Time for a little self-awareness, docs

I’m still getting hate mail because of that piece I wrote on doctors “struggling to make ends meet“. Guess I can’t help myself. Here we go again.

I stumbled upon Medscape/WebMD’s annual Physician Compensation Survey. Here are the details:

Best-Paid Doctors

The top 10 highest paid doctors are:

  1. Radiologists: $315,000
  2. Orthopedic surgeons: $315,000
  3. Cardiologists: $314,000
  4. Anesthesiologists: $309,000
  5. Urologists: $309,000
  6. Gastroenterologists: $303,000
  7. Oncologists: $295,000
  8. Dermatologists: $283,000
  9. Plastic surgeons: $270,000
  10. Ophthalmologists: $270,000

Worst-Paid Doctors

The 10 least paid doctors are:

  1. Pediatricians: $156,000
  2. Family medicine doctors: $158,000
  3. Internal medicine doctors: $165,000
  4. Diabeticians/Endocrinologists: $168,000
  5. Psychiatrists: $170,000
  6. HIV/infectious disease specialists: $170,000
  7. Rheumatologists: $180,000
  8. Neurologists: $184,000
  9. Nephrologists: $209,000
  10. Ob-gyns: $220,000

Now I can’t vouch for the methods. But let’s accept these results as close to truth for the purposes of this discussion. I bet most of you are looking at that list and thinking, boy, doctors make a lot of money. Even us sad-sack pediatricians are pulling down a pretty nice income. So you think we’d be happy, right? You’d be wrong. About 46% of physicians reported that if they had to do it again, they wouldn’t choose medicine. It gets worse. About 45% say their incomes are no better than that of many nonphysicians. And then, to top it off, only 11% of physicians say they consider themselves rich.

Please, before the physicians among you start commenting about how I don’t understand you, or that I’m jealous of you, a few caveats. I’m a physician. I took the same college classes as you (I even wrote my thesis in organic chemistry). I went to medical school like you (University of Pennsylvania – cost a fortune). I did residency like you (hated it). I even did a fellowship. So I’ve paid my dues. I know all about educational debt. I know about working ridiculous hours and being treated like crap. And, yes, there are days I feel overworked and underpaid, just like lots of you.

My point is this – is there any other profession that is as tone deaf as we are when it comes to talking about our livelihood? Is there any other profession that feels so free to complain about making too little, when they objectively make so much compared to so many others? Is there any other profession compensated and respected this well whose members regularly threaten to quit at every possible turn? If any other profession whined publicly about their multiple six-figure incomes like doctors do, they’d be universally reviled.

I’m not saying physicians don’t deserve it. Nor am I saying there should be salary caps or anything else you want to pull from the “socialism” playbook. I just think we need to take a deep breath and use a little discretion every time we, as a group, feel the need to go all “poor us” in public. I don’t know how much longer the American people are going to tolerate this. Healthcare spending is sinking us. You’d think we’d learn to shut up a bit.


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