Physicians' Earnings: Our exclusive survey

September 19, 2003

As demand for primary care doctors plateaus, so does income.

 

COVER STORY

Physicians' Earnings
Our Exclusive Survey

Jump to:Choose article section...How much did you earn last year?

As demand for primary care doctors plateaus, so does income.

By Wayne J. Guglielmo
Senior Editor

Markets typically reward scarcity, so it shouldn't be surprising that some of the nation's most sought after specialists are significantly ahead in the earnings race. Among the selected specialties we looked at for 2002, median total compensation was highest for invasive cardiologists—$360,000.

The numbers come from the latest Medical Economics Continuing Survey, which sampled MDs and DOs in office-based private practice. Invasive cardiologists were followed, in order, by gastroenterologists, orthopedic surgeons, noninvasive cardiologists, and general surgeons.

The picture was different in primary care, where there's a "rough equivalency between supply and demand," according to Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a physician search and consulting firm in Irving, TX. It reports that "income offers made to primary care physicians remained relatively flat," although generalists were still in demand in certain places, especially rural areas.

Among the primary care specialists we surveyed, ob/gyns led their colleagues with the highest practice revenue and also the highest total compensation ($500,000 and $220,000, respectively). Internists are on par with FPs with total compensation of $150,000. Pediatricians and GPs trailed behind with total compensation of $130,000 and $116,000, respectively.

A change in statistical methodology prevents a comparison with previous years. Nevertheless, several trends emerged.

For instance, it's good to go group; and if you do, look for a big, single-specialty group: Surveyed physicians in groups of 10 to 24 had the highest practice revenue ($700,000) and total compensation ($300,000). We also found that physicians in single-specialty groups received 16 percent (or $30,000) more in total compensation than their colleagues in multispecialty groups.

As might be expected, physicians—whether in primary care or specialty practice—hit their earnings peak between the ages of 50 and 54. Earnings start to dwindle as retirement closes in, probably because they tend to taper their practices.

Physicians in the South had the highest total compensation, typically earning $30,000 more than their colleagues in the East, where total compensation was lowest last year.

And the gender gap persists. The typical female physician received $55,000 less in total compensation than her male counterpart. One of the reasons typically posited for that fact is that women are more likely to choose the lower paying specialties; they also tend to work fewer hours than their male colleagues. Among FPs, internists, and pediatricians, the gap is narrowest in family medicine, where male physicians earned only $10,000 more than female doctors.

Where do you fit in? The accompanying charts and tables will help you do a comparative analysis by specialty, age, geographic region, gender, and other variables.

 

How much did you earn last year?1

Primary care physicians2002 practice revenue2002 total compensation
Ob/gyns$500,000$220,000
FPs350,000150,000
Internists318,600150,000
Pediatricians350,000130,000
GPs249,000116,000
Cardiologists (invasive)$780,000$360,000
Gastroenterologists550,000300,000
Orthopedic surgeons700,000300,000
Cardiologists (noninvasive)500,000250,000
General surgeons407,000230,000
All respondents390,000162,000

 

How earnings varied in 2002

Practice revenueTotal compensation
Solo$350,000$160,000
Expense-sharing386,200184,000
2 physicians403,300156,700
3 physicians407,000190,000
4 physicians533,600182,500
5-9 physicians477,300208,000
10-24 physicians700,000300,000
25-49 physicians——
50 or more physicians—198,000
Single-specialty groups500,000220,000
Multispecialty groups402,000190,000
1-5$322,400$136,000
6-10400,000160,000
11-20420,000170,800
21-30389,500174,000
Over 30334,000153,300
By physician's age  
30-34$330,000$130,000
35-39350,000160,000
40-44420,000179,000
45-49440,000168,000
50-54408,700198,000
55-59339,000174,000
60-64310,000150,000
65-69260,000150,000

 

A big gender gap

 Practice revenueTotal compensation
Male$407,000$180,000
Female300,000125,000

 

Where do you stand in the earnings race?

Total compensationCardiologists (invasive)Cardiologists (noninvasive)FPsGastroenterologistsGeneral surgeons
$400,000 or more46%20%3%29%10%
350,000 - 399,999103188
300,000 - 349,999161311411
250,000 - 299,99992141514
200,000 - 249,999916161823
150,000 - 199,99910132997
125,000 - 149,999121844
100,000 - 124,999<1513215
80,000 - 99,999<11712
60,000 - 79,999<123<12
Less than $60,000<15415
Total compensationGPsInternistsOb/gynsOrthopedic surgeonsPediatriciansAll respondents
$400,000 or more<1%4%10%33%3%9%
350,000 - 399,999<11510<13
300,000 - 349,99923121446
250,000 - 299,99937141438
200,000 - 249,99912111713914
150,000 - 199,999172720112122
125,000 - 149,9991015711512
100,000 - 124,99917201012315
80,000 - 99,9998511125
60,000 - 79,9991363<174
Less than $60,0001721253

 

Physicians in the South earn the most

 Practice revenueTotal compensation
EAST$350,000$150,000
New England312,000140,000
Mid-East350,000150,000
MIDWEST$389,300$161,000
Great Lakes region400,000175,000
Plains states375,000160,000
SOUTH$405,000$180,000
South Atlantic400,000170,000
Mid-South375,000190,900
Southwest451,100200,000
WEST$387,500$160,000
Rocky Mountain region391,000170,000
Far West (including Alaska and Hawaii)386,700158,900

 

A closer look at total compensation
in primary care

By physician’s age . . .Under 4545 and over
FPs$150,000$150,000
GPs—120,000
Internists150,000150,000
Ob/gyns212,700225,000
Pediatricians120,000150,000
By years in practice . . .1-1011 and over
FPs$138,000$150,000
GPs—120,000
Internists140,000152,000
Ob/gyns—225,000
Pediatricians125,000130,000
By genderMaleFemale
FPs$150,000$140,000
GPs115,000—
Internists155,000120,000
Ob/gyns223,000—
Pediatricians150,000120,000

 

How this year's survey was conducted

Questionnaires for this year's Medical Economics Continuing Survey, developed and fielded under the direction of Sandy Johnson, manager of field services, were mailed in mid-March to 24,335 MDs and DOs in private, office-based practice throughout the US. This represents a random sampling of nine selected specialties from the AMA master list maintained by Access Worldwide-the Phoenix Marketing Group. A follow-up mailing to nonrespondents took place in late April.

By the late-May cutoff date, 3,089 MDs and DOs had responded. After we set aside returns with apparent discrepancies and those from physicians who hadn't been providing office-based patient care throughout 2002, our working sample consisted of 1,994 physicians. These were coded by the Medical Economics research staff and then tabulated by computer by Suzanne Coopersmith of Crosstabs in Syosset, NY.

The survey sample was selected to be representative within each specialty as to type of practice, age, geographical region, and gender. The results were weighted to reflect these criteria.

 

Wayne Guglielmo. Physicians' Earnings: Our exclusive survey. Medical Economics Sep. 19, 2003;80:71.