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Physician Comp Continues to Climb

Physician Compensation & Recruitment, March 19, 2009

A new compensation survey suggests that physicians are weathering the economic downturn, but it does little to suggest that medicine is recession-proof. Moreover, it highlights the disparity between the highest-paid and lowest-paid specialties.

This year, Sullivan, Cotter and Associates, Inc., (SullivanCotter) released its 2008 Physician Compensation and Productivity Survey Report.

The survey reported an average salary increase of 4.4% for specialists and 4% for primary care physicians (PCP). That’s roughly on par with the 2007 survey, which reported a 4.5% increase for specialists and 4.3% for primary care.

The survey helps underscore the disparity between PCPs and specialists. The three highest-paid specialties based on average total cash compensation are:

  • Orthopedic surgery—sports medicine: $638,891
  • Orthopedic surgery—spine: $612,557
  • Pediatric cardiothoracic surgery: $585,963

The three lowest-paid specialties are:

  • Pediatric hospitalists: $152,736
  • Pediatric developmental medicine: $156,538
  • Neurology-EEG lab: $157,063

The survey revealed several interesting trends, including:

More organizations are offering hiring bonuses. In the 2008 survey, 57% of the participants used hiring bonuses, compared to only 49% in the 2007 survey. Bonus amounts remained stable, averaging $10,000 for PCPs and $17,500 for specialists.

Use of incentives is growing. The 2008 survey found that 70% of organizations reported using incentive compensation programs for their physicians, up from 60% in 2005. Actual incentives for specialists and PCPs as a percentage of base salary are comparable to those reported in the 2007 survey.

Use of quality metrics is increasing. The survey found an increase in the use of quality measures as part of incentive payments; however, the relative amount of compensation tied to quality is small, typically no more than 2%–3% of total cash compensation.


This article was adapted for one that originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Physician Compensation & Recruitment, a HealthLeaders Media publication.

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