Physician salaries show small increase

A slow and steady climb

All the economic indicators show that the United States’ economy is humming along. According to many reports, there aren’t enough skilled people for the jobs out there. One would think that would lead to higher salaries. But in the medical profession, salary increases are only modest. According to the latest salary survey from the American Group Medical Association (AMGA) of Alexandria, VA, physicians showed an average salary increase of just 3% to 4%.

The 22,000 members polled — 12% of whom responded — report just modest gains between 1995 and 1996, but those varied widely according to specialty. For instance, urgent care physicians had a more than 11% gain in compensation, while those specializing in cardiology-cath lab had less than 1% raises. Even worse, emergency care surgeons saw their salaries decline by nearly 7%, from $177,000 to $165,000.

Other specialties that lost ground included infectious disease, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and rheumatology.

Tom Dobosenski, CPA, a partner with the Rochester, MN-based accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen which conducts the survey, says there are few surprises in the numbers. (See chart on salaries by specialty, below.) "For the most part, this is what we would expect," says Dobosenski, who has been in charge of the survey for the last seven years. "Every year you see some specialties increase, and some decrease."

As far as trends over the years, Dobosenski says that primary care practitioners — family practice and pediatrics, in particular — are moving up faster than other practitioners.

Regionally, the South is the place to be. In 12 of the 19 specialties listed (see chart on salaries by region, p. 139), physicians in the South earned the most. For Western physicians, obstetrics or anesthesiology are the only areas where physicians outearn their counterparts, and in the east, only urologists do better than physicians from other regions.

But don’t be fooled by those numbers, warns Dobosenski. "The West is pretty heavily managed care," he notes. "That’s why salaries there are lower. And in the South, you don’t have as many large multispecialty practices. The single specialty practices often pay more."

American Medical Group Association, Alexandria, VA. Telephone: (703) 838-0023.

Tom Dobosenski, McGladrey & Pullen, Rochester, MN. Telephone: (507) 288-6476.