Nurses Make More than Doctors? Mass Hysteria!

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Why does physician compensation seem to be such a hot-button issue right now? We know that soaring specialist salaries are leading us to an inevitable and potentially damaging shortage of primary care doctors.

How are the kids, Mike? Is the new job working out for you, Sally? Hey, Rick, did you catch the end of that baseball game last night? So, Janine, what’s your salary?

Of course, no one in his right mind would ever start a conversation with that last question. Why, then, does physician compensation seem to be such a hot-button issue right now? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen many recent articles on how the plumbers are now making more, on average, than the pipefitters, or how the medical editors are really cleaning up compared to the political journalists. The exceptions to this generality seem to be athletes, teachers, and…physicians.

We’ve seen the articles on declining physician reimbursement, we know that higher specialist salaries and shrinking primary care compensation are leading us to an inevitable and potentially damaging shortage of primary care doctors. We’ve heard the crunch that malpractice payments and shrinking Medicare reimbursements are creating for physicians. But the last straw seems to be the stunning news, recently announced, that some recruiting firms are placing nurse anesthetists with salaries as high as $185,000 per year.

This is fantastic news...if you’re a nurse anesthetist. Oncology nurses themselves are no slouch, with some advanced practice nurses earning as much as $125,000 per year. Of course, if you’re a family practice physician who has seen your income shrink to an average of $172,000 by some estimates, this news may have you a little green with envy.

“A lot of it is just based on economics,” Phil Miller, a VP at the firm explained to the Wall Street Journal. “An investment in a [nurse anesthetist] who can do all your anesthesiology and keep your operating room going and ensure you’re getting all those high-dollar procedures coming in to your hospital or your surgery center makes sense, particularly in rural areas where you may not have an anesthesiologist.”

The larger issue, though, are the ever-worsening incentives for a physician to enter a primary care practice. Compensation is only of the challenges that will need to be faced to address this shortage.

For more on this, see the resources below.

Physician Employment and Compensation Outlook for ’08:

The End of the Primary Care Physician

Bitter doc wants more respect for primary care

The Crisis of Primary Care Physicians

Nursing Jobs Salaries

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