Physicians' salaries have grown at an "anemic" pace in the past 15 years, while other health professionals' salaries have grown much faster, according to researchers from Harvard University and RAND Corporation.
For a recent report in JAMA, researchers used survey data from 1987 to 2010 to measure differences in earnings among 6,258 physicians, 1,640 dentists, 1,745 pharmacists, 17,774 RNs, 761 physician assistants, and 2,378 health care and insurance executives.
The report defined earnings as total yearly labor and business income (minus expenses). It excluded income from facility or medical technology ownership.
They found that, from 1987 to 2010, the average physician's salary increased by 9.6%, while other health care professionals' average salaries increased by 44%.
Specifically, from 1996 to 2010, average hourly wages for:
- Physicians increased from $65.40 to $67.30;
- Dentists increased from $64.30 to $69.60;
- Pharmacists increased from $37.80 to $50.60;
- RNs increased from $26.20 to $29.90;
- PAs increased from $21 to $31.20; and
- Health care and insurance executives increased from $39.60 to $42.50.
"Despite attention paid to higher earnings of physicians in the U.S. compared with other countries, physician earnings grew less than those of other health professionals in the last 15 years," the study concluded.
Researchers attributed the slower growth to Medicaid payment cuts, slow Medicare payment growth, and managed care adoption. They also noted that the insurance industry's move towards bundled payments and tougher bargaining may have contributed to sluggish salary growth.
According to report author Amitabh Chandra, the slow growth of physician salaries may have ramifications on the projected primary care physician shortage. "If as a country we want more people to go into primary care, this anemic, jaundiced earnings growth is not going to be a motivator to get people to join primary care," Chandra says (Japsen, Forbes, 11/28; Petrochko, MedPage Today, 11/27; Pittman, Reuters, 11/27).