, bonus, and profit-sharing contributions. Compensation for their self-employed colleagues included earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses before income taxes. The survey only included physicians with full-time salaries.

Gender Disparity in Pay Knows No Age Limit

Women in primary care and other specialties continue to earn less than their male physician peers, according to the report. The starkest difference is between male and female physicians aged 35 to 54.

Young female physicians are pursuing promotions at a slightly higher rate than their male colleagues, according to the report: 47% of female physicians sought promotions in 2020, whereas only 42% of their male colleagues did. Almost half (46%) of young physicians are women, which is a higher percentage than among older physicians; this is in keeping with a 5-year trend.

Continuing another long-standing trend, young physicians are more likely to be employed than their older counterparts, according to the report. Only 14% of young physicians are self-employed, compared with 29% of their older colleagues. Four percent of young physicians and 6% of older physicians reported being independent contractors.

Despite Pay Changes and COVID, Job Satisfaction Remains High

At a yearly compensation of $305,000, young physicians in office-based solo practices earned the most. Next up are their colleagues in office-based single-specialty group practices, who earn $295,000. By contrast, young physicians in hospital settings topped out at an annual compensation of $282,000.

Young physicians in other settings received the following compensation:

  • Office-based multispecialty group practice: $272,000

  • Academic (nonhospital), research, military, government: $268,000

  • Healthcare organization: $266,000

  • Other environment: $241,000

  • Outpatient clinic: $200,000

Regardless of the practice model, young physicians continue to learn less than their older physician colleagues. According to the report, the largest pay difference between younger physicians and their more seasoned colleagues is in outpatient clinics.

Although some specialists have experienced stress from treating patients with COVID-19, especially critical care physicians, rheumatologists, and infectious disease physicians, young physicians reported that they're surviving the pandemic. To wit, 76% of young physicians — approximately the same proportion as their older colleagues — reported that they would still choose medicine as a career.

Data were collected via an online survey of 17,906 Medscape and MDedge member physicians across more than 29 specialties. The survey was conducted between October 6, 2020, and February 11, 2021.

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