On overall pay, orthopedic surgeons earned the top spot by nudging out invasive cardiologists, whose median pay rose to $541,000. Others in the top five were radiation oncologists at $500,000; radiologists, $475,000; and gastroenterologists at $458,000.
The five lowest-paid medical specialties, from the bottom up, are pediatrics with a median compensation of $224,000; family practice, $229,000; internal medicine, $247,300; psychiatry, $250,000; and hospitalist, $260,000.
The compensation firms in this year's survey reported a wide range of salaries, suggesting the median may not reflect conditions in many parts of the country.
Patterson said he was not surprised that the median for an orthopedic surgeon topped half a million dollars, or that the pay spread was so wide, because in places such as Davenport, away from urban areas with their attractive social amenities, or regions with geographical attractions such as ski areas or coastlines, prices are far higher than the median.
“The going rate is to recruit a new orthopedic surgeon into a practice (here) is around $600,000 a year,” Patterson said.
Radiologists have the widest range of all specialties in average compensation reported by survey respondents—between $267,000 and $513,000, a whopping pay differential of about $246,000. Plastic surgeons placed second, with a pay range of more than $224,000, followed by radiation oncologists, about $209,000.
Family practitioners had the narrowest average compensation range—$213,000 to $248,000, a $35,000 difference.
The good news for family physicians and other primary-care physicians at the bottom of the salary scale—pediatricians, internists and OB-GYNs—as well as psychiatrists, is that their stock has been rising in recent years, and so have their paychecks.
In response to a question: “What are the toughest specialties to recruit?” five of our participating head hunter firms and group practice organizations said internal medicine; four picked psychiatry; and three chose family medicine.
Dr. Mike Munger, a family practice physician and interim CEO of St. Luke's Medical Group, an 18-office, 105-physician group practice affiliated with the 10-hospital St. Luke's Health System in Overland, Kan., is in a race to keep up with burgeoning demand for primary care. “We have onboarded since the first of the year five or six family physicians, and we have another four or five slated to start between now and Nov. 1,” Munger said. “We're having some retirements, plus we're looking to expand offices and increase our workforce.”
The competition for those half-dozen family practitioners was fierce. “We've actually increased our starting offer by 20% to 25% over the past year,” Munger said. Sweeteners include offers to pay for continuing medical education as well as picking up the tab for board exams, state licensing and professional organization memberships. “We (also) have some things on retirement, matching accounts.”
So far, the group hasn't paid new recruits' student loans, an incentive cited by several recruitment firms as gaining use. “We're just now starting to get asked to do that, (and) that's something we're looking at going forward,” he said.
Signing bonuses are another tool in recruiters' arsenal. “We've not done that, but we are starting to look at that as well,” Munger said.
The recruitment upgrades also forced St. Luke's to take a second look at its pay packages for family physicians already on staff. It plans to roll out a revised compensation package in 2017 for existing physicians “to stay competitive,” Munger said. “It's a reality that we're seeing more money in general and family medicine, which is refreshing.”
Travis Singleton, senior vice president at recruiter Merritt Hawkins, has been in the business 17 years and the year-over-year pay increases in the firm's survey this year were the largest he's seen. “It's clearly showing a healthcare system at capacity,” Singleton said. “We're now in year three of this sort of employment dominated model.”