Physician Compensation trends -a broad look

Key Takeaway:

Physician compensation consists of a large and highly assorted set of trends. Many factors play a role in determining physician compensation across the US.

Physicians are among the top earners in the US. Physician compensation standards relate to the pay that physicians earn in their practice. Physician compensation could include both the pay physicians receive as salaries, either in government service or in private hospitals while being employed, and the earning they make in their private practice.

Physician compensation takes two forms:

  • By specialization
  • By the geographic location of their practice

Specialization is a very important criterion of physician compensation. For a number of years, physicians having particular specialization are seen to earn more. For instance, Medscape, in its annual survey of physician compensation showed that orthopedics earn the highest among all specialists for 2013. The next nine highest earning specializations in this survey were:

  • Cardiology
  • Radiology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Urology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Plastic surgery
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Critical care.

In terms of spike in growth rates from the previous two years, the top 10 specializations read thus:

  • Orthopedics
  • Nephrology
  • Neurology
  • Cardiology
  • Critical care
  • Gastroenterology
  • Emergency medicine
  • HIV/ID
  • Pathology
  • Pulmonology.

Geographic location of practice

Geographic location is another important component of physician compensation. A study conducted in 2014 by Doximity, an online social networking service for U.S. physicians and healthcare professionals showed that in general, physician compensation is higher in areas that lie outside fully developed urban centers, while it is relatively lesser in urban areas, although the pay difference is noticeable and not extremely high. Physician compensation for practitioners in NY, LA, Boston or Chicago for instance, is slightly lesser than that of their counterparts in less developed or less densely populated urban or semi urban centers.

The reason for this is believed to be that in the latter, physicians are generally attached to academic medical centers or the government, where the pay is relatively lower, and also that the opportunities for private practice are relatively limited. Another factor seems to be saturation in the market for ultra-specializations, which is yet another core component of physician compensation.

Physician compensation trends are thus a highly variegated and mixed bag. Only some broad pointers are listed here. Physician compensation trends keep varying by specialization, geographic location, type of practice (private, government, consulting, partnership with healthcare organization, etc.), and so on.

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