Money matters

Nearly two-thirds of US doctors have lost income during the pandemic, report finds

While COVID-19 has affected the majority of American doctors financially, some specialties have been hit harder than others, according to a new Medscape report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted physicians in myriad ways. Some are dealing with the stress of PPE shortages, seeing increased illness and death on the job and contending with reduced workplace budgets while their services are more needed than ever. Some are considering early retirement or other options following an unsustainable drop in practice revenue. Many are living with the knowledge that they are at increased risk of contracting the virus.

A new Medscape report (login required) on physicians’ experiences during COVID-19 seeks to shed light on exactly how the pandemic is affecting physicians. To prepare the report, Medscape surveyed nearly 7,500 physicians in eight countries throughout June and July. American physicians provided over 5,000 of those responses.

Income drop

One of the most stark, albeit not surprising, findings of the report is how much physicians have been impacted financially by the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. doctors reported losing income during the pandemic, though the amount of income lost varied dramatically.

How much income physicians reported losing
Percentage of physicians who reported lost income Percentage of income lost
15% 1%-10%
33% 11%-25%
28% 26%-50%
14% 51%-75%
9% 76%-100%

The pandemic has hit four specialties particularly hard, Medscape reported.

Hard-hit specialties
Specialty Percentage of physicians reporting a revenue drop who lost 51% or more of income
Ophthalmology 51%
Allergy 46%
Plastic surgery 46%
Otolaryngology 45%

Burnout, loneliness and coping mechanisms

Before the pandemic, physicians had high rates of burnout—one estimate put the figure at one-third to half of physicians—often due to increased administrative tasks, EHR issues and a lack of workplace support. The pandemic has added fuel to this fire, with nearly two-thirds of U.S. physicians saying their burnout has increased.

Outside the workplace, 44% of U.S. physicians who live with family members say the pandemic has put more stress on their relationships at home. A similar number—46%—say they are lonelier now due to stay-at-home guidelines and social distancing.

Roughly one-third of U.S. physicians are exercising more during the pandemic, with a similar number also eating more, and nearly 20% drinking more.

Increase and decrease in various health-related activities during the pandemic
Activity Percentage of physicians doing more of this Percentage of physicians doing less of this
Exercising 34% 31%
Eating 29% 12%
Drinking alcohol 19% 19%
Using prescription stimulants/medication 2% 20%

Looking forward

Despite the great challenges of the present moment, many physicians are optimistic that medical advances will lead to brighter days ahead. Nearly 70% of U.S. physicians believe there will be a vaccine by the end of 2021, while nearly half are at least somewhat confident that new drugs and treatments will be able to save most COVID-19 patients by the end of next year.

Related reading:

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

How COVID-19 has changed medical education for these trainees


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