In its fifth annual Physician Compensation Report, Doximity reports that physician compensation grew 3.8% from 2020 to 2021, compared with a 1.5% increase from 2019 to 2020. The pay increases may be attributable to the tight labor market for clinicians, according to the company.
"It's possible this year's increase reflects a catch-up from last year's relatively flat rate, a tight labor market, or a reflection of rising inflation rates in 2021," the authors wrote.
This study by Doximity was drawn from over 40,000 self-reported compensation surveys completed in 2021 by physicians in 50 specialties, and it included data from over 160,000 compensation surveys since 2017. Each survey was completed by full-time U.S. physicians who practice at least 40 hours per week.
Radiology was bumped from the No. 10 spot on the list in 2020 to the No. 12 position in 2021, with urology and otolaryngology making up ground. Neurosurgeons again topped the list at an average annual salary of $773,201. Next were thoracic surgeons at $684,663 and orthopedic surgeons at $633,620. Radiation oncologists landed in the seventh spot on the Doximity list, with an average annual salary of $544,313.
The bottom five specialties with the lowest average annual compensation were all in pediatrics, with pediatrics itself landing in the sixth-lowest spot with an average salary of $251,657.
|Medical specialties with highest average annual compensation in 2021
|Oral & maxillofacial
While compensation increased across all specialties in 2021, growth rates varied significantly, the study found. Many of the specialties with the highest growth in compensation are notably small specialties and may be subject to tight labor markets or regional hiring trends, the authors suggested.
Out of the top 10 specialties with the largest increase in average annual compensation, nuclear medicine vaulted to third on the list after not cracking the top 10 in 2020. Nuclear medicine experienced a 10.4% growth in compensation ($398,544) in 2021, following growth rates of 12.6% for preventive medicine ($264,539) and 12.2% for hematology ($357,292).
In addition, the study found that five-year trends show the gender pay gap persisted again this year, with female physicians earning 28% less than male physicians, a difference of more than $122,700. That gap increased from 26.5% in 2017 to 28.2% this year. The data showed there are no medical specialties in which women earned the same or more than men in 2021.
"This year, men earned an average of $435,315 while women earned an average $312,571," the authors stated.
However, among nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs), gender pay gaps have been steadily declining over the last five years and are now 9.6% for NPs and 11% for PAs, the analysis found.
Regarding employment settings, the study found working for the government still pays the least, with an average compensation of $264,546 for physicians in government settings, compared with physicians earning an average of $442,024 at single-specialty groups in 2021.
Ultimately, the overall 3.8% increase in compensation in 2021 did not outpace the rate of inflation, the authors noted. In 2021, the 12-month headline inflation rate was 6.2%, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
"Thus, physicians on average experienced a decline in real income over the calendar year when compared with inflation," the report concluded.
Founded in 2010, Doximity is a digital networking platform that includes more than 80% of U.S. physicians across all specialties and practice areas, according to the company.
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