5 Factors Affecting Physician Compensation

Physician compensation can vary widely by specialty, hospital ownership, geographic location and many other factors. Here are five factors currently affecting physician compensation, according to various reports.

1. Specialty. According to a study by researchers from the University of California Davis School of Medicine, specialists can earn up to twice as much as primary care physicians. The study found that primary care physicians made the lowest wages out of all physician specialties, at an average hourly wage of $60.48. In broad categories of practice, surgeons made the most at $92 per hour.

An examination of more specific subspecialties showed the biggest discrepancy between primary care physician and specialist compensation. The highest wages for subspecialties went to neurologic surgeons and radiation oncologists, who earned an average of $132 per hour and $126 per hour, respectively.  

2. Hospital ownership
. Primary care physicians in multispecialty hospital/IDS-owned practices reported median compensation of $192,116, over $12,000 more than PCPs in multispecialty not-hospital/IDS-owned practices, according to an MGMA report titled "Cost Survey for Integrated Delivery Systems 2010 Based on 2009 Data."

PCPs in multispecialty not-hospital/IDS-owned practices earned $179,688 in median total annual compensation.

3. Region. Physician compensation differed based on geographic region, according to the Medical Group Management Association Physician Compensation and Production Survey: 2010 Report Based on 2009 Data. Family practice physicians based in the eastern United States earned a median salary of $197,860, while family practice physicians in the midwest earned $207,263. Family practice physicians in the southern U.S. earned $238,307, and the same physicians in the western U.S. earned $175,924.

The region with the highest salaries for anesthesiology, invasive and noninvasive cardiology, emergency medicine, gastroenterology and ophthalmology was the southern United States. Neurology, OB/GYN and general orthopedic surgery salaries were all highest in the Midwest United States, according to the study.

4. Group type.
Physician compensation also varied based on group type, meaning whether physicians belonged to a single specialty or multispecialty group, according to the MGMA survey.

Anesthesiologists, invasive, invasive-interventional and noninvasive cardiologists, emergency medicine physicians, gastroenterologists, OB/GYN, neurologists and ophthalmologists all made higher median salaries when working with single specialty groups than with multi-specialty groups. General orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, trauma surgeons and internal medicine physicians, on the other hand, made more working with multispecialty groups.

5. Rate of income growth.
While some specialties are traditionally compensated at higher levels than others, physician compensation is also affected by the rate of income growth over several years. Here are the five medical specialties with the highest average gains in income offers between 2008/9 and 2009/10, according to data from Merritt Hawkins' 2010 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives:

1. Hematology and oncology income offers increased 14.9 percent on average between 2008/9 and 2009/10, moving from $335,000 to $385,000.
2. Neurology income offers increased 8.9 percent, from $258,000 to $281,000.
3. Orthopedics income offers increased 7.9 percent, from $481,000 to $519,000.
4. Radiology income offers increased 6.6 percent, from $391,000 to $417,000.
5. Dermatology income offers increased 5.7 percent, from $297,000 to $314,000.

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