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Physician Compensation: New Trends, Old Wounds, and a Case for Pay Transparency?

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

A few weeks ago, Doximity released its annual Physician Compensation Report. The highly anticipated report draws from nearly 90,000 licensed U.S. doctors and is one of the largest repositories of data on physician compensation available. It provides average salary numbers across a variety of indicators in medical practice, including specialty, geography, and physician demographics.

Some of the trends from 2017 to 2018 were unsurprising. Across the board, specialists continue to earn more than their Primary Care colleagues, and physicians in academic institutions make less than their counterparts in private or group practices. Compensation also continues to vary with geography, with certain metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) averaging higher salaries than others. Not surprisingly, areas with more academic centers tended to have lower average compensation.

Other trends were more surprising. For the first time in recent reporting, we are seeing plateaus in physician compensation — nationally, wages saw a less than one percent decrease between 2017 and 2018. At the same time, however, 2018 saw an overall improvement in the critical gender wage gap in medicine.

For the first time in the Doximity report, pay parity among male and female has improved, with the gap now reduced to below six-figures. In fact, financial compensation for men stagnated, while female compensation grew by two percent. In 2017, the overall physician gender gap was at 27.7 percent, with female doctors earning $105,000 less than their male counterparts. In 2018, that gap was 25.2 percent (or $90,490). Among Primary Care providers, those numbers were even smaller at 15 percent. While a promising early indicator, male physicians still earn an average of $1.25 for every $1 female physicians earn, and more work needs to be done to address these compensation gaps.

As the medical community continues to work toward pay parity, there is a growing call for physicians to be more transparent about their wages. The Doximity report is one way to inform and empower physicians — it provides important leverage for doctors entering into contracts, negotiating salaries, or contemplating career changes. More can be done, however, to promote conversations about salary, and to work toward appropriate, sustainable, and equitable compensation for providers.

Katharine Lawrence, MD is a physician based in Miami, FL and a 2018-2019 Doximity Author.

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