It Pays to Be a Boy–and a Radiologist

I think my readers have guessed by now that I like my research down and dirty. From journals with high impact factors, with lots of statistics and graphs, and a whole lot of talk about confidence intervals and “p greater than 0.05.”

But there’s something elegant about a survey where you ask people how much money they make, then ask them if they think it’s enough, then compare who makes more–and where the respondents all answer you as if they’re just discussing the weather in June.

Enter the Medscape doctor survey, stage right.

From February 1-17, 2012, Medscape surveyed 24,216 US physicians across 25 specialty areas.

Apparently this is a yearly project, for  the survey determined that physician income went down overall from 2011.

Anyway, the survey asked doctors all sorts of financial questions–more than I could have even thought up, assuming it hadn’t been impolite to pose them.

But I’m not too ashamed to read the answers–and to get right down to business in spreading the good word around.

So let’s start with what we all really want to know–Who makes the most money?

The tippy-top, highest-paid field to go into if you’re a doctor?

Well, it was a tie–with no tie-breaker to be had, apparently.

Both orthopedic surgeons and radiologists are top of the finanical charts, receiving an average yearly salary of $315,000. Not too shabby.

Cardiologists were third (or second, depending on how you count it), at $314,000 a year.

Then there’s the “top five” of the bottom, so to speak.

And of course, given how this country treats mental illness, psychiatrists found a spot for themselves there, nestling in at the top of the bottom, at $170,000. That’s a far cry from $315,000, I can see, even without reaching for my calculator, and having to borrow from the 7, carry the 1. . .

Family medicine doctors are up there, number two in the lowest paid. They’re looking at $158,000, pre-tax.

Who should absolutely top off the bottom of the chart?

Those who chose the thankless field of pediatrics, where children scream at and urinate upon you, all the while generously sharing fevers and other infections.

$156,000 bucks.

I’m telling you, it’s so bad that if you halved it and then took away a bunch more thousands. . .why you’d have a teacher’s salary. How disgraceful, after all those years of med school.

Okay, doc, so you should have been a radiologist–or at least a cardiologist. But you should have been a man, too, if pay equity means anything to you.

University of Michigan researchers checked out whether there was any truth to the belief that male doctors were paid more than females. And they controlled for just about everything in their survey of 800 physicians–speciality, productivity, location, race, work hours, age, publications, good looks, the price of tea in China.

They also only looked at doctors who had received a competitive research grant from the Institute of Health, thus trying to control for early achievement and competitiveness/drive.

And guess what?

Average annual salary for men? $200,422.

For women? $167,699.

Well, then like all research studies these authors made all these adjustments and fiddling around with ‘p-factors’ and whatever else they do, and after all that there was a $12,001 [don’t forget that dollar!] difference between what men and women make.

Medscape’s survey found that in all specialities men earned about 40% more than women, while in primary care it was only 23%, so I suppose women in that field should feel good about their standing.

So there it is. I’d like to say something enlightening here, and pose a solution to this rather startling problem, but I’m speechless. Well, almost. I’ll just move on.

In what I found a surprising geographical reversal, physicians in the Northeast earned the least in the country. Guesses for states where they earned the most?

If I threw out North and South Dakota and Nebraska you’d probably think I was kidding, but, no, it’s true. With Iowa, Kansas and Missouri (of course! Missouri!) these states comprise the North Central region, with the highest-earning doctors (mean income  $234,000).


Meanwhile, you impressed with all these figures (pediatrics notwithstanding)? Think they don’t sound too shabby?

Well, doctors think differently.

49% felt they weren’t fairly compensated, which, according to my mathematical deductions, is just about 1 in every 2 doctors. It doesn’t bode that well for the field, I’d say.

In what may or may not be totally in touch with reality, who’s really to say, only 11% of physicians consider themselves rich, “while 45% said that their income is no better than that of many non physicians.” They didn’t mean the fields this family chose, of course [with two elementary school teachers, a high school teacher, a college professor–physicians just weren’t referring to members of this family when they said so. (Okay–I clearly just can’t help myself. Here’s a 2007 graph from the American Federation of Teachers, covering primary, elementary and high school teaching. I just wanted a point of comparison. Indulge me.)].


South Dakota clearly has some issues to work out when it comes to its pay scale, I’d say.

Anyway, I’m back. Forgive me.

So, curious about the average length of a patient visit?

13-to-16 minutes.

But remember those radiologists raking in the dough?

They’re among a group that spends the least time, about 9-12 minutes. Somehow that’s true of ophthalmologists, too, although they spend so much time asking “better one or better two?” that you’d think they’d reach the 15 minute mark, at least.

So it really does–it pays to be a boy, or a radiologist, and to spend 13.5 seconds with a patient while imaging their innards.

Or maybe it just pays to go to law school.


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