Doctors’ Salaries: Who Earns the Most and the Least?

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Doctors are still high earners, although few consider themselves “rich,” finds a recent survey by Medscape, a physician-focused information service from WebMD.

Using a third-party online collection website, Medscape surveyed 24,216 physicians across 25 specialties from Feb. 1 to 17, 2012. Doctors’ earnings ranged from about $156,000 a year for pediatricians to about $315,000 for radiologists and orthopedic surgeons. The highest earners — orthopedic surgeons and radiologists — were the same as last year, followed by cardiologists who earned $314,000 and anesthesiologists who made $309,000.

The lowest earning doctors are the family guys. Pediatricians and family practitioners make about $156,000 and $158,000, respectively. Internists and psychiatrists rank a notch above, at about $165,00 and $170,000, respectively.

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The salary figures fall short of numbers reported by other survey groups: a Medical Group Management Association report using 2010 data, found that the average compensation for radiologists was $471,253 and for pediatricians it was $192,148, Kaiser Health News reports.

Overall, not a lot changed over the previous year in terms of pay rank, according to Medscape, but salaries dipped in general. Radiologists and orthopedic surgeons saw their annual compensation fall by 10%. General surgeons experienced the largest drop in pay, by 12% since 2010, while ophthalmologists saw a 9% boost and pediatricians’ income rose 5%.

Despite their sizable salaries, only about 11% of doctors considered themselves rich, which the survey authors attribute to physicians’ high debts and expenses. About 51% of all physicians and 46% of primary care physicians said they thought they were compensated fairly. When asked if they would choose a career in medicine if they had it to do all over again, 54% of physicians surveyed said yes — down from 69% the previous year.

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Here’s an overview of physicians’ compensation in 2011:

Radiology: $315,000
Orthopedics: $315,000
Cardiology: $314,000
Plastic surgery: $270,000
General surgery: $265,000
Obstetrics/Gynecology: $220,000
Psychiatry: $170,000
Pediatrics: $156,000

The survey also addressed the gender gap in compensation, reporting that male doctors earn 40% more than female physicians. The survey authors say that part of the difference is due to choice of specialties and lifestyle decisions, suggesting that if female doctors worked the same number of hours as men, they would likely earn more equal pay.

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Interestingly, the survey found that doctors in the Northeast earned the least. The highest-paid physicians practiced in the North Central region (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and South and North Dakota), earning on average $234,000. Next came doctors in the South Central and Great Lakes region, with a mean salary of $228,000. Northeast docs earned $204,000 on average.

Despite the widespread push to reduce “unnecessary care” and lower health-care costs, about 67% of physicians said they would not reduce the number of tests, procedures or treatments they perform in order to comply with insurer treatment guidelines. Their reasoning was that either such guidelines were not in their patients’ best interests or that doctors still need to practice defensive medicine.

You can view the full 2012 Medscape Physician Compensation Report here. And click here to see a related lifestyle survey released in March on physicians’ health and happiness.

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