Physician pay is climbing after early-pandemic slump

By Susan Kelly for Healthcare Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Doctors’ incomes are on the rise again, after stagnating and in many cases declining when practices closed and patients stayed home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new physician compensation report from Medscape. Pay increases by specialty ranged from 13% for otolaryngology to 1% for critical care.
  • Income rose across more than two dozen specialties in the report, a first since the medical information site began publishing its compensation survey 11 years ago, though the broad-based strength may reflect some catch-up from the year before. The 2022 report also showed that gender and racial and ethnic gaps persist.
  • Overall, physicians earned $339,000 on average last year, with specialists making $368,000 and primary care doctors earning $260,000, Medscape found. Total compensation figures include salary, bonuses and profit-sharing contributions for employed physicians, and earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses before income tax for self-employed doctors.

Dive Insight:

While not every physician’s salary improves each year, the Medscape survey found that in general, doctors’ incomes have been on an upward slope since 2015, increasing by a cumulative 29%. That includes a 33% boost for primary care physicians over the past seven years and a 30% increase for specialists.

The survey, conducted Oct. 5 to Jan. 19, echoes findings from a similar compensation review by the medical network Doximity, in which physicians reported their paychecks grew by 3.8% overall from 2020 to 2021, up from a 1.5% gain the year before.

Still, 21% of doctors in the Medscape poll saw their income decline in the latest period versus a year ago. Most respondents (70%) attributed the drop in pay to pandemic-related factors, including job loss, reduction in hours, or reduced patient volume, while 44% linked their income reduction to issues unrelated to COVID-19. In the first year of the pandemic, 92% said the public health emergency had dented their earnings.

The analysis found the income gap between men and women in primary care has widened slightly over the past decade, even as overall salaries have risen. Men earned 25% bigger paychecks on average than women in this year’s survey, compared with 23% in 2012. But the gender gap among specialists, at 31%, is narrower than the 37% reported in 2017, possibly because more women are entering higher-paying specialties, the report said.

Physicians of all racial and ethnic groups saw their incomes rise over the past five years, but Black, Hispanic and Asian American doctors trail their white counterparts in compensation, at $313,000, $328,000 and $329,000, compared to $346,000, respectively.

The report also found that 36% of physicians took on extra work to supplement their income, with 19% doing other medical-related work, 6% adding more hours in their primary job and 6% accepting non-medical work.

Of the various specialties tracked in the Medscape survey, the top-paying were plastic surgery at $576,000, orthopaedics at $557,000, cardiology at $490,000, otolaryngology at $469,000 and urology at $461,000. At the low end were infectious diseases at $260,000, diabetes and endocrinology at $257,000, family medicine at $255,000, pediatrics at $244,000, and public health and preventive medicine at $243,000.

Orthopaedic specialists received the largest incentive bonuses this year, at an average $126,000, followed by physicians specializing in ophthalmology, cardiology, gastroenterology and urology. At the low end for bonuses were pediatricians, with an average bonus of $28,000. In all, 57% of doctors in the survey received incentive bonuses.

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