Primary Care Physicians Making Half of Specialist’s Income

Are Specialists Making Too Much?

Internal medicine is a tough market these days. Primary care physicians’ salary is far less than specialists, see far more patients, deal with far more red tape and paperwork, and are in the office for more hours, including many weekends. Could this be a reason why so many family physicians are seeking alternatives like concierge medicine?

According to, primary care physicians receive the lowest reimbursement of all physician specialties, indicating a need for reforms that would increase incomes or reduce work hours for primary care physicians.

In a “Community Tracking Study” conducted by the UC Davis, reports showed how disproportionate the income is between primary care physicians and specialists. “Wages of procedure-oriented specialists were approximately 36 to 48% higher than those of primary care physicians.” Not to say that specialists aren’t deserving of high salaries seeing that they save lives every day, but with that great of an income gap where is the incentive for medical students to choose primary care of specialties?

Wages per hour for primary care physicians were about $61, while surgeons earned about $90 per hour and other procedure-oriented specialties earned close to $88 per hour, the study said. Internal medicine subspecialists and pediatric subspecialists, meanwhile, earned slightly more than $82 per hour (Arch. Intern. Med. 2010;170:1728-34).

The problem with these numbers and the health care overhaul is the lack of incentives for medical students to choose primary care, and for primary care physicians to continue to practice internal medicine. The UC Davis study suggests that this wage gap might be contributing to the current shortage of general-practice doctors in the U.S., as well as driving the nation’s rising costs of medical care, according to Reuters.

“In other countries, there are typically more primary care than specialty doctors. But here it is the opposite,” lead researcher J. Paul Leigh, of the University of California Davis School of Medicine, told Reuters Health in an e-mail. “That can be changed if we could just change the salaries, and let medical students know about it so they don’t pursue these specialties so aggressively.”

In a separate study, researchers from New York found that most physicians, whether specialists or general practice, believe Medicare reimbursement is flawed, and 80% of physicians support raising primary care pay. Forty percent supported a 3-percent reduction in specialists pay to offset that increase.

About SignatureMD

SignatureMD is one of the nation’s largest firms providing initial conversion and ongoing support services to concierge medicine physicians. SignatureMD currently partners with over 200 affiliated primary care physicians and specialists across 35 states, and its network is rapidly expanding.