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Doctor Salaries in the U.S.A. Who earns what?

Doctor Salaries in the U.S.A. Who earns what?

Doctor salaries in the U.S. have declined since 2011.

A report by Medscape polled 24,216 U.S. doctors covering 25 medical specialisations and shows that doctor salaries declined since 2011, but the top earning specialisations remain on top. The report also looks at the income gap between male and female doctors.

Interesting topics covered by the report includes:

  • Who are the top-earners in medicine
  • Income gaps between male and female doctors
  • Where are the top paying medical jobs in the U.S.
  • What can doctors do to earn more money 
  • Job satisfaction rates between doctors

For the purpose of the report, employed doctors' compensation includes salary, profit-sharing contributions and bonus packages. For partners, compensation includes earnings after tax-deductible business expenses but before income tax. Earnings from non-patient related activities are excluded.

  • Who are the top-earners in medicine...

For 2012, the top earning medical specialists are radiologists and orthopaedic surgeons. They reported mean earnings of $315,000. The next top-earners were cardiologists ($314,000), anaesthesiologists ($309,000), and urologists ($309,000). The lowest reported earnings in 2012 were for doctors practicing paediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine.

This shows a decrease from the reported earnings in 2011. Radiologists and orthopaedic surgeons both had a mean income of $350,000. They were followed by anaesthesiologists and cardiologists who reported a mean income of $325,000.

The biggest decreases since 2011 are for general surgery (-12%), orthopaedic surgery (-10%), radiology (-10%), and emergency medicine (-8%). 

The biggest increases are in ophthalmology (+9%), paediatrics (+5%), nephrology (+4%), rheumatology (+4%), and oncology (+4%).

  •  Income gaps between male and female doctors...

Looking at the income gap between male and female doctors, in general, the income gap is slowly narrowing but by no means has it reached a level playing field. Overall, for 2012, male doctors across all specialties reported earnings about 40% higher than female physicians. In primary care, men earn 23% more. However, in some medical fields the gap is evening out. Male obstetricians and gynaecologists report earnings about 12% higher than their female colleagues. Male pathologists report earnings that are about 8% higher than females pathologists. When considering the income gap, Medscape's report notes that many female doctors choose to work fewer hours for a better work-life balance. In part, the gap is narrowing because many young male doctors are choosing to do the same.

  •  Where are the top paying medical jobs in the U.S... 

Looking at income differences across the U.S., it's interesting to see rural doctors earning more than city doctors. There is less competition in rural areas and these smaller communities have to pay more to attract doctors. Both of these factors played a part in a 2011 survey that showed the biggest salaries were in the North Central region (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota) where the mean income was $234,000.

Although many doctors are leaving private practice for employed posts, partners in private practice out earn doctors in all other medical work environments. Partners in private practice earned a mean of $308,000. Solo-practicing doctors earned a mean of $222,000, while employed doctors earned the least, with a mean of $194,000.

  •  What can doctors do to earn more money... 

It's worth becoming board certified. Earning a mean of $236,000, doctors who are board certified earned 89% more than non-board-certified doctors, $125,000. Board certification is important not just for compensation. It can be required for inclusion in health plans and for other hospital privileges.

  •  Job satisfaction rates between doctors...

Overall, doctors are split about whether they feel fairly compensated: 51% said yes, 49% said no (nearly identical to Medscape's 2011 compensation survey).

Physicians most unsatisfied with their compensation were endocrinologists (62%) and plastic surgeons (62%). General surgeons take more calls and deal with more life-threatening situations, and generally earn less among surgeons. They have long felt dissatisfied. Specialties like plastic surgery have been hit hard by the economic downturn.

Those who felt fairly compensated were dermatologists (71%), pathologists (63%), radiologists (62%), and emergency physicians (61%).

For various reasons, including increased paperwork, doctors are becoming more frustrated with their work. The 2012 survey shows far more dissatisfaction among doctors across all specialties. In fact, just over 54% of all physicians said they would choose medicine again as a career. In 2011, about 70% of all doctors said they would choose medicine again.

In 2011, the satisfaction scores peaked at 80% for dermatologists, and were over 70% for radiologists and oncologists. In the 2012 survey the most satisfied specialty was again dermatology, but only 64% said they felt satisfied - a considerable drop from 80%.

About the survey:

  • 68% of doctors who responded were male, and 32% were female
  • 42% of respondents were under age 45
  • 85% of respondents are board certified
  • 40% of respondents were employed at hospitals, healthcare organisations, private practices, or academia, government and research centres

The mean annual salary of MD specialists may seem impressive at first glance but the data also shows doctors are becoming more dissatisfied. A decrease in overall salaries for 2012 is not the only reason for dissatisfaction among medical practitioners. Long working hours, paperwork and expenses have impacted satisfaction rates. Also, doctors agree there are too many middle-men and the corporate structure of medicine in the U.S too often dictates how medicine is practiced. In the future, these issues will have to be addressed and the situation closely followed. It's worth mentioning that medicine is still a prestigious, lucrative and respected trade. Currently, the medical system in the U.S is undergoing changes meant to positively impact medical practice and patient care.