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Digging Deeper on Doctor Pay Checks

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A generation ago, Greg Kelly's father faced a career choice and the realization that private practice paid significantly better than a job as a hospitalist. New data give a glimpse into the payment landscape today.

“Big pay and little responsibility are circumstances seldom found together.”—Napoleon Hill

When my physician-dad was working in private practice about 35 years ago, he contemplated an offer from an area hospital where he would work fulltime for them as a hospital-based doctor.

At the time, my father was earning about $110,000 as a sole-practitioner ($315,000 inflation-adjusted today). Dad seriously considered the offer since he had recently lost his partner (Dr. George Sheehan, Jr. left to pursue fame and fortune as the “Running Doc”) and he himself was approaching retirement age.

And while the position of hospitalist is relatively new to the medical profession, that is, in essence, what dad would have become back then. The job would have paid about $70,000 per year ($200,000 today, adjusted for inflation).

I remember the events quite well. My parents and dad’s medical staff office ran the numbers and he came to the conclusion that our family and his retirement plans would suffer on that income. Dad ended up declining the offer and continued on in private practice for another decade or so until his comfortable retirement in the early 1990s.

Although the six-figure income he was earning by the late 1970s, adjusted for inflation, would have placed him in the above-average range for today’s doctor salaries, he still didn’t consider himself well off. His ultimate success secret was to: “get out of bed and go to work.”

On the serious matter of physician compensation, Doximity.com, a popular new online social network for doctors, has launched Career Navigator—an interactive doctor salary map. The intriguing web feature includes US county-level salary data for 48 medical specialties nationwide.

In among that MD pay data dump is the finding that, just as it was with my internist dad a generation ago, private practice pays better. That point would have pleased my father. Internists working in private practice make an estimated 12% (or $28,000) more than those working in academic or government institutions.

Using the Doximity numbers, The Atlantic was able to break out physician pay by specialty. Here are the national average annual salaries for some of the leading specialties:

Average Annual Salary by Specialty

Internal Medicine

$223,175

Family Medicine

$227,541

Pediatrics

$206,961

OB/GYN

$315,295

Anesthesiology

$357,116

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Psychiatry

$227,478

Emergency Medicine

$320,419

Radiology

$404,302

General Surgery

$360,933

Cardiology

$436,849

Orthopedics

$535,668

Ophthalmology

$343,144

Pathology

$302,610

Neurology

$243,105

Gastroenterology

$379,460

Hematology/Oncology

$359,180

Pulmonology

$317,323

Dermatology

$400,898

Urology

$381,029


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