Physician compensations increased slightly over the past year, with the average annual income increasing from $294,000 in 2017 to $299,000 in 2018, according to most recent Medscape Physician Compensation Report.
The survey of 20,000 physicians in over 29 specialties showed that primary care physicians will earn about $6,000 more on average and specialists will make about $13,000 more on average in 2018 compared to the previous year.
Primary care physicians are on the lower end of the physician compensation spectrum, earning an average of $223,000 in 2018, while specialists represent the higher end, with $329,000 in average compensation in 2018.
Physician compensation across the board may not have risen significantly, but the survey uncovered that income has steadily increased over the past seven years.
“One reason is basic supply and demand,” Tommy Bohannon, Vice President at the recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, explained in the report. “We see this in our recruiting contracts. In our annual report, we show starting salaries, or the amount needed to persuade a physician to move from one setting to another. The ‘moving price’ is consistently rising.”
The specialty seeing that “moving price” hit the highest in 2018 is plastic surgery, with an average compensation of $501,000, followed by orthopedics with $497,000, cardiology with $423,000, and gastroenterology with $408,000.
The three highest paid specialties in 2018 (plastic surgery, orthopedics, and cardiology) also topped the list for physician compensation the previous year.
Among the specialists with the lowest average annual physician compensation in 2018 are public health and preventative medicine with $199,000, pediatrics with $212,000, diabetes and endocrinology with $212,000, and family medicine with $219,000.
Similarly, these specialties have sat at the bottom of the physician compensation list before. The lowest-earning specialties in 2018 were also the lowest paid in the Physician Compensation Report in 2013, researchers pointed out.
While plastic surgeons, orthopedists, and cardiologists face the greatest physician compensation, psychiatrists will experience the greatest growth in pay in 2018. The specialty will see average annual income rise by 16 percent.
“We have never seen demand for psychiatrists this high in our 30-year history,” Bohannon said in the report. “Demand for mental health services has exploded, while the number of psychiatrists has not kept pace. The short version is that aging produced many mental health challenges, including dementia and its associated pathologies, and societal ills such as the opioid crisis are driving the need for more mental health professionals.”
Other specialists seeing significant increases in average annual physician compensation include plastic surgery with a 14 percent bump, physical medicine and rehabilitation with a 13 percent increase, and oncology with a 10 percent boost.
The only specialties experiencing a decrease in pay in 2018 are general surgery with a 9 percent drop, urology with a 7 percent decrease, otolaryngology, diabetes, and endocrinology with a 4 percent reduction, and pathology and neurology with a 2 percent decrease.
With physician compensation generally increasing modestly, physicians are fairly satisfiedwith their annual income, the survey showed. Across all specialties, about 55 percent said they were fairly compensated.
Emergency physicians, pulmonologists, and dermatologists thought they were the most fairly compensated despite not earning spots on the highest compensation list. Emergency physicians will earn an average of $350,000 in 2018, whereas pulmonologists will receive an average of $321,000 and dermatologists will get an average of $392,00 this year.
For physicians who felt unfairly compensated, about 45 percent thought that they should earn between 11 and 25 percent more in compensation. Another 32 percent thought they should receive between 26 and 50 percent more.
Researchers also pointed out that Caucasian/white physicians felt they were the most fairly compensated, with 63 percent stating that they were.
Only 45 percent of African American/black physicians felt they were fairly compensated, while 46 percent of mixed race/ethnicity, 53 percent of Hispanic/Latino, and 58 percent of Asian physicians felt the same.
Caucasian/white physicians may feel better about their compensation because they tend to earn more than other races/ethnicities. African American/black physicians earn an average of $50,000 less per year than white physicians, with $308,000 being the average annual compensation for white physicians versus $258,000 for black physicians.
Asian-American physicians earned an average of $293,000 per year and Hispanic/Latino physicians earned an average of $278,000 per year.
In addition to racial disparities, the survey also found a gender gap in 2018. Male primary care physicians received nearly 18 percent more than their female counterparts, and male specialists earned 36 percent more than their female peers.
The wage gap between male and female respondents also widened in 2018. Male specialists only earned 31 percent more than female specialists in 2017, researchers noted.
For women who also identified as African American, the wage gap was even worse. African American/black female physicians made almost $100,000 less than male African American/black male physicians, according to the survey.
“You would think that as we narrow the gap of representation of women in medicine, that would narrow the wage gap, but it’s not happening,” explained Ranit Mishori, MD, Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “The lack of salary transparency adds to the challenges of addressing gender-based pay disparities. Women don’t even know what targets to shoot for.”
Increased salary transparency could also help to decrease the physician compensation gap between races/ethnicities, as well as ensure hospitals and health systems remain competitive and retain their staff.
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