PUBLISHED: 15:05 EST, 28 April 2012 | UPDATED: 15:06 EST, 28 April 2012
A combination of falling pay and student debts mean that half of all doctors in the United States would not choose medicine as their career path given their time over a new survey has revealed.
Dissatisfaction among the nations physicians is increasing according to new Medscape findings, with just 56 percent of doctors surveyed admitting they do not regret entering medicine.
This contrasts with last years findings which showed 69 percent of doctors confirming they had no complaints with their profession.
With overall pay for doctors down 10 percent on 2011 and student debts crippling some physicians, the Medscape survey was conducted nationwide from a pool of 24,000 doctors and health care professionals in 25 medical specialties.
With President Obama’s healthcare reform still working through the system, many doctors feel that the only way to survive is within larger hospital sized institutions rather than independent practices.
‘Physicians’ sense of worry may be greater than the reality, but it’s understandable,’ said Judy Aburmishan, CPA, a partner in FGMK, LLC in Chicago, a firm that represents physicians and other healthcare providers.
‘Hospitals are buying up private practices both in primary care and the specialties. The heavy-handed message they send out is that if you don’t join us, you won’t survive. There is great uncertainty and fear about what healthcare reform will mean for physicians once it’s fully implemented.’
Dermatologists were the most positive about their specialty but are less satisfied than in last year’s survey. Plastic surgeons were the least happy about their practices; only 41% said they were satisfied overall, compared with 66% who were satisfied in last year’s report.
‘The doctors I work with are unhappier than ever,’ said Aburmishan.
‘The ones thinking about retirement don’t know if the money will be there for them because of declining revenue fears and investment losses over the past few years.
‘They fear that the government and insurers will increasingly tell them how to practice. Younger doctors are afraid that they won’t be able to pay off medical school debt as fast as they expected.’
And interestingly it is cosmetic surgeons who have been hit hardest in the economic downturn.
‘The elective side of plastic surgery has been hit hard by the economy, so plastic surgeons are making less than they did in better times,’ said Tommy Bohannon, Divisional Vice President of Hospital-Based Recruiting for Merritt Hawkins, a physician-recruiting company.
While claims of poverty from the nation’s doctors when over eight percent of the workforce are unemployed may fall on deaf ears, according to the survey, doctors are not as well off as many believe.
Only 11 percent of physicians consider themselves to be rich, while 45 percent of those interviewed state that their incomes are no better than that of many non-physicians.
The other 44 percent of doctors surveyed claimed that, ‘My income probably qualifies me as rich, but I have so many debts and expenses that I don’t feel rich.’
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, young doctors who graduated from medical school last year had an average debt of $158,000.
And nearly one third of students owed more than $200,000 and that number is set to increase with interest over 25 to 30 years.
Another point of frustration for the doctors surveyed was the large disparity in earnings among medical professionals.
The top earning fields of medicine in 2012 were the same as 2011, although with a year-on-year 10 percent drop.
Radiologists and orphopedic surgeons topped out with a mean income of $315,000 swiftly followed by cardiologists on $314,000 and anesthesiologists on $309,000.
However, specialties with the most members such as pediatrics, ($156,000) and family medicine ($158,000) remained the lowest paid among qualified physicians.
Commentators though, see the market correcting this disparity, as the number of students deterred from becoming a primary care physician grows, so therefore does the need to make the role more attractive.
‘Due to the physician shortage in primary care, their incomes should be increasing,’ said Bohannon.
‘There’s strong pressure to recruit primary care doctors. Hiring entities, such as large groups and hospitals, realise that primary care physicians are the ones who make referrals to specialists and fuel the system.’
Another sore point for doctors was the gender gap that still exists within the medical specialties.
Male doctors across all specialities earn about 40 percent more than female doctors and in primary care they earn 23 percent more.
‘The income gap is closing in primary care as well,” said Bohannon. ‘Many women doctors choose to work fewer hours for quality-of-life reasons.’
‘But that’s true of younger male doctors as well. That’s why the disparity in income will narrow.’
Location matters too for the salary scale of doctors as physicians in the North Central region of the United States have testified.
‘In Chicago, for example, the supply of orthopedic surgeons is huge,’ said Judy Aburmishan.
‘If you go to Springfield, there aren’t that many orthopedists. So insurers have to pay better to make sure patients are covered.’