Dollars and cents

Physician earnings in 2020: Before and after COVID-19 hit the US

A new Medscape report shares which specialties were earning the most money and which have been hardest-hit by COVID-19.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., the average compensation for doctors was rising, according to Medscape’s annual report (login required) on physician compensation.

As Medscape acknowledges, its data was collected before Feb. 10, 2020, so its report also includes preliminary information on the impact COVID-19 is having on physician salaries.

Medscape, which surveyed 17,461 physicians to create its 2020 report, found a yearly pay increase of 2.5% for primary care physicians (from $237,000 to $243,000) and 1.5% for specialists (from $341,000 to $346,000).

The report’s numbers are significantly higher than those provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2019. BLS gave a median wage of $208,000 for all physicians and average annual wages of roughly $213,270 for family physicians and $252,040 for surgeons.

Below are a few of the report’s highlights.

COVID-19’s impacts on physician income

Sharing information from news stories and other reports released by organizations such as MGMA, Medscape’s report notes that many physicians have seen significant financial fallout as a result of COVID-19:

  • Practices reported an average 55% decrease in revenue and a 60% drop in patient volume on average since the beginning of the crisis.
  • Nine percent of independent practices reported closing their practices, at least temporarily.
  • Remote patient care engagement rose by 225%.
  • In March alone, 43,000 health care workers were laid off.

It goes on to say that specialties that rely on elective procedures saw the largest amount of lost business. Some of those specialties include: orthopedics, plastic surgery, dermatology, cardiology, and ophthalmology.

Highest-earning specialties

While it’s unknown what the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be on physician compensation, an expert The DO recently spoke with speculates that in the future, physicians’ pay will be primarily based on productivity.

Physicians in these 10 specialties reported the highest average annual compensation.

Top 10 average annual physician salaries
Ranking Specialty Average annual compensation
1 Orthopedics $511,000
2 Plastic surgery $479,000
3 Otolaryngology $455,000
4 Cardiology $438,000
5 Radiology $427,000
6 Gastroenterology $419,000
7 Urology $417,000
8 Dermatology $411,000
9 Anesthesiology $398,000
10 Ophthalmology $378,000

Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020

Hours spent on paperwork

The report also ranked the specialties by hours spent per week on paperwork and administration.

Specialties that spend the most amount of time on paperwork and administration
Ranking Specialty Hours spent per week
1 Critical care 19.1
2 Internal medicine 18.5
3 Infectious diseases 18.5
4 Physical medicine & rehabilitation 18.3
5 Neurology 16.9

Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020

Specialties that spend the least amount of time on paperwork and administration
Ranking Specialty Hours spent per week
26 Ophthalmology 9.8
25 Anesthesiology 10.0
24 Radiology 12.3
23 Allergy & immunology 12.7
22 Emergency medicine 12.8

Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020

If you could do it all over, would you?

The survey asked physicians if they would choose their specialty again if given the opportunity. Internal medicine finished last with 66% of physicians saying they would, but that’s a significant jump from 2015, when just 45% of all physicians surveyed said they would choose their own specialty again.

These 10 specialties saw the highest and lowest percentages of respondents who would choose their current specialty again:

Specialties physicians are more likely to choose again
Ranking Specialty Percentage who would choose this again
1 Orthopedics 97%
2 Oncology 96%
3 Ophthalmology 95%
4 Dermatology 95%
5 Plastic surgery 94%

Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020

Specialties physicians are less likely to choose again
Ranking Specialty Percentage who would choose this again
29 Internal medicine 66%
2 Nephrology 69%
3 Family medicine 70%
4 Pulmonary medicine 75%
5 OB-GYN 76%

Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020

Get more information from the full report at Medscape, including details about methodology.

Related reading:

The top 10 highest paying medical specialties in 2019

The 10 medical specialties that were most in demand in 2019

One comment

  1. Kelli Glaser

    Sad news for primary care, when demand for PCPs is so high. I regularly receive job postings for FM with salaries in the 300-400K range. So please don’t be discouraged students. You can care for the whole patient and still maintain a comfortable lifestyle. We are far from the destitution so many of our patients experience.

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