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Doctors: We want lighter workloads, greater autonomy


Many physicians say they're willing to take pay cuts to achieve these goals

Heavy workloads and a desire for greater professional autonomy are causing many physicians to rethink their career plans, with some willing to take a pay cut or retire earlier than planned to achieve those goals.

Those are among the findings of a recent survey on issues relating to compensation and careers by the physician networking firm Doximity. Asked if they’d be willing to accept lower compensation to achieve more autonomy or work-life balance, 35% said they had already done so, and 36% said they would consider it.

 Survey results include responses from more than 190,000 U.S. doctors over six years, including responses from over 31,000 full-time U.S. physicians in 2022.

In answer to the question, “how has your clinical workload altered your career plans?” about 36% said overwork has led them to consider early retirement, while 31% said it has caused them to look either for another career or another employer.

Women have felt the effects of overwork the most, with 73% saying it has led ten to consider early retirement or look for a different career or employer, versus 63% of male physicians. Conversely, 17% of men reported not feeling overworked compared with just 8% of women respondents.

The survey showed the gender pay gap narrowing slightly, with men making an average of 26% more than women in 2022, compared to 28% in 2021. In dollar terms that translated into about $110,000 less for women in 2022, even when salaries were controlled for specialty, location and years of experience.

Asked how economic factors such as inflation and the pending 2% cut in Medicare reimbursements could affect them, 33% said they plan to pursue a side gig and 26% said they would pursue a higher salary, either with their current employer or by finding a different job. Fourteen percent said they would increase their patient caseload and/or work hours, and 27% anticipated not making any changes.

In addition to career and quality-of-life questions, the study looked at compensation issues related to specialty and location. Among its findings:

  • Neurosurgeons were the most highly-compensated specialists, averaging slightly more than $788,00 per year. The lowest-paid were pediatric endocrinologists, averaging $218,266 annually. The annual average pay for internal medicine practitioners was about $294,000, while for family medicine practitioners it was $273,000.
  • Emergency medicine saw the fastest annual compensation growth rate among specialties at 6.2%. The lowest—2.6%--was in plastic surgery and pediatric emergency medicine.
  • Broken down by major metropolitan region, doctors in Oklahoma City saw the fastest overall compensation growth rate, 6.3%. That was followed by Baltimore (4.6%) and Salt Lake City (2.9%). Doctors in Sacramento saw the slowest growth, at just 1.1%
  • At $430,890, Charlotte, N.C. ranked highest among metro areas for average compensation. St. Louis ranked second at $426,370, while Oklahoma City was third at $426,000. When adjusted for cost of living, however, Oklahoma City came out on top, followed by Charlotte. St. Louis remained number three.

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© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health