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Med Care. 2012 Dec;50(12):1093-101. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318268ac0c.

Lifetime earnings for physicians across specialties.

Author information

  • 1Center for Healthcare Policy and Research, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Davis, CA 95616-8638, USA. pleigh@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Earlier studies estimated annual income differences across specialties, but lifetime income may be more relevant given physicians' long-term commitments to specialties.

METHODS:

Annual income and work hours data were collected from 6381 physicians in the nationally representative 2004-2005 Community Tracking Study. Data regarding years of residency were collected from AMA FREIDA. Present value models were constructed assuming 3% discount rates. Estimates were adjusted for demographic and market covariates. Sensitivity analyses included 4 alternative models involving work hours, retirement, exogenous variables, and 1% discount rate. Estimates were generated for 4 broad specialty categories (Primary Care, Surgery, Internal Medicine and Pediatric Subspecialties, and Other), and for 41 specific specialties.

RESULTS:

The estimates of lifetime earnings for the broad categories of Surgery, Internal Medicine and Pediatric Subspecialties, and Other specialties were $1,587,722, $1,099,655, and $761,402 more than for Primary Care. For the 41 specific specialties, the top 3 (with family medicine as reference) were neurological surgery ($2,880,601), medical oncology ($2,772,665), and radiation oncology ($2,659,657). The estimates from models with varying rates of retirement and including only exogenous variables were similar to those in the preferred model. The 1% discount model generated estimates that were roughly 150% larger than the 3% model.

CONCLUSIONS:

There was considerable variation in the lifetime earnings across physician specialties. After accounting for varying residency years and discounting future earnings, primary care specialties earned roughly $1-3 million less than other specialties. Earnings' differences across specialties may undermine health reform efforts to control costs and ensure adequate numbers of primary care physicians.

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PMID:
22922430
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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