Here's a look at what docs' average starting salaries were—before COVID-19 hit

A piggy bank with a stethescope
Invasive cardiologists often receive the highest starting salaries at about $640,000 while orthopedic surgeons come in a close second when it comes to their starting offers at $626,000, according to a review by national healthcare recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. (Getty/Nuthawut Somsuk)

Invasive cardiologists often receive the highest starting salaries at about $640,000 compared to other physician specialties, according to a review by national healthcare recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. 

Orthopedic surgeons—which often rank at the top of average annual salary lists—come in a close second when it comes to their starting offers, which are on average about $626,000, according to the report from a sample of 3,251 physician and advanced practitioner recruiting engagements the firm conducted from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.

Those figures, from the 2020 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives, of course may no longer reflect current reality. 

The data review was almost entirely derived from physician searches Merritt Hawkins conducted before the repercussions of the pandemic were fully felt. The report found the market for new physician opportunities has flipped from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market since the beginning of March.

But the report shows interesting indicators about the physician employment market as it was before COVID-19.

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Employment remained the dominant physician recruiting model over independent practice, at least when it came to Merritt Hawkins’ search engagements. Nearly all of their searches featured physicians employed by hospitals, hospital-owned medical groups, physician-owned medical groups or other employers while about 5% featured independent practices. 

COVID-19 is expected to expand the prevalence of the employed physician model, Merritt Hawkins authors wrote. 

When it came to salaries for other physician specialties, the report found: 

  • The average starting salary for family medicine physicians is $240,000 and has been flat for about three years.
     
  • The average starting salary for a psychiatry doctor is $276,000, while the average starting salary for an OB/GYN is $327,000 and the average starting salary for a radiologist is $423,000.
     
  • The average starting salary for nurse practitioners is $126,000, and the average physician assistant is offered a starting salary of about $112,000.
     
  • The average signing bonus for physicians is $27,893 while the average signing bonus for nurse practitioners and physician assistants is $8,500.
     
  • The average starting salary for a pediatric physician is $221,000.
     
  • The average starting salary in dermatology is $419,000.

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Nearly three out of four physicians, NPs and PAs were offered a salary with a bonus as an incentive to start in a new practice setting. Of those offered salary plus production bonus, their bonus is most often based on relative value units followed by quality metrics.

Nearly all (97%) were offered reallocation allowances, with the average allowance for physicians being about $10,553 while the average relocation allowance for NPs and PAs was about $7,114. 

The average signing bonus offered to physicians was on average about $27,893, while the average signing bonus for NPs and PAs was about $8,500. Family medicine physicians had the highest average signing bonus among specialties at about $25,100.