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Medscape/WebMD Poll: How Much Are Doctors Paid?

Big Bucks Go to Orthopaedic Surgeons, Radiologists; Primary-Care Doctors Trail
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 28, 2011 -- A Medscape/WebMD survey of 15,794 U.S. doctors finds that orthopaedic surgeons and radiologists make the most money, while pediatricians and primary care doctors trail the pack.

It's not really a surprise that specialists make the most money:

  • Orthopaedic surgeons and radiologists: median pay $350,000 a year.
  • Cardiologists and anesthesiologists: median pay $325,000 a year.
  • Urologists, gastroenterologists, surgeons, and dermatologists: median pay about $300,000 a year.

That's just what most of these specialists make. Some individuals make a lot more. For example, about 17% of dermatologists report earning $500,000 a year or more.

At the other end of the scale are primary care doctors and pediatricians, who log in at about $159,000 a year average income. Only about one in 100 primary care providers reports making more than $500,000 a year, while 18% had a 2010 income of $100,000 or less.

As in most other fields, men are more highly paid than women. Male specialists pull down a median $225,000 while female specialists take in a median $160,000 a year. The same thing goes for primary care doctors: Men report a median $170,000 annual income while women earn a median $140,000 a year.

The survey offers some hints about why female doctors earn less. Women report spending more time with each patient and report seeing fewer patients each week than male doctors do.

Is Doctor Pay Fair?

Are doctors being paid a fair amount? Doctors are pretty evenly split on the question. Just over half of specialists, and just under half of primary care doctors, say they are fairly compensated.

If the salaries of doctors seem high to you, consider this: Many doctors work very long hours. Two things eat up doctors' time: Actually treating patients and paperwork.

Anesthesiologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, surgeons, and urologists spend an average 46 to 50 hours a week seeing patients. About 42% of all doctors see 50 to 99 patients a week, while about 30% see 100 to 149 patients weekly.

Then there's the paperwork. About one in five oncologists, surgeons, and cardiologists report spending 20 or more hours a week on paperwork and other non-patient activities such as billing issues, supervision, and office meetings. So do 17% of primary care doctors.

Would Doctors Do It Again?

Perhaps the most interesting question in the Medscape Physician Compensation Survey is whether, given the chance to do it all over again, they would choose to become doctors.

Instead of a career in medicine, one doctor would have switched to a job as "an assassin -- of insurance company executives." Another would have been a Zamboni driver.

But an overwhelming 69% of doctors said they would once again choose a medical career. However, 12% said they definitely would not. Among the top alternative career choices are business, law, and education.

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