Compensation overview: Primary care vs. specialists

Compensation overview: Primary care vs. specialists

August 2017

THE NEWS ABOUT physician compensation is largely good. According to 2017 survey results from Medscape, physician pay has increased steadily over the last seven years, with pay growing 5%-plus per year over the last three years. The following charts give an overview of physician compensation by specialty, geography, practice setting and more.

The data on these pages come from two sources: Medscape’s 2017 survey of nearly 20,000 physicians, and a review by the staffing firm Merritt Hawkins of 3,000-plus physician and advanced practitioner placements from 2016-17.


Primary care physicians historically earn significantly less than specialists, as is illustrated in the data above. These data represent averages for all PCPs and all specialists, so pay by specialty may be considerably higher or lower than these figures.

August'17 salary offersThe above data provide the average salaries being offered to physicians from six specialties. Compensation reported here is higher than reported in the previous chart, probably because of the location of the placements and the practice types.

August'17 primary care

Academic centers have traditionally paid less than other practice settings. But as health care systems and hospitals compare, compensation in these practice settings is growing quickly.

August'17 4Pediatricians are at the low end of primary care pay, with a mean 2017 compensation of $202,000. Orthopedists top the list, with a mean 2017 compensation of $489,000. Exact numbers for each specialty will vary significantly by factors like geography, practice type and patient volumes.August'17 5According to an analysis by Merritt Hawkins, competition for PCPs has driven starting salaries to new highs in many markets. Primary care physicians are in short supply—and seeing higher compensation—because many internists now work as hospitalists and because urgent care centers and retail clinics are competing for family physicians.

August'17 6

August'17 7As the chart above shows, physician pay has been traditionally been lower in the Northeast, in large part because physicians want to live there and because the region has so many teaching hospitals, which tend to pay less than other employers.


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