A new survey by Doximity concludes that physician incomes rose only 1.5% this year compared to 2019, a steep drop compared to the steady 4% average increases recorded in recent years. The 2020 pay bump is also nearly a full point below the U.S. inflation rate, although they are still compensated handsomely.
The survey of 44,000 physicians nationwide also indicated a growing gender gap in compensation, with female doctors earning 28% less than their male counterparts, up from 25.2% in 2019.
The study’s lead author, also an adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, blamed the depressed earnings data on the economic impact of COVID-19. That appears to be supported by new data from the American Medical Association, which said 81% of physicians they surveyed said their income was lower than it was in February.
Even as physicians have grumbled over the years how managed care and the corporate influence on medicine has eaten into their incomes, they still held some of the most secure jobs in the nation and could count on their salaries to outstrip some of the lowest inflation rates in recent memory.
However, COVID-19 has taken a sledgehammer to that reality. With an average salary of $415,325 this year, physician compensation grew only by 1.5% in 2020, while the overall U.S. inflation rate was 2.3%. “While healthcare prices are rising faster for patients, these price changes do not translate into increased compensation for medical professionals,” the Doximity study noted.
Hit particularly hard were doctors employed by hospitals and universities or other academic enterprises. They saw their pay climb just 1.1% and 1.2%, respectively. Those working for health plans, multispecialty medical groups and urgent care centers saw pay increases ranging from just over 2% to more than 4.1%.
There was also another unsettling trend that was exacerbated by the small rise in physician pay: Women doctors now earn an average of $299,036. That’s $116,289 less than their male counterparts, a 28% gap that increased more than 10% compared to last year.
"It’s possible that the widening gender pay gap represents another financial consequence of the pandemic," the study noted. Some specialties saw an even bigger gap: Female orthopaedic surgeons earned on average nearly $123,000 less than their male colleagues.
There were some bright spots for doctors. Vascular surgeons, oncologists, emergency medicine specialists and physical medicine doctors all saw their pay increase 4% or more, while cardiologists, plastic surgeons, nephrologists and pathologists all saw theirs increase by at least 3.5%.
Providence, R.I. and Portland, Ore. saw average pay increases approaching 9%, while Richmond, Va., New Orleans and Las Vegas saw bumps topping 7%. Doctors in Denver, Atlanta and Salt Lake City also saw above-average hikes in pay.
The highest-paid specialties were neurosurgery, at $746,544, while thoracic and orthopedic surgeons took home well over $600,000 apiece. Preventive medicine was the lowest-paying specialty, averaging just $234,587. Pediatrics barely topped $243,000, while endocrinologists, pediatricians and medical geneticists earned slightly more than $250,000 apiece.