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Primary Care MDs at Low End of Pay Scale, Study Finds

TUESDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Primary care doctors earn the lowest hourly wages among physicians, and this may be one reason for U.S. medical students' declining interest in primary care, suggests a new study.

Researchers looked at the wages of 6,381 physicians providing patient care in 2004-2005 and grouped them into four broad categories: primary care; surgery; internal medicine and pediatric subspecialties; and other.

Overall, clinicians worked an average of 53.1 hours per week and earned an average annual income of $187,857. Compared to primary care specialists, wages were 48 percent higher for surgeons, 36 percent higher for internal medicine and pediatric subspecialties, and 45 percent higher for clinicians in other specialties.

When the researchers analyzed 41 specific subspecialties, they found that neurologic surgeons ($132 an hour) and radiation oncologists ($126 an hour) earned the highest wages. Those with the lowest hourly wages were in internal medicine and pediatrics ($50) and other pediatric subspecialties ($52).

General surgeons' hourly wages were close to the midpoint of $86, which was much higher than for internal medicine and pediatrics combined ($24 less), internal medicine ($24 less), family medicine ($24 less), and other pediatric subspecialties ($23 less).

The study, published in the Oct. 25 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, also found that neurologic surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, dermatologists, orthopedic surgeons and ophthalmologists earned $17 to $50 more per hour than general surgeons.

"The primary care wage gap was likely conservative owing to exclusion of radiologists, anesthesiologists and pathologists," J. Paul Leigh and colleagues at the University of California Davis School of Medicine said in a news release from the publisher. "In light of low and declining medical student interest in primary care, these findings suggest the need for payment reform aimed at increasing incomes or reducing work hours for primary care physicians."

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The American Medical Association has more about careers in health care.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Oct. 25, 2010

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