More Physicians Receiving Signing Bonuses, Loan Forgiveness Plans

May 26, 2011

Physicians are reporting richer employment contracts, including signing bonuses, job-relocation packages and loan-forgiveness programs, a new survey found. Starting salaries, however, have remained flat to slightly higher over the last few years.

Physician shortages are leading to richer employment contracts, including signing bonuses, job-relocation packages and loan-forgiveness programs, according to a new survey. Starting salaries, however, have remained flat to slightly higher over the last few years.

Specialty physicians earned a median first-year salary of $258,677 in multi-specialty practices, and a median of $240,596 for single-specialty practices, according to the Medical Group Management Association's Physician Placement Starting Salary Survey: 2011 Report Based on 2010 Data. Primary care physicians were paid a median first-year salary of $165,000 for multi-specialty practices, and $172,400 for single-specialty practices.

Since 2008, both primary and specialty-care physicians have either seen their first-year compensation increase slightly or stay the same, according to MGMA.

To make up for stagnant salaries, employers are offering other incentives, including signing bonuses, loan forgiveness programs, and a certain amount of paid relocation expenses. The survey found that more than half (56%) of physicians polled received signing bonuses and/or paid relocation packages, while 12% were offered loan-forgiveness packages, most of which were $50,000 or less.

Primary care physicians were more likely to be offered loan-forgiveness than specialty-care physicians, MGMA found.

“Physician recruitment is based on supply and demand, and because there are fewer physicians, recruiting has become more difficult in this environment,” explained Kevin Ruggles, M.D., M.M.M, Sr. Vice President of Medical & Clinical Affairs at Rockford Health System. “Physicians have certainly become savvier in negotiating their employment terms and signing bonuses and paid relocation packages are more common now.”

Physician compensation varied by location, according to MGMA. Median first-year compensation was the same for primary care physicians across the Eastern, Midwest, and Southern geographic sections at $170,000 per year, but specialty physicians' median first-year compensation varied more by geographic section. In the Southern and Western regions, first-year compensation was highest at $275,000 and $270,000, respectively. The Midwest and Eastern regions held the lowest median first-year compensation for specialists at $250,000 and $220,000, respectively, the survey found.

The survey included data on 4,295 providers categorized by specialty, as well as starting salary information on 1,986 physicians directly out of residency or fellowship.