Doximity released its fifth annual U.S. Physician Employment Report, which shows the highest paid specialties and metropolitan areas for physicians in 2021.
The 2021 U.S. Physician Compensation Report is based on responses from over 40,000 surveys completed by full-time U.S. physicians who practice at least 40 hours a week. All responses were mapped across metropolitan statistical areas (MSA), and the top 50 MSAs were ranked by the total number of respondents.
Doximity controlled for several factors in their report, including differences in geography and specialty, as well how long each provider has practiced medicine and their self-reported average hours of work per week.
Doximity found that compensation for physicians in the United States increased by an average of 3.8% in 2021—higher than the 1.5% increase in 2020.
"It's possible this year's increase reflects a catch-up from last year's relatively flat rate, a tight labor market, or a reflection of rising inflation rates in 2021," the researchers wrote. According to the Consumer Price Index, the 2021 inflation rate was 6.2%.
In breaking down compensation by specialty, Doximity found that physicians specializing in neurosurgery had the highest compensation, while physicians specializing in pediatric infectious diseases had the lowest.
Doximity also ranked metropolitan areas where physicians received the highest compensation in 2021 and found that physicians in Charlotte, North Carolina, received the highest average annual compensation at $462,760. In comparison, the metropolitan area with the lowest average annual compensation for physicians was Baltimore, Maryland, at $330,917.
In 2021, Doximity found that the gender wage gap among physicians was 28.2%, with female physicians making an average of $122,000 less than their male counterparts in a year.
In a study of physician compensation data from 2014-2019, Doximity estimated that male physicians make more than $2 million more than female physicians over the course of a 40-year career.
In a separate survey of medical professionals' attitudes about their employment, Doximity found that over 73% of physicians said they were overworked. In addition, 49.5% said they were considering an employment change, such as retirement, leaving the profession, or finding a new employer, due to Covid-related overwork.
Notably, female physicians appeared to be disproportionately affected by Covid-19 burnout, with 25% of them saying they awere considering early retirement. In comparison, only 20% of male physicians said they were considering early retirement.
"Medical professionals' responsibilities, hours and stresses grew dramatically during the pandemic and, as a result, we’ve seen an increase in burnout, especially among female physicians. For that reason, this is the first year our study has surveyed physicians regarding their retirement plans," said Peter Alperin, VP of product at Doximity.
"By tracking this new data, as well as the compensation information we’ve reported on for years, we hope to provide the medical community with a framework to help it understand employee’s sentiments, hiring needs and dynamics," Alperin added. (Doximity release, 12/16/21; Doximity 2021 Physician Compensation Report, December 2021; Cheney, HealthLeaders Media, 12/27/21)
Despite lost income at the beginning of the pandemic and changes in physician reimbursement, physician compensation continues to grow (even if it did not keep pace with inflation). One thing that’s notable as I review the report from Doximity: the markets with the highest physician compensation all have multiple, competing health systems competing for physician labor and driving up physician compensation (and fair market value) in those areas.
The report’s findings on physician retirement also caught my eye. There’s a clear spike of physician retirements in mid-2020 as some physicians exited the workforce. But rather than return to pre-pandemic levels, physician retirement rates settled at a new baseline higher than the previous norm.
What happens now? That’s what has me worried. When compared with the report’s findings about the vast number of physicians considering a career change or early retirement, I’m quite concerned. My overall takeaway from the report and what we see across the industry is this: It is the work—not the money—that is driving physician behavior right now. We've written in depth about how physicians are burned out—more than ever before—and the omicron surge has darkened any light they saw at the end of the tunnel.
Health care organizations can mitigate the possibility of a physician exodus, but leaders need to be overinvesting in comprehensive recovery for their doctors now. Review the five actions health care executives can take now to address the burnout crisis. And for a deeper dive into guiding your entire workforce recovery, review our take on how leaders can support their teams to recover from experiences during the pandemic.
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