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Do You Feel Rich?

by Dr. Vicki Rackner

Do you feel rich?  A recent report shows that only 11% of surveyed physicians say, “Yes.”

Here are the major findings of the Medscape Physician Compensation Report  based on the self-report of  almost 25,000 US physicians in 25 specialties:

  • Incomes vary by specialty.  Radiologists, orthopedic surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists and urologists all reported incomes in the $300,00 range. The bottom-earning specialties were pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine, all between $156,000 and $180,000.
  • Decreasing reimbursement–a top concern for doctors–is far from uniform.  Some specialities saw increased compensations, including ophthalmology (+9%), pediatrics (+5%), nephrology (+4%), rheumatology (+4%), and oncology (+4%). The largest declines were seen in general surgery (-12%), orthopedic surgery (-10%), radiology (-10%) and emergency medicine (-8%).
  • Male physicians across all specialties earned about 40% more than female physicians..
  • The highest-earning physicians practice in the North Central US, while physicians in the Northeast earned the least.
  • Partners in private practice far out-earned physicians in any other work environment.

Wealth, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.  Physicians’ perception of their compensation is the most eye-opening part of the report.

  • Overall, only about 11% of physicians said that they consider themselves rich.
  • Even among some of the higher-earning specialties, 45% said that although their income probably qualifies them as rich, they have so many expenses that they don’t feel rich.

Here are 3 ways to explain the disconnect between level of earnings and physicians’ experience of wealth.

  • Physicians carry heavy financial burdens.  Half of medical school graduates begin their careers with $100,000 or more in debt.  The cost of running medical practices continues to rise sharply.  The regulatory changes that accompany health care reform will increase the financial burden.
  • Physicians’ current salaries fall short of expectations.  Boomers embarked on a career in medicine believing their significant investment –with great personal sacrifice–would result handsome financial rewards.  That implied promise was broken in the 1990‘s with managed care.
  • Physicians no longer experience rich career satisfaction.  Boomers mourn the loss of their autonomy in both clinical decision-making and management of the business side of their practices.   In 2012, just over one half of all physicians (54%) would choose medicine again as a career, far less than in the prior year (69%).

No matter what your circumstances are, you can enjoy greater wealth.  It might mean working with a financial planner to make your money work for you smarter and harder.  It might mean making a shift in your practice so you experience greater career satisfaction.

A calling drew you to a career in medicine.  You can still tap into the rich rewards.


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