Peanuts Anyone? Are Primary Care Physicians Underpaid: New study Suggests the Answer is Yes!

Overworked and underpaid is so cliché, but what makes it interesting in this case is that according to the article it appears to be true. This article describes how 19 specialties rank in terms of salary compared to annual revenue generated. What defines underpaid anyway? For that matter, what defines being overpaid? I personally don’t think any physician is overpaid, but I do think certain specialties are underpaid such as family practice, pediatrics, and psychiatry. And those specialties are likely to be the most overworked. I’ve heard it said somewhere that physicians aren’t paid for the 15 minutes you spend with the patient, you’re paid for the 12+ years you spend in education and training. “Medical Economicscrunched the numbers to see which specialties were paid the highest compared to the annual revenue they generate-and which were paid the lowest.” They found that primary care physicians-defined by the survey as internal medicine, family practice and pediatricians-ranked near the bottom in terms of salary as share of the average revenue they generate and in salary overall. 

In terms of salary share of revenue, the following was found: 

1. Otolaryngology

Average salary: $405,000

Average revenue generated: $1,937,500

Salary share (of revenue): 20.9%

2. Ophthalmology

Average salary: $300,000

Average revenue generated: $1,440,217

Salary share: 20.8%

18. Family Practice

Average salary: $241,000

Average revenue generated: $2,111,931

Salary share: 11.41%

19. Internal Medicine

Average salary: $261,000

Average revenue generated: $2,675,387

Salary share: 9.76%


In terms of overall salary:

  1. Neurosurgery: $687,000
  2. Cardiology: $590,000
  3. Ortho: $533,000

17. Psychiatry: $261,000

18. IM: $261,000

19. Family Practice: $241,000

20. Peds: $261,000

Go figure. 

To keep this interesting, let’s compare this to nurse practitioner specialties. (https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/10-highest-paying-nurse-practitioner-specialties.html). Here are the top-paying nurse practitioner specialties, listed by annual base salary:

• Anesthesiology: $166,969
• Psychiatry: $139,976
• Pediatrics: $131,302
• Orthopedics: $123,820
• Urology: $120,545
• Emergency Medicine: $117,366
• Hospitalists: $115,512
• Cardiology: $112,567
• Radiology: $111,500
• Gastroenterology: $110,795

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Robert Duprey MD

Robert is a 2nd career physician (MD); a combat Veteran with the US Army; a former psychiatric nurse practitioner; an independent researcher; a medical writer; and now having passed USMLE Steps 1, 2CK, 2CS, and 3, is a residency applicant. 

  2 comments for “Peanuts Anyone? Are Primary Care Physicians Underpaid: New study Suggests the Answer is Yes!

  1. Gary Pearce
    July 30, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    The question about fair payment for physicians has been around ever since insurance companies started collecting reimbursement data- let’s say a long time
    Before that, we were allowed to charge whatever we felt our services were worth….like attorneys do, and most every other service provider.
    First of all I think we are all underpaid.
    Secondly, how many of you expect a pay raise next year (like all your employees expect)?
    Thirdly, just out of curiosity is a plumber worth more than an electrician?
    and finally, can someone keep our incomes private, please? All this data does is make one doctor jealous of another and society jealous of us all. We can choose to be employed and then we would use this data to bargain to get at least the average income- GOOD LUCK!
    We can choose to be self employed where we decide how many hours a day we want to work and how many procedures we wish to do…….and most importantly how we want to play with those silly reimbursal numbers that insurance companies offer versus how much overhead we wish to have and how many people we want to have work for us………this is tough work as being a doctor and being a manager are two totally different jobs. A manager squeezes work out of people while a doctor’s job is to ease suffering.
    I hate these salary comparisons. They are worthless.
    Should we all be paid hourly salaries, like my Superlawyer out of Miami- he has a stopwatch and 60 minutes costs $700.
    Are we trying to figure out which doctor is more valuable……if i have something in my eye, I would pay anything, the same goes for a broken bone, acute blockage of any vessel or pipe in my body.
    How does one compare cognitive skills to surgical skills- IS THIS THE BASIC QUESTION? You may quantify years of training but after that, are we trying to pay smarter or better doctors more AND WHAT MAKES A DOCTOR BETTER…….is it one of those magazine ratings services….
    I personally would pay more out of my pocket for a better doctor, better car mechanic, better whatever………
    Are there people really looking for the cheapest doctor……the insurance companies are, I can vouch for that!

  2. arf
    July 29, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    What’s the old saying, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys?

    Thanks for the banana.

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