Here's a look at the top 15 physician specialties by compensation—before the financial hit of COVID-19

Primary care doctors brought in about $243,000, up 2.5% from $237,000 reported a year earlier. Specialists earned about $346,000 on average, up 1.5% from the $341,000 they made a year earlier. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

While emergency docs may be among those most exposed to the front lines of COVID-19, they are closer to the middle of the pack when it comes to their compensation.

According to the "Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020," emergency physicians earn $357,000 a year in salary and about $40,000 in incentive bonuses on average.

That's a whopping $154,000 less than the $511,000 on average orthopedic surgeons earn in their average salaries. Orthopedic surgeons take home about $96,000 in incentive bonuses on average.

It was just one of the examples of the wide range of pay differences captured in the annual report—compiled from responses from more than 17,000 physicians in more than 30 specialties—which found a modest rise in how much physicians got paid over the last year.

Primary care docs brought in about $243,000, up 2.5% from $237,000 reported a year earlier. Specialists earned about $346,000 on average, up 1.5% from the $341,000 they made a year earlier.

Here's a look at how some of the top specialties stack up: 

1. Orthopedics — $511,000

2. Plastic surgery — $479,000

3. Otolaryngology — $455,000

4. Cardiology — $438,000

5. Radiology — $427,000

6. Gastroenterology — $419,000

7. Urology — $417,000

8. Dermatology — $411,000

9. Anesthesiology — $398,000

10. Opthalmology — $378,000

11. Oncology — $377,000

12. General surgery — $364,000

13. Emergency medicine — $357,000

14. Critical care — $355,000

15. Pulmonary medicine — $342,000

Of course, the report captured data between Oct. 4 and Feb. 10, before the financial hits of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Primary care practices and specialists alike have seen drops in business by as much as 60% as they've been forced to cancel elective procedures and in overall patient volumes tied to stay-at-home orders. That has worked out to drops in revenue on average of about 55%.

Nearly 10% of practices have closed temporarily, and some are cutting salaries and furloughing staff. Meanwhile, telemedicine visits have jumped by 225%, Medscape officials said. 

“We anticipate that this year will be one of enormous challenge for physician practices across the country, regardless of type and specialty,” said Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine site. “Physicians are being resourceful and trying new tactics to keep their practices going and treating patients. Many are already thinking about how to safely get their offices opened again. Some specialties will have a backlog of patients, although others will have more of a challenge to make their practices viable again.”

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