Most physicians saw higher compensation in 2016: 5 things to know about specialist, primary care pay

Physician pay has increased for the seventh year in a row to an average annual compensation of $294,000 for full-time physicians in 2016, according to Medscape's 2017 Physician Compensation Report, which has tracked pay data for seven years.

Here are five things to know about the latest data on specialist and primary care physician pay.

1. PCPs still earn less than specialists, despite the industry's greater emphasis on primary care. Specialists earned 45.6 percent more in 2016 — which equates to roughly $100,000 more, according to the report. After a year of growth in primary care pay in 2015 — when internist pay grew 12 percent over the year prior, pediatrician pay grew 7 percent and family practitioner pay grew 6 percent — primary care pay experienced little to no growth in 2016. In fact, pediatrician pay declined 1 percent. At an average annual compensation of $202,000, pediatricians were the lowest paid physicians. Comparatively, orthopedists were the highest paid, at $489,000.

2. Seven specialties experienced significant growth in compensation. Medscape flagged seven specialties with double-digit growth in compensation between 2015 and 2016. Those specialties included:

  • Plastic surgery (24 percent growth)
  • Allergy and immunology (15 percent)
  • Otolaryngology (13 percent)
  • Ophthalmology (12 percent)
  • Pulmonology (11 percent)
  • Orthopedics (10 percent)
  • Pathology (10 percent)

3. Two specialties experienced little to no growth, due in part to CMS changes in reimbursement. Cardiologists and oncologists did not experience pay growth in 2016, according to the report. Medscape attributed this to reductions in Medicare reimbursement for stent placement and cancer drugs.

4. Self-employed physicians still bring home the biggest paychecks, but employers are upping the ante for PCPs. Self-employed physicians generally earn about 28 percent more than employed physicians, but the gap is much smaller among PCPs. Self-employed PCPs earned average compensation of $223,000 in 2016, compared to employed physicians' $214,000.

5. Pay is greater where demand is greater. This means physicians are earning most in rural areas. Pay is highest in North Dakota, where the average physician earned $361,000 in 2016. It is lowest in Washington, D.C., where the average physician earned $235,000 in 2016. The highest paid states for physicians after North Dakota include Alaska, South Dakota and Nebraska.


Medscape surveyed more than 19,200 physicians across 26 specialties. Compensation for employed physicians includes salary, bonus and profit-sharing contributions. For independent physicians, compensation includes earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses, but before income tax.

Read the full report here.


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