Physician specialties with the highest salaries and the biggest pay increases in 2019

Doctor computer medical records
In three years, the number of physicians who self-reported telemedicine as a skill doubled, increasing 20% year-over-year.(Getty/BrianAJackson)

Neurosurgeons top the salary list, telemedicine is one of the fastest-growing sectors and primary care physicians are the most in-demand, according to a new study.

The research study on the 2019 labor market for doctors showed a 5% increase in job opportunities for physicians in the U.S. since 2018, according to the Doximity report.

Who is making the most money? Here’s the list of the highest-paid specialties based on the average salary nationwide:

  1. Neurosurgery, $616,823
  2. Thoracic surgery, $584,287
  3. Orthopedic surgery, $526,385
  4. Radiation Oncology, $486,089
  5. Vascular Surgery, $484,740
  6. Dermatology, $455,255
  7. Cardiology, $453,515
  8. Plastic Surgery, $433,060
  9. Gastroenterology, $431,767
  10. Radiology, $428,572

The list shows a mismatch, however, between the highest-paid specialties and the most in-demand specialties, said Amit Phull, M.D., vice president of strategy and insights at Doximity, a network for medical professionals, and Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., lead author of the report and assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

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“Unlike other industry environments, there’s not the best match between the highest-paid specialties and the most in-demand specialties,” said Phull. For instance, there’s a shortage in some of the lesser-compensated specialties, such as primary care. One way to try to balance the supply and demand problem is to increase salaries for primary care doctors, Whaley said.

The specialties in greatest demand across the U.S. are in family medicine and internal medicine, followed by emergency medicine, psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology.

But the healthcare industry may be starting to up the salaries for some specialties that are in short supply.

When looking at the growth in compensation by specialty, the study found that pediatrics experienced the highest pay increase in 2019. Pediatricians saw a 9% increase in salaries, followed by preventive medicine with an 8% increase. Some of the pediatric specialties also made the top 10 list for compensation growth, with salaries for pediatric hematology and oncology and pediatric cardiology increasing 7% and pediatric gastroenterology increasing 5%.

Many patients have had a hard time finding a pediatrician depending on the market where they live, so the increase in salaries is likely a reaction to that demand, Whaley said.

The report detailed growth in the physician marketplace by geographic location, medical specialty and compensation based on an analysis of approximately 27,000 Doximity clinical job postings in 2018 and 2019 and a network-wide compensation survey of about 70,000 physicians.

Telemedicine is taking off

As well as growth in the traditional job market, the 2019 report found telemedicine is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the market. In just three years, from 2015 to 2018, the number of physicians who self-reported telemedicine as a skill doubled, increasing 20% year-over-year.

Internal medicine and psychiatry were the telemedicine specialties most in-demand, followed by radiology, family medicine and pediatrics.

The growth in telemedicine coincides with an increasing number of states that have passed laws encouraging insurers to reimburse for telehealth services, which can potentially help relieve the problem of patients having access to doctors, said Phull.

Need for doctors across the country

The need for doctors is spread widely across the country, but demand is greatest in some areas. El Paso, Texas and Miami, Florida had the greatest need for doctors, the study found.

The report also ranked the cities where physicians are most highly compensated. Milwaukee, New Orleans and Riverside, California topped the list.

Map showing regional compensation ranking for physicians

Physician shortage worries

While the 5% uptick in demand for physicians in 2019 bodes well for doctors, it does raise worries about the predicted doctor shortage.

The Doximity data showed that the demand for physicians has been increasing for the past three years. At the same time, patient demand increases and physician shortages worsen, the report said.

“While the job market is strong for physicians, this continued growth points to a serious concern: the potential impact of a physician shortage on patients,” said Phull, “As access to care increases in the U.S., it is essential that healthcare stakeholders consider this increasing demand for doctors and how it’s cascading through the system, especially in smaller cities and rural areas.”

Studies indicate there will be a shortage of 120,000 physicians by 2032, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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