Physician Compensation Report Underscores Disparities Between Specialties and Sexes

May 2016, Vol 4, No 5 - Inside Business
Sophie Granger

A new report has been released highlighting notable differences between men and women physicians, as well as the net worth, earnings, and financial competitiveness of physicians from varying specialties.1

As a follow-up to the information gleaned through the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2016, Carol Peckham, Director, Editorial Services, Art Science Code LLC, NY, summarized highlights specific to the earnings and net worth, investments and financial losses, and competitiveness of physicians by specialty and sex in the Physician Debt and Net Worth Report 2016.1,2

The survey this report was based on was conducted from November 17, 2015, to February 9, 2016, via a third-party website, and included responses from 19,183 physicians spanning 26 specialties who met screening criteria.1 The 6 most common specialties represented by survey respondents were family medicine (13%), internal medicine (12%), pediatrics (8%), psychiatry (7%), and emergency medicine and anesthesiology (6% each).

Earnings and Net Worth

When organized by specialty, there were notable correlations and differences associated with earnings and net worth. In 2016, orthopedists ($443,000), cardiologists ($410,000), and dermatologists ($381,000) were the top 3 earners, whereas pediatricians ($204,000), endocrinologists ($206,000), and family physicians ($207,000) were the 3 lowest earners.

Factoring in total assets (eg, money in bank accounts, home equity, value of cars) and liabilities (eg, money owed on mortgages, car loans, credit card debts), physicians were asked to estimate their net worth as it pertains to 1 of 5 range categories for overall net worth. Unsurprisingly, when the data were averaged by specialty, the network correlated with compensation. Notably, orthopedists and cardiologists—who are also among the top 3 earners by specialty—had ratings of 3.08 and 2.87, respectively, whereas family physicians and pediatricians—who ranked among the bottom 3 in terms of earnings—had ratings of 2.00 and 2.06, respectively.

Investments and Financial Losses

In the past year, 73% of physicians of both sexes reported not having experienced any significant financial losses.

“Sometimes efforts to expand or change one’s medical practice don’t turn out as intended,” Ms Peckham explained. “Practice issues could include anything from purchasing a new piece of equipment that went unused, to employee embezzlement, to negative changes in insurance reimbursement.”

When broken down by specialty, nephrologists and plastic surgeons (both 18%, respectively) and urologists and ophthalmologists (both 15%, respectively) were the specialists most disadvantaged by practice issues, whereas only 5% of infectious disease physicians, pathologists, and emergency medicine physicians—who are generally hospital-based—reported loss.

Respondents generally reported no correlation between investment mistakes and earnings; of note, 69% of pediatricians, 67% of neurologists, and 66% of infectious disease attested to never having made any investment errors; pediatricians also tended to have lower earnings and net worth than other specialties. Urologists (43%), plastic surgeons (44%), and orthopedists (46%) were among those whose record on investments were the worst.

Competitiveness and Inequality

Disparity among sexes was also evident in certain sections of the report. In addition to being fewer in number in higher-paid physician specialties than their men counterparts, women physicians, overall, earned 24% less, and had a lower net worth than men. One-third of women reported having a net worth of ≥$1 million, versus nearly half of responding men physicians who reported the same.

In addition, although most physicians claim that they do not feel competitive about income or appearance of wealth, women were found to be less competitive with regard to these particular areas then men (53% vs 59%).

In terms of hospital-based specialties, 18% of physicians from radiology, 17% of physicians in critical care, and 16% of each groups of physicians in anesthesiology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, plastic surgery, and cardiology reported being most competitive about income or appearance of wealth. Nine percent of nephrologists, and 10% of each group of physicians in infectious disease, neurology, and pediatricians, ranked as least competitive based on survey results.


  1. Peckham C. Medscape physician compensation report 2016. Published April 1, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2016.
  2. Peckham C. Physician debt and net worth report 2016. Published April 20, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2016.
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