How Much Does Your Doctor Make?

There’s an old joke about a housewife who complains about the $175 she just paid her plumber. Briefly, when she sees her plumber’s bill for fixing a leaky faucet, she grumbles and says: “I paid less than half of this the last time I visited my doctor.” The plumber responds, saying: “I know, I used to be a doctor.”

We keep reading about diminishing reimbursements. The cost of medical school is now debated in the context of return on investment (ROI). Physician demographics are literally changing the face of the business and most of us know a doctor or two who candidly talks about wanting out –because the money isn’t there anymore. Well is it true?

Long known as the lowest paid, family practice doctors (now known as primary care physicians) are enjoying a return to prominence, but will they see it reflected in their pay?

  • Average: $178,000
  • Northeast: $152,000; Southeast; $187,000; Midwest: $180,000; West: $167,000
  • Five years ago: $150,000
  • Ten years ago: $135,000

You might think pediatrics is a safe harbor.  After all, when mom and dad are sick, they grin and bear it, but when the kids are sick, off to the doctor they go.  Not so. Lots of kids are covered by low-paying plans (e.g. Medicaid).

  • Average: $191,000 
  • Northeast: NA; Southeast: $201,000; Midwest: $192,000; West: $184,000
  • Five years ago: $151,000
  • Ten years ago: $130,000

So many of us wanted to be psychiatrists. We knew we would be good at it –right?  Well, mental health reimbursements got whacked a long time ago and are slated to get re-whacked.

  • Average: $206,000

  • Northeast: $174,000; Southeast: $210,000; Midwest: $210,000; West: $198,000
  • Five years ago: $176,000
  • Ten years ago: $146,000

The earning power for those who specialize in obstetrics and other women’s health issues peaked a while ago.

  • Average: $286,000
  • Northeast: $252,000; Southeast: $291,000; Midwest: $297,000; West: $276,000
  • Five years ago: $247,000
  • Ten years ago: $225,000

Emergency room (ER) physicians do reasonably well.  Their compensation is considered middle of the road relative to other medical specialties, which makes no sense, given their relative work conditions.

  • Average: $292,000

  • Northeast: $237,000; Southeast: $300,000 ; Midwest: $390,000; West: $268,00
  • Five years ago: $246,000
  • Ten years ago: $185,000

General surgeons have become free agents by necessity. There just aren’t enough of them, so these doctors tend to have many different hospital-employers.

  • Overall: $328,000
  • Northeast: $302,000; Southeast: $330,000; Midwest: $331,000; West: N/A
  • Five years ago: $255,000
  • Ten years ago: $189,000

Anesthesiology remains the lucrative specialty that your parents probably told you about. Not only are these docs high paid, but they don’t have their own patients, staff or practices. No hassles. They do, however, have extraordinary malpractice insurance premiums.

  • Average: $332,000 
  • Northeast: $298,000; Southeast: $358,000; Midwest: $392,000; West: $310,000
  • Five years ago: $303,000
  • Ten years ago: $222,000

Radiologists do well (imaging technologies are proven game changers); so well that Medicare finally took notice and has begun to cut reimbursements for certain kinds of scans. The “last in wins” scenario is starting to play out in this specialty. Look for interesting financial partnerships to develop between manufacturers and practitioners (no other way to deal with equipment obsolescence risks).

  • Average: $379,000
  • Northeast: $425,000; Southeast: $370,000; Midwest: $456,000; West: $350,000
  • Five years ago: $355,000
  • Ten years ago: $225,000

The explosion in angioplasty procedures and cardiac imaging studies makes cardiology the “winner.”

  • Average: $442,000
  • Northeast: $423,000; Southeast: $454,000; Midwest: $444,000; West: $400,000
  • Five years ago: $320,000
  • Ten years ago: $238,000

So what’s the takeaway? The worse compensation case represented is in obstetrics (i.e. based on about a 22% percentage increase over the last ten years). Family doctors come in second, as they have only realized an average increase of 30% vs. nearly 90% increases for various other specialties.

And contrary to popular lore, compensation for most physicians has not decreased, it just hasn’t increased at the same rate as, for example, plumbers.

—Tom Finn

Editors Note: The figures presented above were sourced from research performed by Forbes Magazine.

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