A substantial majority of emergency medicine physicians say they are well compensated and would choose the same career path again. These are the findings of the Medscape Emergency Medicine Physician Compensation Report 2019 showing why emergency medicine remains a popular specialty among practitioners. Here we’ll examine these and other findings in more detail.
Compensation, the always-important factor
Compensation continues to be an important factor for career satisfaction. This year, emergency medicine physician salaries average out at $352K, slightly better than those of the middle earners of all physician specialties. EM was the 13th out of 29 specialties ranked. Emergency medicine physician salaries have changed little from last year’s report.
Charts from Medscape.com
For employed physicians, the average “includes salary, bonus, and profit-sharing contributions. For partners, it includes earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses before income taxes.” Only full-time salaries were reported.
Self-employed compared to employed EMs
Self-employed EM physicians earn significantly higher income than employed EMs, $390K compared to $331K. The self-employed category includes locum tenens physicians who operate as independent contractors.
Locum tenens physicians consistently earn more than permanent physicians. Their income also benefits from overtime pay and additional compensation in the form of housing and travel allowances. They often work fewer hours as well. A recent survey conducted by Hanover Research and CHG Healthcare found that physicians who work full-time permanent positions typically work more hours than physicians in locum tenens positions, yet are notably less likely to receive additional compensation for the overtime hours.
Self-employed physicians — whether in a group practice or solo practice — report that between 21 to 30% of their earnings are siphoned off into overhead expenses. That is a major expenditure that does not impact locum tenens emergency medicine physicians, who usually have little overhead.
EM physician Dr. Ali Chaudhary, in commenting on the disparities that made him switch from full-time employment to locums, says working a full-time job made no sense from a financial standpoint. “I realized I was getting paid more doing locums than I was at my full-time job. I could work the same amount and make a lot more money.”
Dr. Jim Mock agrees: “I’m being compensated in the range of where physicians of my tenure and my qualifications are. I can tell you I’ve had some of my most lucrative years working as a locums.”
Emergency medicine physician gender pay differences
Gender differences nonetheless affect emergency medicine physician salaries as they do salaries in other medical specialties. Men constitute 74% of all EM physicians and on average earn 18% more per year than female EM physicians. However, it’s notable that the wage gap is higher in medicine overall — a 25% differential.
One of the contributing factors is that male EM physicians spend more time seeing patients than female EMs (38 vs. 26 hours per week). On the other hand, women report spending more time on paperwork on average (14 vs. 12 hours per week) than their male counterparts.
Paperwork and administrative responsibilities
When it comes to paperwork and administration, these chores take inordinate amounts of time from any physician’s daily schedule. 74% of physicians report 10 or more hours per week spent on paperwork and administration. By comparison, EM physicians were slightly less burdened, with 57% saying they had 10 or more hours of those responsibilities.
This burden is typically much smaller for locum tenens physicians. According to Dr. Mock, “As a full-time locums physician, I don’t have to be as involved in that type of thing.” Studies show a correlation between the quantity of paperwork and professional satisfaction — interacting with patients remains one of the biggest contributors to physician satisfaction.
Self-satisfaction and job satisfaction
The Medscape report asked, “How satisfied are EM physicians with their own job performance,” and 91% responded to being “satisfied” or “very satisfied.”
When scoring whether they were compensated fairly, EM physicians scored near the top of the 29 specialties, this year’s score being up 7% from Medscape’s previous survey.
75% of EM physicians said they would choose medicine as a career if they had it to do over again and, of those, 83% said they would choose emergency medicine as their career path again.
The Medscape survey confirms emergency medicine as a satisfying and rewarding specialty, with consistency or improvement from previous years in almost every category measured. Emergency medicine, as Dr. Jim Mock attests, can be even more fulfilling for some when working as a locum tenens emergency medicine physician.