Compensation Differences Between Primary Care & Specialty Physicians

Compensation Differences Between Primary Care & Specialty Physicians. primary care physician salary
  • Specialists are often paid more than primary care physicians.
  • Primary care physicians may have better work-life balance than those who specialize.
  • The choice between primary care and a specialty is dependent on your interests, skills, and priorities.

When it comes to the medical profession, doctors are divided into two major categories – primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists. Both play an essential role in the healthcare system, but they differ in their training, responsibilities, and compensation. Knowing salary, benefits, work-life balance, and other factors can help you understand the area you want to pursue.

Salary

Are PCPs or specialists paid more?

According to the Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA) Physician Compensation and Production Survey, the average annual compensation for PCPs in 2021 was $268,000, while specialists earned an average of $458,000 per year. A 2022 report from Medscape provides similar numbers, finding that PCPs make $260,000 and specialists make $368,000 annually. 

The MGMA survey found that the highest-paid specialists were orthopedic surgeons, who earned an average of $700,000 per year, followed by cardiologists, who earned an average of $675,000. Meanwhile, Medscape found plastic surgery to be the highest earning salary with an annual compensation of $576,000 with orthopedics ($557,000) and cardiology ($490,000) following behind.

How is salary changing for PCPs and specialists?

Between 2015 and 2022, primary care salaries increased by 33%, and specialist salaries increased by 30%, according to Medscape.

How do bonuses differ for PCPs and specialists?

According to a Medscape survey, 57% of physicians receive an incentive bonus. Average bonuses for the specialties that are often PCPs, like family medicine ($30,000), internal medicine ($29,000), and pediatrics ($28,000), are generally lower than most specialists’ bonuses. Orthopedics is at the top with an average bonus of $126,000, followed by ophthalmology ($100,000) and cardiology ($85,000). Other specialties like psychiatry ($33,000) and neurology ($29,000) have bonuses similar to those of PCPs.

How does the gender wage gap differ between male and female physicians?

The gender salary gap is fairly similar between PCPs and specialists, according to Medscape. In primary care, men earn 25% more than women—with average salaries of $285,000 and $228,000 respectively. In specialties, men earn 31% more, though this has declined in recent years. Male specialists earn an average of $402,000, while female specialists earn an average of $307,000.

Benefits

While compensation is a significant factor in a physician’s career, benefits also play a critical role in attracting and retaining talent. Most physicians receive benefits such as health insurance, malpractice insurance, retirement plans, and vacation time. However, the level of benefits could vary depending on your employer and specialty.

According to the MGMA survey, 95% of PCPs received health insurance benefits, while 90% received malpractice insurance. In contrast, 97% of specialists received health insurance benefits, and 92% received malpractice insurance. The survey also found that specialists were more likely to receive other benefits, such as continuing medical education (CME) allowances, signing bonuses, and productivity bonuses.

Work-Life Balance

One of the most significant differences between PCPs and specialists is their work-life balance. PCPs typically work regular hours, seeing patients during the day and having evenings and weekends off. In contrast, specialists may have more irregular schedules and be on call for emergencies.

Patient Interaction

Another significant difference between PCPs and specialists is their patient interaction. PCPs see a wide range of patients, from children to seniors, and are responsible for managing their patients’ overall health and wellness. In contrast, specialists focus on a specific area of medicine, such as cardiology or orthopedics, and see patients with specific conditions or diseases.

As a result, PCPs may have a more diverse patient population, while specialists may have a more specialized and focused practice. This can impact their daily workload and the types of cases they see.

Making the choice

PCPs and specialists both play critical roles in the healthcare system, but they differ in their training, compensation, and some data on burnout differences.

Ultimately, the choice between becoming a PCP and a specialist depends on individual interests, skills, and priorities. Those who enjoy developing relationships with a broad range of patients and taking a holistic approach to care may find primary care to be more fulfilling. On the other hand, those who enjoy mastering a specific area of medicine and working with complex cases may find specialty medicine to be more rewarding.

It is also worth noting that the healthcare system relies heavily on PCPs to provide preventative care and manage chronic conditions, which can improve patient outcomes and reduce overall healthcare costs. However, the shortage of PCPs in some areas can lead to burnout and higher patient volumes for those who do choose this path.

In contrast, specialists are often in high demand, particularly in areas such as surgery, cardiology, and oncology, which can lead to more competitive salaries and better job security. Both primary care and specialty care are vital to providing quality healthcare, and both offer unique rewards and challenges.

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