By Megan Brooks
WebMD Health News
April 12, 2018 -- Primary care and specialty doctors in the United States have seen a modest increase in earnings this year over last year, according to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2018.
The increases reflect a continued rise in doctors' income over the past 7 years. While there are many reasons involved, the main one comes down to the basic rules of economics.
"The fact remains that the physician workforce is relatively stagnant in terms of growth and that demand for physician services keeps rising. The result, inevitably, is more spending and higher incomes for physicians," said Tommy Bohannon, vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a doctor recruiting firm.
The overall average doctor salary -- including primary care and specialties -- sits at $299,000. The average salary for primary care doctors is $223,000, compared with $217,000 in 2017. For specialists, it's $329,000 this year, compared with $316,000 last year.
Top-earning specialties with the highest average salary include:
- Plastic surgeons -- $501,000
- Orthopedists -- $497,000
- Cardiologists -- $423,000
- Gastroenterologists -- $408,000
- Radiologists -- $401,000
- The lowest-earning specialties, on average, are:
- Internal medicine -- $230,000
- Family medicine-- $219,000
- Diabetes and endocrinology -- $212,000
- Pediatrics -- $212,000
- Public health and preventive medicine -- $199,000
As in prior years, male doctors earn more than female doctors. Male primary care doctors earn $239,000, almost 18% more than women, who earn $203,000. Male specialists earn $358,000, about 36% more than female specialists, who earn $263,000.
Also as in previous years, white doctors earned more than those of other races. Here's how they ranked:
- White -- $308,000
- Asian -- $293,000
- Hispanic/Latino -- $278,000
- African-American -- $258,000
Who's Up, Who's Down? Is It Fair?
Psychiatrists are seeing the biggest gains in compensation this year (+16%). "We have never seen demand for psychiatrists this high in our 30-year history," said Bohannon. "Demand for mental health services has exploded, while the number of psychiatrists has not kept pace. The short version is that aging produces many mental health challenges, including dementia and its associated pathologies, and that societal ills, such as the opioid crisis, are driving the need for more mental health professionals."
Other specialists who've gotten notable boosts in pay are plastic surgeons (+14%), physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists (+13%), oncologists (+10%), and rheumatologists and critical care specialists (+9%). Specialties earning less include general surgery (-9%), urology (-7%), otolaryngology/diabetes and endocrinology (-4%), and pathology and neurology (-2%).
Overall, 55% of doctors feel that they're fairly compensated. And for the third year in a row, doctors cited "gratitude/relationship with patients" as the most rewarding part of their job (27%), followed by "being very good at what I do/finding answers, diagnoses" (24%) and "knowing that I'm making the world a better place."
What's the most challenging part of being a physician?
- Having so many rules and regulations -- 27%
- Long work hours -- 16%
- Dealing with difficult patients -- 15%
- Having to work with an electronic health record system -- 13%
- Difficulties getting fair reimbursement -- 12%
The amount of time doctors are spending on paperwork and administration has become mind-boggling. More than a third spend between 10 and 19 hours a week on paperwork. Nearly three-fourths (70%) of doctors spend more than 10 hours per week on paperwork and administrative tasks. As for time spent with individual patients, most doctors (62%) reported spending between 13 and 24 minutes with each patient (not including psychiatrists).
Despite the challenges, medicine remains a desirable profession. Overall, 77% of doctors said they would choose a career in medicine again. But only 62% would choose their specialty again. Orthopedists, plastic surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists were among the leaders in again choosing their current specialty (95%+).
The Medscape Physician Compensation Report is the most comprehensive and widely used doctor salary survey in the United States for the eighth year in a row. This year, more than 20,000 doctors in over 29 specialties responded to the Medscape compensation survey. Respondents were required to be currently practicing doctors in the United States. The data were collected via online survey.
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