Gastroenterologists' Income Up 12%, Most Happy With Career Pick

Megan Brooks

May 17, 2022

Gastroenterologists, like many other physicians, fared better financially in 2021 than during the height of the pandemic in 2020, according to the 2022 Medscape Gastroenterology Compensation Report.

Gastroenterologists' average annual income rose from $406,000 in 2020 to $453,000 in 2021 — an increase of 12% over the prior year, second only to otolaryngologists (+13%).

"Compensation for most physicians is trending back up as demand for physicians accelerates," says James Taylor, group president and chief operating officer of AMN Healthcare's Physician & Leadership Solutions. "The market for physicians has done a complete 180 over just 7 or 8 months."

In terms of 2021 income gains, gastroenterologists finished toward the top of the 29+ specialties surveyed by Medscape. The average bonus gastroenterologists earned was also higher in 2021 than in 2020 ($74,000 vs $60,000).

Competition, Side Gigs

This year, Medscape asked gastroenterologists how competition affects their income; 16% cited nonphysician practitioners as a source of competition (same as physicians overall).

Eight percent cited telemedicine as a source of competition; 5% cited "minute clinics" and other walk-in clinics in pharmacies. Roughly three quarters said their income is not affected by competition from these sources.

About 30% of gastroenterologists added responsibilities to their medical workload. A few even have side jobs outside of medicine.

However, gastroenterologists are somewhat less likely to take on extra work than other specialties (36%).

"Physicians are fortunate to have a huge array of potential side gigs available to them," notes Sylvie Stacy, MD, MPH, author of 50 Nonclinical Careers for Physicians. "Supplemental income that pays well is not difficult to find." She says most who do take on side jobs are motivated to fund early retirement or desire greater financial independence. They also have high levels of student debt to pay off.

Getting paid well is one thing; feeling adequately paid can be another. Gastroenterologists landed toward the middle (53%) of all physicians in terms of feeling fairly compensated for their work. Neurologists were the least (42%), while public health and preventive medicine providers (72%) were most apt to feel fairly compensated.

Challenges and Rewards

The challenges of working during the pandemic and the overall changing tone of medicine prompted some physicians to leave the profession, while disenchanting many others.

This year, a smaller percentage of gastroenterologists said they would enter medicine again compared with last year (75% vs 81%).

Yet most gastroenterologists surveyed this year said they would choose their specialty again (95%), which is similar to last year (93%). Family physicians and internists would be less willing than most other physicians to repeat their choice.

Gastroenterologists spend an average 14.3 hours each week handling paperwork and administration, placing them among the middle third of all physicians. This year, the average for physicians overall was about 15.5 hours per week.

Most gastroenterologists (73%) plan to continue taking Medicare and/or Medicaid patients. However, that rate is smaller than in last year's report (80%).

Compared with last year, about the same number of gastroenterologists say they won't take new Medicaid patients (about 4% vs 3%), while a somewhat higher percentage are undecided (about 22% vs 16%). Overall, 70% of physicians said they plan to continue taking Medicare and/or Medicaid patients.

Nearly one quarter (23%) of gastroenterologists indicated that they would drop low-paying insurers, but most would not because of business, ethical, or other reasons.

What is most rewarding about being a gastroenterologist? Being good at what they do/finding answers, diagnoses tops the list (31%), followed by relationships with and gratitude from patients (29%), making the world a better place/helping others (15%), and making good money at a job they like (11%). A few cited teaching (6%) and pride in their profession (5%)

The most challenging part of their job is having to follow so many rules and regulations (21%). Other challenges include trouble getting fair reimbursement (18%), dealing with difficult patients (17%), having to work long hours (14%), and working with electronic health record systems (10%).

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