Anesthesiologists and radiologists enjoyed some of the biggest salary increases in 2001, a topsy-turvy year that underscored a yawning range of extremes in physician compensation.
Hard-to-find anesthesiologists boasted average increases as high as 18%, according to a survey of 10 national organizations that contributed to Modern Healthcare's 2001 Physician Compensation Report. Radiologists enjoyed increases as high as 22% this year while posting the highest reported average salary of any of the 15 specialties featured in the survey, a comfortable $355,065, according to the Medical Group Management Association.
Equally noteworthy were the disparities even among the same specialty groups among the surveys included in this year's report. Family practice physicians, for instance, boasted an average increase of 35% over last year, according to the Oakland, N.J.-based Hospital and Healthcare Compensation Service. On the other extreme, Hay Group, a consulting firm based in Philadelphia showed a decrease of 7% in total compensation for the family practice doctors it surveyed.
"You'll always see giant disparities in the physician data-that's why it's very difficult to do trends," says Rosanne Cioffe, director of reports for HHCS.
Modern Healthcare's physician compensation report is a compilation of surveys and studies performed by 10 organizations, including medical associations, consultants and staffing firms. The accompanying chart (pages 32 and 33) lists average reported annual compensation by specialty, including base salary and bonuses, as reported by each organization. The size of the samples, type of practices and survey methodology varied among the organizations that participated in the survey, which accounted for some of the disparities.
Compensation for all physicians, which Cioffe describes as a "more concrete" barometer of the state of salaries for the national market, will increase by approximately 3.7% from 2001 to 2002, a slight increase over last year's 3.3%, according to the HHCS survey.
"That's more of an increase than we've seen in a while," she said.
Martin, Fletcher & Associates, an Irving, Texas-based physician search firm that is participating in the survey for the first time, said none of the 15 specialties included in the chart suffered a decrease in average annual salary based on their internal data.
"The climate is one of opportunity-lots of opportunity for doctors," says Sean Endicott, a recruiter with Martin, Fletcher.
It's good to specialize
But opportunity was knocking loudest for the specialists, according to the Medical Group Management Association, an Englewood, Colo.-based trade group whose surveys typically are skewed slightly higher for specialists, the majority of its respondents. In fact, MGMA's surveys represented the highest salaries in eight of the 15 specialties. Even in family practice, MGMA's survey was third-highest, at about $157,000.
"Physician incomes have increased, and they have increased more so for specialists than for primary-care physicians," says Dave Gans, the director of practice-management resources for the MGMA.
He says his association's surveys show that the increase in specialist compensation this year is about 7.9%, or more than double the increase in the consumer price index (3.36% from December 1999 to December 2000). The average rise in primary-care compensation was just six-tenths of one percent, Gans says.
"The long-term forecast for compensation is that specialists will continue to be able to increase their compensation level at a rate that equals or exceeds the CPI," Gans says. "And that's because of technology and the fact that specialists tend to be procedure-focused."
Radiologists posted the highest annual average salary-about $255,000, when the surveys from all 10 organizations are included, according to the Modern Healthcare study. Radiologists boasted increases of 22%, according to HHCS' figures, and 20% from the data provided by Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, an Irving, Texas-based physician-search firm.
"Last year was a solid climate for physicians," says Mark Smith, an executive vice president at Merritt, Hawkins, the nation's largest recruiter of full-time, staff physicians. "But it was an excellent climate for a few specialties-particularly radiologists and anesthesiologists."
Based on the average of all 10 reporting organizations, the survey showed that noninvasive cardiologists earned the second-highest average salary-about $250,000-despite suffering a drop in compensation in five of the 10 reports submitted by the consulting organizations and trade groups.
Anesthesiologists were third on the list of highest average salary when all 10 surveys are combined-about $231,000. The disparity in salaries among the participating organizations ranged from salary increases of 18%, according to the Rockford, Ill.-based Warren Surveys, to a 20% decrease based on the Hay Group's data.
The two specialties with the lowest average annual salary were pediatricians (about $138,000) and family practitioners (approximately $145,000). Pediatricians also had the lowest average salary in any single survey-a modest $95,000, according to Health Care Group, a law and consulting firm based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.Among the biggest shifts in salary: Pediatricians dropped 27%, according to Hay Group; oncologists dropped 35%, according to HHCS; and neurologists fell by 13%, according to Hay Group.