If you're a physician looking for a job or about to enter practice, you may be curious about what to expect in 2021.

Overall, Doximity's 2020 Compensation Report shows that average pay for doctors increased by a nominal 1.5%, a relatively flat increase compared to Doximity's 4% increases from previous years. When adjusted against inflation (up 2.3%, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), physicians actually experienced a decrease in real income.

Let's dive in deeper and analyze what various physicians in different stages and areas of practice should expect in 2021. We'll take a look at the job market for residents and fellows, practicing physicians, and those in private practice.

Residents and fellows entering practice

A report on final-year resident employment opportunities conducted by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins revealed that medical residents have been getting fewer recruitment offers, most likely due to COVID-19. Only 30% of final-year medical residents said they received 100 or more job solicitations during their training, compared to 45% in 2019.

In the same survey, only 62% of final-year medical residents surveyed said they had received 26 or more job solicitations during their training, compared to 82% in 2019. The survey also revealed that very few residents revealed that COVID-19 will cause them to make a different career choice.

Trends in job demand

In addition to altered training, most residents and fellows have faced employment changes due to the pandemic, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). Many residents who anticipated completing their training by mid-summer last year may have experienced elimination or job changes. Many 2020 residents and fellows who thought they had a job lined up faced furloughs and job cuts.

Because of lower demand during the pandemic, many doctors may not have gotten first- or second-choice employment opportunities. However, this situation looks temporary moving forward into 2021.

Compensation

The average first-year resident makes around $60,000, and there’s not much wiggle room from that amount, according to the American Medical Association. Extra work — including work related to the pandemic, often doesn't qualify residents for hazard pay, for example.

Medical specialties

According to Medscape, the average resident salaries are as follows:

  • $69,500: Allergy and immunology, hematology, plastic surgery/aesthetic medicine, rheumatology, surgery specialized
  • $68,600: Cardiology
  • $66,500: Critical care, diabetes, endocrinology, HIV/infectious diseases, gastroenterology, oncology, pathology, pulmonary medicine
  • $64,800: Orthopedic surgery
  • $64,600: Otolaryngology, radiology, neurology, urology, orthopedics
  • $63,300: Anesthesiology, dermatology, pediatrics, nephrology, physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • $61,500: Obstetrics/gynecology and women's health, emergency medicine, ophthalmology, public health and preventive medicine, general surgery, internal medicine
  • $58,500: Family medicine

Practicing doctors

Similar to residents and fellows just getting started, practicing doctors who just endured the pandemic also face challenges.

Trends in job demand

A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033 due to older patients and retiring doctors.

The pandemic magnifies the need to address shortfalls in both primary care doctors and specialists, according to the AAMC. It projects shortfalls in primary care of between 21,400 and 55,200 physicians and in specialty care of between 33,700 and 86,700 physicians.

Compensation

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on physician incomes. Primary care physicians saw a 55% decrease in revenue, according to a report released by Medscape.

However, some individuals saw an increase in their salaries. For example, primary care physicians earned $243,000 this year (a 2.5% increase). Specialists earned an average of $346,000 this year (a 1.5% increase).

However, again, measured against inflation, they're going up at slower rates, and some specialties with the highest average income have taken larger hits because of a lack of elective procedures.

Medical specialties

Some salaries held steady and others increased some specialties' income. For example, plastic surgeons experienced a 10% spike in salary, which many attribute to the number of Zoom calls people have made, as more people worked or attended school remotely from home and spent time viewing their faces on-screen in virtual meetings, according to an American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery report.

The following specialties earned the most:

  • $511,000: Orthopedists
  • $459,000: Cardiologists

A few other facts:

  • After plastic surgeons, oncologists saw the biggest salary increase last year. Their compensation rose 7% from $377,000 to $403,000. Rheumatologists' salaries increased 5% to $276,000.
  • Otolaryngologists and allergy and immunologists saw drops in pay, down to 9%. Pediatricians and anesthesiologists also dropped 5% last year. Dermatologists' salaries dropped 4% as well.
  • Those in public health and preventive medicine earned $237,000, family medicine specialists earned $236,000 and those in pediatrics earned $221,000.
  • Emergency medicine doctors saw their compensation drop by 1% last year, from $357,000 to $354,000.

Medical professionals in private practice

Many private medical practices have seen steep declines in billings. This is due to many delayed or canceled elective medical procedures and treatments. Let's take a look at the trends, compensation, and specialties related to private practice.

Trends in job demand

The Physicians Foundation showed what has happened to physician practices. Approximately eight percent of physicians surveyed by the U.S. Physicians Foundation indicated that they have closed their practices as a result of the pandemic, which means the loss of more than 16,000 medical practices. Another 4% said they plan to close their practices within a year as a result of COVID-19.

Private practices, which often lack the financial resources of hospital systems, academic medical centers, and large medical groups, can also point to patient postponement of non-emergent procedures as a reason for the decline in practices. In addition, patients avoided specialty care during the pandemic.

Compensation

Self-employed physicians earned an average annual salary of $352,000 in 2020, compared to a $300,000 average annual salary for employed physicians, according to Medscape’s medical resident survey.

However, the pandemic took a toll on physicians’ income. Nearly three out of four respondents (72%) in a Physician's Foundation survey said their income dropped during the pandemic. More than half of the group experienced a decline of 26% or more and early one-fourth saw a 51% decrease before the survey was conducted.

Medical specialties

While doctors in specialties of all sizes called it quits due to their age or a medical condition that put them at high risk, others stopped practicing during the worst of the outbreaks and don’t have the energy to start again, and others just needed a break, according to the New York Times.

Outlook for 2021

Pandemic salaries were not consistent for all doctors. A total of 45% of physicians didn't face financial or practice-related problems in 2020 due to COVID-19, but 13% experienced no income for about three months, and more than one-fifth of physicians saw a reduction in hours.

COVID-19 certainly had an impact on physicians and other healthcare providers during 2020, but it's important to note that most doctors have recovered their money. Some physicians even reported earning a higher wage during the pandemic.

Medscape’s physician salary report suggests that healthcare and physician salaries will continue to recover in 2021.

Melissa Brock - Founder, Owner, Writer & Editor

Melissa is an experienced writer and editor, as well as the owner and founder of CollegeMoneyTips.com and MB Writing and Editing. Formerly the editor at Benzinga Money — your go-to hub for all things investing, insurance, mortgage, personal finance, and education — her work has also been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, The Journal of College Admission, and more. She writes fresh, thought-provoking content (with a touch of humor) about topics in personal finance, higher education, and travel.

Industry TrendsPublished July 21, 2021