High Demand for Specialty Physicians Spurs Salary Bump: Report

High Demand for Specialty Physicians Spurs Salary Bump: Report

July 18, 2022 0 By Jennifer Walker

A growing demand for specialty services is once again spurring a bump in starting salaries for specialty physicians, according to a new report from AMN Healthcare and its physician search division, Merritt Hawkins.

Demand for physicians was suppressed during the height of the pandemic, due in part to elective procedures being delayed or cancelled. But the subsequent substantial backlog of patients, combined with an aging population and the prevalence of chronic medical conditions, has caused a strong surge in physician demand, AMN said in announcing its annual report on recruiting incentives.

“Demand for physicians, and the salaries they are offered, have rebounded dramatically from the height of COVID-19,” AMN’s president of physician permanent placement, Tom Florence, said in a statement. “Virtually every hospital and large medical group in the country is looking to add physicians.”

Orthopedic surgeons topped this year’s list for highest average starting salary among physicians and advanced practice professionals, according to the report. They’re offered an average of $565,000 — exclusive of signing bonuses and other incentives — which is up from $546,000 a year earlier.

Overall, demand for specialty physicians, such as gastroenterologists, orthopedic surgeons, oncologists, pulmonologists, neurologists, and psychiatrists is rising, AMN said, while demand for primary care physicians has declined. The majority of the company’s search engagements (64%) over the prior 12 months were for medical specialists. However, just 17% were for primary care physicians; the rest were for advanced practice professionals, such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Florence attributed the shift to two factors: an aging population that needs more specialists to care for ailing internal organs as well as musculoskeletal conditions and neurological problems, and the growing use of advanced practice professionals to provide primary care in convenient settings.

AMN and Merritt Hawkins elaborated on the latter trend in their report, writing that “major non-traditional players have a concerted strategy to shift consumer access to healthcare to the convenient care model and away from the traditional primary care physician office model, creating a new gateway to the healthcare system.”

“Instead of relying on a regular primary care physician as their gatekeeper who directs them to additional services, such as diagnostic tests, surgery, and therapy, more patients are using urgent care centers, retail clinics and telemedicine as the first stop on their path to care,” they wrote.

Starting salaries for specialty physicians have generally increased, though not always on a year-over-year basis, AMN and Merritt Hawkins noted in their report. COVID-19, indeed, had an inhibiting effect on starting salaries for most specialists tracked for last year’s report, they noted. However, in 2022, starting salaries for most specialists were up, even though a higher percentage of search engagements were conducted during the review period than in previous years, which can bring overall starting salary average down.

Another significant trend noted in the report is that academic medical centers (AMCs) are adding physicians. Specifically, AMN said that 34% of search engagements in the last year were conducted for AMCs. That is up from 20% one year prior, and up from 11% five years ago.

“The importance of AMCs rose during the pandemic, as they were key centers of specialty care for COVID-19 patients,” Florence stated. “They are expanding their footprint both as tertiary care centers and as providers of community-based care.”

The top 10 physician starting salaries for 2021/2022, according to the report, were:

1. Orthopedic Surgery:

$565,000

Up 3% from $546,000 in 2020/2021

2. Interventional Cardiology

$527,000

Down 16% from $611,000 in 2020/2021

3. Urology

$510,000

Up 3%, from $497,000 in 2020/2021

4. Gastroenterology

$486,000

Up 7% from $453,000 in 2020/2021

5. Non-invasive Cardiology

$484,000

Up 8% from $446,000 in 2020/2021

6. Radiology

$455,000

Up 12% from $401,000 in 2020/2021

7. Pulmonology

$412,000

Up 6% from $385,000 in 2020/2021

8. Hematology/Oncology

$404,000

Up 5% from $385,000 in 2020/2021

9. Anesthesiology

$400,000

Up 8% from $367,000 in 2020/2021

10. Oral Maxillofacial Surgery

$368,000

Up 5% from $349,000 in 2020/2021

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    Jennifer Henderson joined MedPage Today as an enterprise and investigative writer in Jan. 2021. She has covered the healthcare industry in NYC, life sciences and the business of law, among other areas.