Doctors Struggle to Keep Pace

Physician's Money Digest, November15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 21

I learned late in life that my dad wasa successful physician. The 6-figureincome he was earning by the early1980s, adjusted for inflation, wouldplace him in the above-average range fortoday's doctor salaries. Yet he didn't considerhimself well-off. A big family, largehouse, and suspect money skills weredraining. His ultimate success secret was"get up and go to work."

2003 Physician Compensation andProduction Survey

For today's practicing doctors, theincome picture is perhaps even more testing.According to results from theMedical Group Management Association's, the financial story isa little better today than in previousyears. When you factor in the expensesof life, however, times are still tough.

Primary Care $

Based on surveys of about 1800 USmedical practices, primary care doctorsrealized a 2.8% annual compensation increaselast year to $153,231, while specialistssaw a 4.3% bump to $274,639.These meek increases, when included inthe context of the past 5 years (1998 to2002), indicate an even more alarmingtrend—compensation for primary carephysicians rose only 2% per year (and3.6% for specialists).

The greatest compensation increase inprimary care went to internists; the 3.8%bump raised their average salary to$155,530. Family doctors (without anOB) saw their annual compensationclimb by 2.5% to $150,267. During thepast 5 years, the biggest total increase(13.1%) went to pediatric and adolescentmedicine doctors, while the smallest(8.6%) went to family practice doctors.

Medical Specialists

Dermatologists enjoyed the biggest annualsalary increase among medical specialists,up 25% to $269,238. Next werehematologists/oncologists (up 13.1% to$310,371) and radiologists (up 12.9% to$376,035). The specialists with the greatestdecreases were invasive cardiologists(-6.1% to $385,000), noninvasive cardiologists(-3.9% to $307,618), and urologists(-3% to $294,337).

During the past 5 years, the biggestincrease among specialists went to hematologists/oncologists (up 46%), dermatologists(up 39.3%), and radiologists (up38.3%). The specialists with the smallest5-year increase were OB/GYN physicians(up 7.7% to $233,061) and general surgeons(up 13.2% to $255,438).

The median annual salary in 2002 fornew doctors (less than 2 years in practice)was $136,320 for family physicians,$129,029 for internists, $209,736 forgeneral surgeons, $232,846 for gastroenterologists,$202,476 for dermatologists,and $181,709 for OB/GYN physicians.