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Doctors' Incomes Up, Orthopedic Surgeons Lead

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Updated: 7/30/2013 2:10 pm

April 30, 2013 -- Most doctors' incomes are going up, with orthopedic surgeons once again leading the way, according to a new Medscape survey of nearly 22,000 U.S. doctors.

Orthopedic surgeons earn an average of $405,000 a year, while HIV/infectious disease specialists earn the least, averaging $170,000 a year.

On average, the annual salaries of the top specialists, after the orthopedic surgeons, are:

  • Cardiologists, $357,000
  • Radiologists, $349,000

At the bottom of the scale, after infectious disease specialists, are:

  • Pediatricians, $173,000
  • Family practice doctors, $175,000

Among the surprises: A high income did not always translate to overall fulfillment. Just 44% of the orthopedic surgeons report satisfaction with their medical practice. But 53% of the HIV/infectious disease specialists do.

Doctors' Income Trends

This is the third year for the Physician Compensation Report. The survey is conducted by Medscape, WebMD’s site for health care professionals.

The online survey, conducted during the month of February, received responses from 21,878 doctors in 25 specialties. The doctors replied to questions not only about their income, but also about their profession, the time they spend on patient care and paperwork, and other information.

Here are some other survey highlights about doctor incomes:

  • Incomes for orthopedists rose 27%, credited partly to an aging population in need of surgery and other treatment for hips, knees, and other joints.
  • Salaries for endocrinologists declined by 3%. Oncologists' incomes dropped by 4%.
  • Male doctors, on average, earn 30% more than female doctors, down from 40% in last year’s survey. This year, male doctors brought in $259,000 annually on average, while women doctors took in $199,000.
  • Doctors in the North Central region earned the most, averaging $259,000 annually. Northeast doctors earned the least: $228,000 a year.
  • Overall, 48% say they feel their income is fair compensation.

 

How Doctors Spend Their Time

Patient care and paperwork, including computer-based reports, take up the bulk of most doctors' time.

About a third of the doctors say they spend 30 to 40 hours per week, on average, on patient care. 

On average, 30% of the doctors who answered the survey say they spend 13 to 16 minutes per patient. Another 21% say they spend 17 to 20 minutes per patient. One in four doctors sees more than 100 patients a week. About 1 in 5 sees 25 to 49 patients a week.

Conversations about costs are usually not included in those patient talks, the doctors say. Only 30% say they regularly discuss cost with a patient, preferring to focus on treatment options.

Paperwork eats up the other time: 23% say they spend 5 to 14 hours a week on paperwork. And 17% say paperwork takes them more than 20 hours weekly.

Doctors Look Back

Would doctors pick medicine again as a career? Overall, 51% say they would.

Doctors within some specialties were more likely to, with:

  • 66% of internists opting for medicine again
  • 62% of family doctors

Less likely:

  • 37% of dermatologists and orthopedic surgeons

The finding about dermatologists and orthopedic surgeons may seem surprising, as both are among the higher-paid specialties.

The doctors' responses about whether they would pick medicine again didn't always jibe with another survey question about their satisfaction with their medical practice.  For instance, dermatologists reported the highest satisfaction levels, with 59% saying they were satisfied. Only 44% of orthopedic surgeons were satisfied.

Weighing the Rewards of Medicine

What keeps doctors practicing, despite frustrations and paperwork?  Relationships with patients, getting to the root of symptoms, and making an impact in the world, they say.

More than a third of doctors who responded say finding a diagnosis or answer is most rewarding, and 31% cite their relationships with their patients.

Twelve percent cite as most worthwhile the knowledge that they're making the world a better place by practicing medicine.

Only 2% of doctors who responded say nothing is rewarding about their life in medicine.

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