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December 22, 2010
How Much Does Your Doctor Earn?

The University of California, Davis studied the pay of doctors, and found that specialists are paid as much as 52% more than are primary care doctors. This is in spite of the fact that primary care doctors see far more patients than do their specialist colleagues. The study is important, say its authors, because it quantifies wage disparities and explores the need for wage reform that will help assure a strong primary care workforce, especially as health care reform evolves.

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“Addressing the generalist-specialist income gap is critical to increasing access to cost-effective preventive care,” said J. Paul Leigh, a professor in the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research, and lead author of the study, which is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. “There is a huge shortage of primary care physicians, and in years to come many more of them will be needed to meet healthcare reform goals.”

“There is this sense that society simply doesn’t value primary care,” said Leigh. The result of the wage disparity is what senior study author Richard Kravitz calls a critical shortfall in the number of U.S. medical students entering generalist careers. Students realize that peers in specialties like radiology and dermatology will make more money for less work than will those who become primary care physicians instead.

The research team compared wages of more than 6,000 doctors in 41 specialties and 60 communities. They found that primary care doctors, including those in pediatrics, geriatrics, family practice and internal medicine, earned $60.48 per hour on average. The average was higher for internal medicine and pediatric subspecialties, like allergy and immunology, cardiovascular, and rheumatology care, at $84.85 per hour. Surgeons in specialties like neurological, plastic, orthopedic, and obstetrical/gynecological earned $92.10 per hour.

“Instead of rewarding the use of expensive and often risky procedures, greater emphasis should be placed on getting the basics right – immunizations, cancer screenings, chronic disease management and recognition of the ‘red flags’ that signal the need for more intensive diagnostic study,” Kravitz said.

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