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Compensation Data Underscores Primary Care Doc Shortage

By John Commins  
   May 21, 2018

Nurse practitioners saw an almost 30% growth in total compensation in the past five years, while physician assistants saw a 25% rise in median total compensation over the same period.

Primary care physicians' total compensation rose by more than 10% over the past five years, nearly double that of specialty physicians' over the same period, according to data gleaned by the Medical Group Management Association.

The findings, based on comparative data from over 136,000 providers in over 5,800 organizations, provide more evidence of the nation's worsening primary care physician shortage, said Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, president and CEO of MGMA.

"Many factors contribute to this problem, chief among them being an increasingly aging population that's outpacing the supply of chronic care they require," Fischer-Wright said in comments accompanying the study.

"And with a nearly two-fold rise in median compensation for primary care physicians over their specialist counterparts and increased additional incentives, we can now see the premium organizations are placing on primary care physicians’ skills to combat this shortage," she said. 

According to MGMA:

  • Family medicine physicians saw a 12% rise in total compensation over the past five years, while their median number of work relative value units increased by less than 1%. That's because practices offered more benefits to attract and retain physicians, including higher signing bonuses, continuing medical education stipends, and relocation expense reimbursements.
     
  • Nurse practitioners saw the largest increase over this period with almost 30% growth in total compensation. Physician assistants saw the second-largest median rise in total compensation with a 25% increase.
     
  • Over the past five years, rises in median compensation varied greatly by state. In two states, median total compensation actually decreased for primary care physicians: Alabama (-9%) and New York (-3%).
     
  • Many states saw large increases in median total compensation compared to the national rate, the top five being Wyoming (41%), Maryland (29%), Louisiana (27%), Missouri (24%) and Mississippi (21%).
     
  • The District of Columbia is the lowest paying with $205,776 in median total compensation for primary care doctors. Nevada is the highest paying state with $309,431 in median total compensation.
     
  • Over the last five years, looking beyond just nurse practitioners, overall non-physician provider compensation has increased 8%. Over the past 10 years, that rate has doubled to 17%.  
     
  • The difference in compensation between the highest-paid state compared to the lowest ranges between $100,000 and almost $270,000 for physicians depending on specialties, and $65,000 for non-physician providers.

The findings in the MGMA study are consistent with other researching showing impressive compensation gains for primary care doctors.

Physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins last year reported that the average starting salary for family physicians was $231,000, up from $198,000 in 2015, an increase of 17%, while the average starting salary for general internists was $257,000, up from $207,000 two years ago.

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.


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