BACKGROUND: Earlier studies estimated annual income differences across specialties, but lifetime income may be more relevant given physicians' long-term commitments to specialties. METHODS: Annual income and work hours data were collected from 6381 physicians in the nationally representative 2004-2005 Community Tracking Study. Data regarding years of residency were collected from AMA FREIDA. Present value models were constructed assuming 3% discount rates. Estimates were adjusted for demographic and market covariates. Sensitivity analyses included 4 alternative models involving work hours, retirement, exogenous variables, and 1% discount rate. Estimates were generated for 4 broad specialty categories (Primary Care, Surgery, Internal Medicine and Pediatric Subspecialties, and Other), and for 41 specific specialties. RESULTS: The estimates of lifetime earnings for the broad categories of Surgery, Internal Medicine and Pediatric Subspecialties, and Other specialties were $1,587,722, $1,099,655, and $761,402 more than for Primary Care. For the 41 specific specialties, the top 3 (with family medicine as reference) were neurological surgery ($2,880,601), medical oncology ($2,772,665), and radiation oncology ($2,659,657). The estimates from models with varying rates of retirement and including only exogenous variables were similar to those in the preferred model. The 1% discount model generated estimates that were roughly 150% larger than the 3% model. CONCLUSIONS: There was considerable variation in the lifetime earnings across physician specialties. After accounting for varying residency years and discounting future earnings, primary care specialties earned roughly $1-3 million less than other specialties. Earnings' differences across specialties may undermine health reform efforts to control costs and ensure adequate numbers of primary care physicians.
- primary care
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health