KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Primary Care Doctors Make $3 Million Less Than Cardiologists Over The Course Of Their Careers

A Health Affairs study released Tuesday reports that primary care doctors make much less over the course of their careers than specialists and are leaving potentially millions of dollars on the table by choosing the career path, The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports. Still, the analysis found that primary care physicians make more than others college graduates, even those with MBAs. "To better understand the financial payoff for specialists, researchers at Duke University modeled the earning potential of cardiologists and primary care physicians between the ages of 22 and 65, taking into account medical school debt, earning potential and the age at which doctors begin earning an income. They conducted similar analyses for the average b-school, physician assistant and college graduate." Over a career, a typical cardiologist earns more than $5 million, primary care physicians earn $2.5 million and business school grads earn $1.7 million. Meanwhile, physician assistants earn about $846,000 and college graduates earn about $340,000. "To make up for the difference in income over the course of a career, primary care doctors would have to receive a $1 million lump-sum payment or have an annual income boost of $100,000, according to the analysis" (Wang, 5/4).

NPR's Shots: "Now the point the researchers were trying to make was that just making it easier for medical students to pay off their loans or boosting payments for primary care won't make much of a dent in the problem of medical students generally preferring careers as specialists. Particularly not when you consider that cardiologists aren't even the best paid specialists. They were only 14th on a list of 68 medical specialties ranked by income." Officials are worried about what a primary care doctor shortage could mean for health care in America, especially considering how many patients will get new coverage as the health care reform law is implemented (Rovner, 5/4).

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