Best, Worst Paid Doctors -- Many Unhappy With Career Choices
April 27, 2012

Best, Worst Paid Doctors — Many Unhappy With Career Choices

An annual survey of physician pay finds that an increasing number of doctors are regretting their career choices and only a few consider themselves “rich.”

The annual Medscape/WebMD Physician Compensation Survey of more than 24,000 doctors from 25 medical fields, found that radiologists and orthopedic surgeons are the best paid of all doctors in the United States, and pediatricians are the least compensated. The survey also found that most doctors are earning less and worrying more.

Even while most doctors earn more than the average American, some feel they could be making more. Those doctors, the ones who see patients most often (pediatricians, family physicians, and internists), make the least money.

However, the survey pointed out that pay for “primary care” physicians is actually increasing some, while pay for big-money specialists has fallen by 10 to 12 percent in some areas. Still, the numbers show a big gap in the average pay between both types of medical care providers.

According to the study, the best-paid doctors in the country are: radiologists ($315,000), orthopedic surgeons ($315,000), cardiologists ($314,000),  anesthesiologists ($309,000), and urologists ($309,000). Gastroenterologists, oncologists, dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and ophthalmologists were also in the top ten, respectively, all earning more than $270,000 per year on average.

On the other end of the spectrum, doctors who make the least, include: pediatricians ($156,000), family physicians ($158,000), internal medicine doctors ($165,000), endocrinologists ($168,000), and psychiatrists ($170,000).

Besides the medical field of practice showing which doctors are best paid in, the survey also showed that male physicians overall earn 40 percent more than female ones do. In primary care alone, that number is much lower, at 23 percent. Experts say that the difference is related to choice of specialties and lifestyle preferences that women choose. Another possible reason is that female doctors often spend more time with their patients than male doctors do.

In commentary accompanying the survey, many physicians said they feared changes in the healthcare system would mean lower incomes in the future, according to Medscape. Just 54 percent of those surveyed said they would choose a career in medicine again if they had a choice. That number is a huge drop from the 69 percent who would choose a medical career again in the previous year℠s survey.

And only about one in ten doctors consider themselves “rich,” and 45 percent agree with the statement: “my income probably qualifies me as rich, but I have so many debts and expenses that I don't feel rich.”

More than half of the doctors surveyed said they worried their incomes would decline because of accountable care organizations (ACOs) -- a type of payment and delivery reform model that seeks to tie provider reimbursements to quality metrics and reductions in the total cost of care for an assigned population of patients.

“Physicians´ sense of worry may be greater than the reality, but it's understandable,” said Judy Aburmishan, CPA, a partner in FGMK, LLC in Chicago, a firm that represents physicians and other healthcare providers. “Hospitals are buying up private practices both in primary care and the specialties. The heavy-handed message they send out is that if you don´t join us, you won´t survive. There is great uncertainty and fear about what healthcare reform will mean for physicians once it´s fully implemented.”

Medscape surveyed 24,216 physicians across 25 specialty areas from February 1-17, 2012 using a third-party online survey collection website.