According to Medscape’s 2022 Physician Compensation Report, physician income is growing and rebounding from the effects of the pandemic. However, pay gaps continue to be a problem for women and people of color. Medscape surveyed 13,000 physicians in 29 specialties to better understand how physician compensation fared during 2021. Here are the key physician salary trends from the 2022 report.
1. Physician salaries are on the rise
Income is up from the previous year for most physicians, but some of that growth is compensating for income decline in 2020. Overall, physicians made an average of $339K, with specialists making 41.5% more (at $368K) than primary care physicians (at $260K). However, PCPs are making 7% more than they were the previous year, which is nearly the same compensation increase specialists experienced over the same period.
Over the past five years, the highest-earning specialties — plastic surgery, orthopedics, cardiology, otolaryngology, and urology — have remained the same.
The highest-earning specialty (plastic surgery) is compensated 137% more than the lowest-earning specialty (public health and preventive medicine). However, physicians in public health and preventative medicine rated the highest among specialist who feel fairly compensated for their work (72%).
2. Pay gaps still exist for women and people of color
Although physicians are seeing a compensation increase overall, women and people of color are still earning less than their white male counterparts.
Women in primary care earn 25% less than men in their same field — a slight increase from the 23% gap between the two genders a decade ago.
Female specialists suffer from a much bigger pay gap (31%). However, the gender pay gap in specialist salaries has seen a decline over the years (37% in 2017, 36% in 2018, 33% in 2019). One explanation could be that more women are going into higher-paid specialties than before.
Even though all racial groups have experienced a compensation increase, Caucasian/White physicians are still the highest earners, earning 10.5% more than the lowest-paid racial group (African American/Black).
3. Most of the highest-paying states for physicians are in the South
More than half of the states that made the top 10 list for highest paying states are in the South. Many southern states have used higher salaries and other incentives to attract physicians to their area, especially in rural areas that have the highest need for quality medical care.
4. Self-employed physicians earn more than employed physicians
According to the survey, 36% of physicians took on extra work to supplement their income last year. While physicians are looking to make extra money, self-employed physicians (which includes locum tenens physicians) report a 20% higher overall income ($385k) than their employed counterparts ($320k). Even with the higher income potential, self-employment has waned over the last few years.
And although self-employed physicians tend to be in an older age group, physicians under the age of 45 have a much higher earning potential with self-employment — earning almost 38% more than their counterparts.
5. Most physicians are happy in their career
Even with the immense challenges physicians faced treating patients during the pandemic, 73% would still choose medicine again. However, that number is down from the previous year (78%).
But quite a few physicians are happy in their specialty, with nearly 100% of dermatologists saying they’d choose their specialty again if given the chance. Although family medicine and internal medicine are at the bottom of the list, more than half of physicians in those specialties say they would choose it again.
And many physicians still find their jobs rewarding, citing their relationship with their patients (27%), using their skills to find a diagnosis for a patient (25%), and knowing they’re making a difference as the top reasons why.
However, there are challenges, including too many rules and regulations (23%), dealing with difficult patients (15%), and having to work long hours (15%).
While the physician salary trend continues to be positive, the 2022 Medscape survey indicates that pay equity continues to be a problem for women and people of color. Still, most physicians are happy with their choice of career and specialty and many aspects of their job are rewarding.
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Chart images from Medscape.com