Memo from the Editor

September 17, 2004

Rich doctors?

 

In this issue you'll find our annual report on physicians' earnings. For many years, we used to urge doctors not to leave Medical Economics sitting out in the waiting room lest patients see articles like our earnings survey. It would be indelicate for them to know just how much doctors—who were supposed to be dedicated to healing the sick, not making money—actually raked in.

But that was when there were few other occupations that paid as well as medicine. Granted, there are still a lot of specialists who shouldn't be leaving our earnings survey report around, but primary care physicians might even get a bit of mileage out of doing so.

Let's look at how the numbers stack up. Median total compensation for general internists in private, office-based practice is $150,000. That's the highest among primary care physicians; FPs' median is very close at $149,300, and GPs' is $120,000. Pediatricians' median compensation is $140,000. That's about $15,000 shy of the base salary for a congressman. And the congressman is allowed to make up to $23,000 above that in outside income.

What about other occupations? Private sector researchers in basic sciences have average salaries of $194,000 and those in clinical sciences average $253,000. But at least they've put in years of study and are, presumably, doing research that will benefit humanity. Let's consider other occupations.

The median income of chief executives, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $134,740. But those who run companies in the securities industry have a mean annual wage of $195,910. Even the IT guys in that sector do nearly as well as primary care physicians: Computer and information systems managers in the securities industry average $139,550.

Run-of-the-mill athletes (not the superstars who sign multimillion dollar deals) do okay, too. Their average income tops $108,000, and the agents and managers who handle them and other public figures average more than $187,000. Sure, those people help bring entertainment into our humdrum lives, but do their years of training and responsibilities really come even proportionately close to the training and responsibilities of a physician?

Then there are sales managers. Average annual earnings for a sales manager in an automobile dealership is $106,460. Did he put in six to eight years after college in formal education and residency to prepare for his job? (Did he even go to college?) Do people's lives hang in the balance during an encounter with the guy in the auto dealership? Don't doctors deserve $40,000 more than he makes?

And let's not even talk about the top executives at insurers like Aetna, Anthem, and Wellpoint, whose salary, bonuses, and other compensation earn them between $2 million and $4.5 million a year. And I'll bet they didn't lose ground to inflation last year like primary care physicians did.

Maybe patients need to decide who's worth more. Maybe patients need to know that there are cats far fatter than you.

 

Marianne Mattera. Memo from the Editor: Rich doctors? Medical Economics Sep. 17, 2004;81:8.