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Physician Salaries: Are You Earning Enough?

Jackson Physician Search
February 21, 2024

At some point during residency, every physician will hear about peers who land offers with six-figure signing bonuses or never-ending salary guarantees. The rumors may indeed be accurate, but before you set your expectations, it’s essential to recognize that physician salaries and recruitment incentives vary widely depending on specialty and location, among other factors. So, how do you know if an offer is competitive? One of the most popular tools on the Jackson Physician Search website is the Physician Salary Calculator, which was designed to give physicians an answer to this very question. After entering your specialty and location, the calculator estimates the value of your compensation package with the option to include benefits, relocation assistance, recruitment incentives, and more. Then, it is up to you to compare how your current income, or the offer you are considering, measures up.

The Physician Salary Calculator is popular because it provides a clear benchmark in an otherwise murky area. Physician compensation models can be notoriously complicated. Base salaries, wRVUs, productivity bonuses, partnership terms, reimbursement rates, and payer mix can significantly impact how much physicians earn. Our physician salary calculator aims to simplify this by estimating a physician’s total compensation based on what we know about how much physicians in each specialty earn in the given location.

Where are Physician Salaries Highest?

Generally, physician compensation is highest in the areas of greatest need, where the supply of physicians is significantly less than the demand for those physicians’ services. So, it’s simple: if compensation is your top priority, focus your physician job search on areas with high demand and low supply. A physician recruiter can advise where to narrow your search depending on your region of preference. 

That’s not to say physician salaries and recruitment incentives aren’t generally trending higher. At Jackson Physician Search, we see more clients offering recruitment incentives and increasing salary guarantees, but the change is most significant in the areas of greatest need. Despite this, it’s not unusual for physicians to expect big incentives regardless of the market in which they apply. As recruiters, we strive to help physicians set realistic job search expectations, which include those related to physician salaries. Not every employer can offer six-figure signing bonuses or endless salary guarantees; however, many are willing to sweeten the deal in some capacity with schedule flexibility, additional time off, administrative days at home, and more.

How Much Should Physicians Earn? 

The question “How much do physicians earn?” or “How much should physicians earn?” is not only asked by physicians aiming to benchmark their earnings, but the question is one the public at large feels a vested interest in. Some feel that if anyone deserves a big paycheck, it’s those healing the sick or caring for the elderly, while others assume big physician salaries are to blame for outrageously high healthcare costs. However, those on the latter side would be wrong. The Washington Post notes physician salaries account for less than 10% of the nation’s healthcare expenditures. 

A Washington Post headline from last August declared, “The average doctor in the U.S. makes $350,000 a year. Why?” The article does a deep dive into physician compensation in the U.S., citing figures from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which examined the tax records of nearly one million physicians. Despite the accuracy of the data, many physicians felt like the numbers were without context or not a fair reflection of how physicians are compensated — which, as we’ve noted, can be complicated. While many physicians earn less than the average shared, many specialists earn far more. 

Perceptions of Physician Salaries

The “Why?” tacked onto the end of the Washington Post headline shouldn’t imply that physicians don’t deserve high salaries. When genuinely breaking down the answer to this question, no one can dispute that medical students take on an extraordinary amount of debt — $250 thousand on average — and the income they receive in their years of residency, when calculated hourly, is often below minimum wage. The high compensation, in some ways, can be seen as “back pay” for stunted finances during training throughout physicians’ late 20s and potentially into their 30s, whereas those in other fields can begin to contribute more substantially to their lifetime earning potential during this time.

So, why is there indignation about the average physician’s income? One theory is that many physicians go into medicine because they want to help others, and acknowledging their status as top earners might question their motives. However, it is only logical that physicians reference what the market is offering to determine compensation goals, and the market is driving increasingly competitive offers.

Does this mean physicians are motivated by money? Partially, yes — and that’s okay. It’s fair for a worker of any profession to factor in compensation when evaluating job opportunities, especially regarding the level of education and training required, the expectations and responsibilities of the role, how influential employee outcomes will be, potential risks or sacrifices associated, etc. These are very normal and understandable considerations for any individual in the job market. A desire for competitive compensation is normal — even for those who are also motivated by a desire to help others.

If you have questions about physician salaries, the recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search is eager to answer them. Reach out today or start your physician job search online now.


Have more questions about the physician job search? 

The Physician Career Resource Center provides articles, whitepapers, and infographics designed to help physicians through all aspects of the physician job search. 

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