Study Finds Huge Gap in Physician Hourly Pay

Most physician pay surveys focus on annual income, but a surprising new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this week breaks down doctors' hourly pay by specialty -- and the findings show the disparity in physician income is even wider than previously believed.

The highest-paid physicians surveyed earned more than 2.5 times the income of the lowest-earning doctors, the study found. Depending on the specialty, a physician can be paid as much as $132.33 an hour for neurologic surgeons, or just $49.90 an hour for primary care providers, according to the study. More surprising, neurologic surgeons surveyed reported they worked an average of 58 hours a week, just one hour more than the lowest-paid primary care providers.

Overall, the study surgeons earned the highest hourly wage, bringing in a mean $92.10 an hour. Physicians in internal medicine and pediatric subspecialties earned a mean $84.85 an hour, while primary care physicians earned a mean $60.46 an hour. The hourly pay for a grouping of “other” medical specialties was $88.08 an hour. The mean annual income for physicians studied over 2004/2005 was $187,857, while they worked a mean 53.1 hours over 47.3 weeks.

Here’s a breakdown of income by physician specialty:

Hourly Income
Neurologic surgery $132.33
Radiation oncology $126.00
Medical oncology $114.21
Plastic surgery $113.78
Dermatology $102.68
Cardiovascular diseases $93.74
Gastroenterology $93.27
Neurology $92.52
Emergency medicine $87.47
Obstetrics/gynecology $83.40
Neonatal/perinatal medicine $75.86
Psychiatry $72.24
Pulmonary diseases $71.67
Pediatrics $69.24
Child and adolescent psychiatry $67.36
Family practice $58.25
Internal medicine $58.18
General practice $57.55
Other pediatric subspecialties $51.62
Internal medicine/pediatrics $49.90

Much like physician income studies in the past, researchers suggested the wide gap in income on an hourly basis provides even more incentive for medical students to shun primary care for better-paying specialties that allow more flexibility in the work schedule.

"In light of low and declining medical student interest in primary care, these findings suggest the need for payment reform aimed at increasing incomes or reducing work hours for primary care physicians," the study's researchers concluded.