Low pay may be to blame for empty infectious disease training slots

Infectious disease specialists earn one of the lowest salaries among physicians, which may be the reason 35 percent of ID slots were left empty during the 2016 internal medicine fellowship match, according to a Health Affairs blog post.

The average salary for an ID specialist is $215,000, while several other specialties have salaries that are twice as large.

"A common explanation for the lower compensation of ID physicians is that they create less revenue than their peers create and therefore contribute less value to the healthcare system," wrote Timothy Sullivan, MD, an infectious disease physician and assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Though they may not create as many RVUs as their cardiology or gastroenterology counterparts, ID specialists create value for healthcare organizations in different ways, according to Dr. Sullivan.

For instance, they can encourage proper use of antibiotics, thus limiting the use of expensive medication. Also, studies have shown that when ID specialists are involved in treating patients with Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections, it leads to lower mortality rates and shorter lengths of stay.

"Despite their valuable contributions to the healthcare system, ID physicians remain relatively underpaid, and the field struggles to compete with more lucrative specialties when recruiting medical trainees," Dr. Sullivan wrote. "Recent changes to Medicare reimbursement policy represent an opportunity to reconsider how ID specialists are paid and to invest in the future of high-value care."

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