Short Takes On News & Events

Few Doctors Consider Themselves Rich, Survey Says

By Sarah Barr

April 25th, 2012, 2:37 PM

Source: Medscape Physician Compensation Report

Few doctors think of themselves as rich, and only about half think they’re fairly compensated, according to survey results released this week by Medscape.

The annual survey isn’t scientific – and perhaps, not surprising, either — but it offers insights into what nearly 25,000 physicians earn, and how they view that number. In 2011, compensation self-reported by surveyed physicians ranged from an average of $156,000 for pediatricians to $315,000 for radiologists and orthopedic surgeons.

The survey showed that 51 percent of all physicians — and 46 percent of primary care physicians – think they’re compensated fairly.

Only about 11 percent of doctors consider themselves rich, mostly because of their debts and expenses, according to Medscape.

The survey also offers a glimpse at how physicians view coming changes to the health care system, such as efforts to improve quality or offer care through accountable care organizations, which are integrated systems included in the federal health law.

More than half said they expect their incomes to decline because of ACOs (although very few were participating in such a system), and only 25 percent said quality measures and treatment guidelines will improve patient care.

Overall, 54 percent of physicians said they would choose medicine as a career again. Only 41 percent said they would choose the same specialty and 23 percent would choose the same practice setting.

Others groups that survey physicians about their income include the Medical Group Management Association and Merritt Hawkins. A 2011 MGMA report, for instance, which looked at data from 2010, found the median compensation for radiologists was $471,253 and $192,148 for physicians in pediatric/adolescent medicine.

Medscape surveyed 24,216 physicians across 25 specialty areas from Feb. 1-17, 2012 using a third-party online survey collection website.

7 Responses to “Few Doctors Consider Themselves Rich, Survey Says”

  1. I am disappointed that you chose to highlight these survey results at KHN. The data come from a “third party online survey collection site”, a data collection method that is notoriously ill-equipped to render representative samples of anything. These sites typically recruit participation online and are prone to severely biased samples. Without further disclosure of its data collection methods, we can assume the study is flawed and not worth discussion. It is even more troubling that this group is touting these results as a “trend” line of some sort (physician income declined, physician satisfaction is down, etc.) because these two samples in time do not fairly represent the physician population. Any difference in respondent percentages is going to be primarily due to difference in who chose to complete the survey online, not due to a real “trend”. Whatever the agenda is of the study authors, it is not one of service in the public interest. I would hope that KHN would take more care in the future to screen out these “studies” from inclusion by a well-respected source for health care news.

  2. Dr. Tracy Verrico says:

    Although I agree that there may be sampling error in the above data as with any survey, I can however attest that reimbursement for physicians is consistently decreasing and overhead forever increasing. Most of the public has no understanding of the required overhead costs to even practice medicine (ie. malpractice, OSHA/HIPPA training, required memberships to professional societies, CME costs, maintaining licensure to name a few). It is interesting to me that the insurance premiums, coinsurances, and deductibles are increasing for patients and the physician reimbursment is decreasing every year. Even without a business degree, it is easy to extrapolate that medical practice bankruptcy will ultimately be the outcome.

  3. Roger Watkins says:

    One thing to notice, of course, is how many responding doctors with such comfortable and enviable incomes, and nearly 100% job security, work just 30-40 hours per week. In this context is is always astounding to me how doctors continue to bellyache that they do not get pad what “they are worth,” which seems to be (in their minds) the peak salaries of an investment banker in the raging 80′s. Also consider the decline of medical attention to the average patient, in the reformed “8 minutes per patient only” medical mentality.

  4. A concerned reader says:

    @Roger Watkins, your comment comes off as angry and uninformed.

    Consider this:
    A physician has many costs that are coming out of their income. malpractice alone can cost $7-$10,000 a year, for some rather lucky primary care physicians in some states, to upwards of $150,000-200,000 a year for OB-GYNs. Physicians have other people working with them, in their practices, and their salaries are paid by the physician as well. Not to mention the basic costs of running any small business – space, supplies, etc. We’re talking about a physician running a medical practice needing to make $100,000 to 200,000 to only begin to start earning a salary for themselves.

    Medical school leaves young doctors with an average of $130,000 in debt, which is added onto any debt remaining from college student loans. When leaving school, residents are paid on average $40,000 a year during their training, as they begin to shoulder the debts they have. They leave training (at the youngest, at 30, very often many years older than that) to open a practice or begin working in a hospital. There may be job security on medicine, but this is a life-time investment.

    Let’s play with numbers: if physician is paid $50 for an office visit from Medicare, and they see 2 patient in an hour for 40 hours a week, for 52 weeks a year. Including income tax, this will be just a bit over $120,000. This hasn’t even started to cover their own salary, if they need to handle all the costs of running a practice. This means this physician needs to see twice as many patients to start actually having an income, having 15 minute visits with a patient. Face-to-face time with a doctor is down because that doctor can’t afford to spend time with you and run their practice. Now these situations can be different for some specialties, or salaried physicians working for health care systems, and I’m using rough numbers, but I’m trying to combat the bitterness I hear.

    Many doctors are becoming disgruntled and frustrated. they are fearful of law suits, order multiple tests to cover their bases, they are tired of non-compliant patients not heeding their advice and sick of the health care system in general. The compensation that was recently given for a medical visit or procedure is going down, when the skill, training, and responsibility of the doctor is staying the same (or increasing) and doctors have to figure out ways to balance this. I’m not saying that every doctor has everyone’s best interest at heart all the time. some try to use the system to get by. It is a bleak situation.

    but beyond any of this, doctors are trained to help sick people and save lives. They have invested at least 7 years of their lives (or up to 16 years for that surgeon who will remove that tumor for you) to learn these skills. if your health and life are valuable to you, wouldn’t you want someone who is knowledgeable and compassionate taking care of you? wouldn’t that doctor have a lot of worth to you if they could cure your disorder, treat your disease, or extend your health, life and happiness? and wouldn’t that be more valuable to you than an investment banker?

  5. Researcher says:

    @A Concerned Reader

    Although those expenses (malpractice, overhead) may not be an exaggeration, they were taken into consideration in the survey methods and were figured into these salaries. Student loan debt, however, was not.

    Professionals in other fields also incur heavy student loan debt and don’t receive this sort of compensation. It is because physician services are highly valued that they receive this sort of compensation. As you mentioned, things are changing, but these numbers hardly reflect a profession that is undervalued or underpaid.

  6. Another Concerned Reader says:

    I agree with Ms. Sommers that the survey is significantly flawed and shouldn’t be used here due to validity issues. The numbers quoted also quite understated when compared to data available from MGMA, AMGA and other respected 3rd party surveys. I could go on about the lack of reality here, but it would likely fall on deaf ears. Needless to say, physicians in pretty much all specialities make a very, very good living and generally receive the respect of their patients (if not the insurance companies). From personal experience in clinic adminstration, one of the primary jobs is to manage greed …

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