What physicians got paid in 2020

New Medscape report reveals the pandemic’s impact on physician compensation last year. Some specialties thrived while others saw significant drops.

Despite significant upheaval caused by COVID-19, physician pay in 2020 on average was similar to 2019, reported Medscape in its recently released physician compensation report (login required). The report found that 2020’s average physician pay for primary care physicians and specialists–$243,000 and $346,000, respectively–was only $1-2,000 off from 2019’s averages.

An expert quoted in the article says this is likely because many physicians reduced their expenses, used the Paycheck Protection Program and provided more telemedicine last year.

However, not all specialties were impacted equally, with some, such as plastic surgery and oncology, seeing significant income increases and others, such as pediatrics and otolaryngology, seeing a sharp drop.

To create the report, Medscape surveyed over 17,900 physicians across 29-plus specialties between Oct. 6, 2020 and Feb. 11, 2021.

The report also provides some information about how the practice of medicine is beginning to bounce back from the early days of the pandemic. While more than half of physicians say their patient volume is reduced from pre-pandemic levels, the majority of physicians are expecting their income to return to pre-COVID levels within the next few years.

More than half of physicians whose hours were reduced last year have since seen them restored, while nearly one-third of primary care docs and roughly one-third of specialists who lost pay have since seen it restored.

Below is the average reported physician compensation for 2020 by specialty. Please note that the incomes below come from self-reported survey results.

Physicians’ average compensation for 2020 by specialty
Specialty: Average compensation:
Plastic surgery $526,000
Orthopedics/Orthopedic surgery $511,000
Cardiology $459,000
Urology $427,000
Otolaryngology $417,000
Radiology $413,000
Gastroenterology $406,000
Oncology $403,000
Dermatology $394,000
Ophthalmology $379,000
Anesthesiology $378,000
General surgery $373,000
Critical care $366,000
Emergency medicine $354,000
Pulmonary medicine $333,000
Pathology $316,000
OB-GYN/Women’s health $312,000
Nephrology $311,000
Physical medicine & rehabilitation $300,000
Neurology $290,000
Rheumatology $276,000
Psychiatry $275,000
Allergy & immunology $274,000
Internal medicine $248,000
Infectious diseases $245,000
Diabetes & endocrinology $245,000
Public health/Preventive medicine $237,000
Family medicine $236,000
Pediatrics $221,000

The chart below shows which specialties saw increases and drops in income last year, as well as which had static income.

Physicians’ compensation change in 2020 by specialty
Specialty: Compensation change:
Plastic surgery +10%
Oncology +7%
Rheumatology | Cardiology +5%
Diabetes & endocrinology +4%
Neurology | Critical care | Psychiatry +3%
General surgery | Urology | Public health & preventive medicine +2%
Nephrology | OB-GYN/Women’s health +1%
Family medicine | Ophthalmology | Orthopedics/Orthopedic surgery | Infectious diseases | Pathology 0%
Emergency medicine | Internal medicine -1%
Pulmonary medicine | Physical medicine & rehabilitation | Gastroenterology | Radiology -3%
Dermatology -4%
Pediatrics | Anesthesiology -5%
Otolaryngology | Allergy & immunology -9%

Related reading:

What the pandemic could mean for physician compensation

Buying a house in 2021: What doctors need to know

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