Which Doctors Get Paid the Most?

A new report outlines the geography of physician pay and also reveals some surprising findings about persistent pay gaps.

“There is all of the difference in the world between paying and being paid.”

—Herman Melville

By the sheer force of their training, temperament, and talent, my physician-dad always believed that doctors were owed a superior level of compensation.

Just consider, dad often told me, doctors provide life-saving and life-sustaining services, sacrifice prime life/business years for a decade of intense training, work in a career that is all consuming and pressure filled, and face serious liability and potential ruin if they error.

Doximity, the nation’s largest online social-professional network for physicians, is out with some interesting details on income for the medical profession. “Compensation is nowhere near the primary motivating factor for many in medicine,” says Joel Davis, vice president of hiring solution at Doximity, in a blog post. “However, the employment landscape is shifting: more physicians are selling their private practices to become employees of hospitals and large groups. Therefore, it’s important that physicians prepare for salary negotiations.”

According to the report, “more than 35,000 Doximity members anonymously shared their annual income with the greater physician community in an effort to bring more transparency to medical careers.” The latest round of analysis examined physician compensation as it pertains to US location, academic vs. clinical setting, and gender.

Hit the Spot

Those doctors “looking for the maximum return for their extra decade of education” need to know that “where you practice matters.” The American cities where physicians say they are most interested in working (i.e., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC) offer average salaries significantly lower than the rest of the nation. The Doximity data show that physicians in the nation’s capital “have the lowest average salary across all specialties—making a full 17% less than the national average.”

Based on recent recruitment activity, the demand for doctors is highest in the following cities: Denver, CO; Louisville, KY; Spokane, WA; Las Vegas, NV; and Colorado Springs, CO.

For the highest average annual income, Doximity found, doctors must “head to the heartland.” Minnesota and Indiana are at the top of the doctor pay scale—both are 13% over the national average income for all specialties.

Arkansas ($330,000), South Dakota ($305,000), and Iowa ($305,000) offer the highest annual pay for primary care physicians. The District of Columbia ($192,000), West Virginia ($205,000), and Delaware ($218,000) paid PCPs the lowest.

North Dakota ($472,000), Wyoming ($433,000, and Idaho ($429,000) had the highest pay for specialists. Rhode Island ($291,000), District of Columbia ($298,000), and Vermont ($299,000) paid specialists the lowest.

It’s Academic—Not!

Chart courtesy of Doximity.

“Academic medicine has always been one of the most important callings in healthcare,” Davis noted. “Not only do these physicians continue to mold the future of medicine with each class, but the with the impending physician shortage, they are responsible for making sure their cohorts are prepared to carry the growing caseload.”

Still, a dedication to medical teaching and research “comes at a price.” Non-academic physicians make on average 13% more than their counterparts, Doximity data show.

There’s an even greater income variance depending on medical specialty—academic cardiologists make on average 52% less than their non-academic counterpoints and non-academic gastroenterologists make 41% more than academics in the specialty.

Generally, the annual earrings for academic physicians bunch around the $250,000 level and have less variability.

Lady Doctors Last

Chart courtesy of Doximity.

When it comes to just work force numbers, doctor gals are on the climb. “Women now make up 34% of the physician workforce and half of this year’s medical school graduating class,” according to Davis, “yet inequalities persist in their careers.”

Male physicians tend to make an average of 21% more than female doctors. The pay gap varies by specialty. The medical specialties with the largest gender pay gaps are Ophthalmology (males earn 36% more), Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (males earn 24% more) and Cardiology (males earn 29% more). The medical specialties with the smallest gender pay gaps are Anesthesiology (males earn 12% more), Radiology (males earn 13% more), and Family Medicine (males earn 14% more).

The only point at which the doctor gender pay gap closes only slightly is when they approach retirement.