Hospital nearly doubles pay to hang onto heart surgeon

When UNC Hospitals had to choose between paying more to retain its only heart surgeon and losing the revenue he brought in, the decision was easy. The CEO gave the heart surgeon, Brett Sheridan, a raise of $335,000, meaning his salary now tops out at $600,000--more than any other heart surgeon has ever earned at the facility.

It would have cost the hospital more to lose its only adult heart surgeon, the UNC Health Care System CEO Bill Roper told the Charlotte Observer. "I'm sorry if it upsets some people," he said. "But I have to live in the real world. It is simply not an option to shut down heart surgery at UNC Hospitals."

Had the hospital lost Sheridan, it wouldn't have been able to do heart transplants, valve replacements and other procedures that rake in revenue. Had a replacement been hired, it could have taken the hospital another year to get re-certified, the Observer reports.
UNC Health Care has an operating budget of $990 million, but it expects to provide $300 million in uncompensated care.

Sheridan's salary, which comes from clinical revenue, will be healthier than most. A recent survey conducted by physician search firm Merritt Hawkins found that the average annual compensation for a cardiologist was $584,000. Sheridan is on the cusp of a trend. Nearly one-third of cardiologists surveyed by the American College of Cardiology said they will join, or have already joined, a hospital as staff.

UNC's cardiac team will be fully staffed once it hires a second heart surgeon, Roper said. The new surgeon likely will earn around $600,000, too.

Comments on the Observer's website suggested that no one was really surprised by the payscale. "Considering the Panthers quarterbacks are paid much more than this and they can't even pass a football to each other, I think $600,000 is quite reasonable," one commenter wrote. Another made a reference to having all one's eggs in one basket, and wondered whether the CEO needed to invest in some new baskets.

To learn more:
- read the Charlotte Observer article
- see the Associated Press article

Related Articles:
Certain specialty doctors in high demand
MGMA: Hospital-employment trend rippling out to affect compensation
MGMA: Some specialty practices saw revenue rise in '09
Employed physicians' paychecks reflect a fraction of what they earn for hospitals