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Report: Physician Salaries Are Back Up, but Primary Care Physician Demand Is Down

Orthopedic Surgeons overtake interventional cardiologists for the highest paid specialty.
By Sharoon Gill |
Courtesy: iStock

After physician pay stalled during the pandemic, salaries are back on the rise. The latest report from Merritt Hawkins, a Dallas-based physician search and recruiting firm owned by AMN Healthcare, found that pay was up year-over-year for 14 of the tracked specialties, while only three went down.

The 2022 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives found that the demand for advanced practitioners like nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse anesthetists was up 18 percent from the previous year, while the demand for primary care physicians was down 18 percent from the year before. These trends reflect the growth of the consumerization of healthcare away from the office model and to more convenient care settings like urgent care centers, retail clinics, and telemedicine visits. These clinics are more likely to be staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants.

In addition to the increase in advanced practitioners, specialists are still in high demand. Merritt Hawkins found that 64 percent of all searches were for specialists. Radiologists, Psychiatrists, and OBGYNs were the most requested physician specialists. The increase in searches for specialists was the opposite of a few years ago when many providers were looking to add primary care providers. An aging population has a greater need for specialists, while nurse practitioners and physician assistants are often a cheaper option to do many of the things that primary care physicians do.

The type of facility looking to add physicians is changing as well. In 2016-2017, just 11 percent of searches were for providers in academic medical settings. Last year, 34 percent of searches were from academic medical centers. Over the same time period, hospital searches went from 43 percent to 34 percent, and private group searches went from 27 percent of all inquiries to 18 percent. Most of those searches are for clinical faculty, representing 77 percent of the desired academic assignments.

“The importance of AMCs rose during the pandemic, as they were key centers of specialty care for COVID-19 patients,” said Tom Florence, president of physician permanent placement for AMN Healthcare via release. “They are expanding their footprint both as tertiary care centers and as providers of community-based care.” 

Physician Salaries

The labor shortage in the healthcare market and the increasing needs of an aging population mean intense physician recruiting is occurring, bringing salaries up again for most specialists. During the pandemic’s peak, many elective procedures were canceled as providers focused resources on treating COVID-19 patients and kept people out of the hospital unless needed. That backlog of patients combined with other factors to increase physician demand and compensation. Orthopedic surgeons are the most highly paid physicians, at $565,000 on average for a starting salary. This is an increase from $546,000 the previous year.

Interventional cardiology had been the highest-paid specialty until this year when the average salary was $527,000. According to the report, the salary for interventional cardiology has been falling since 2018-2019, when the average salary was $648,000. Other top earners were Urology, gastroenterology, cardiology, radiology, pulmonology, and oncology. The bottom end of the pay scale were usual suspects pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and hospitalist (see chart).


“Demand for physicians, and the salaries they are offered, have rebounded dramatically from the height of COVID-19,” Florence said via release. “Virtually every hospital and large medical group in the country is looking to add physicians.”

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