Emergency medicine physician salaries grew by 5% on average in 2021, according to Medscape’s 2022 Emergency Medicine Physician Compensation Report. This is a big jump up after 2020’s decline of 1%. However, some emergency medicine physicians are still suffering from the financial impacts of the pandemic and supplementing their income through other means. Even so, a majority of EM docs say they are happy both with their medical career and their choice of specialty.
Average income for emergency medicine physicians
As of 2021, the average emergency medicine physician salary was the 13th highest among the specialties surveyed, with an average annual income of $373,000. This is up from last year’s average of $354,000 — an increase of 5% — putting emergency medicine physicians in the top 10 for compensation growth across specialties. In addition, 57% of respondents said they received an incentive bonus in 2021 — averaging $51,000 per bonus. Compared to 2020’s average bonus of $44,000, the increases suggests a renewed motivation to keep doctors happy and retain them.
Compensation impacts of COVID for EM physicians
That said, not every single emergency medicine physician saw an increase in income. One in five doctors reported a pay decrease, and for those who lost money, 84% said it was due to issues related to COVID-19, including job loss, a decrease in patient volume, and a reduction in hours.
Competition for emergency care
Competition from other medical providers was another factor that affected emergency medicine physicians’ salaries. Forty-three percent of respondents said non-physicians such as PAs, nurse practitioners, naturopaths, and chiropractors took care of patients who would have otherwise gone to the emergency department. Nineteen percent of respondents said these patients went to big box stores and minute clinics, and 14% of them said these patients used telemedicine alternatives.
Emergency medicine physicians and supplemental income
Nearly half (46%) of emergency medicine physicians said they took on extra work in 2021 — 36% more likely to take on additional work than doctors of other specialties. Among all respondents, 22% are taking on additional medical-related work, 18% are working as medical moonlighters (which includes locum tenens), and 11% added extra hours onto their schedule.
Dr. Katherine Altieri is an emergency medicine physician who has worked locum tenens jobs to supplement her income while maintaining her schedule flexibility. She also enjoys the variety that comes from working locum tenens in new locations.
“In emergency medicine, there’s always something different every day at work, but locum tenens provides a different atmosphere, different cultures,” says Dr. Altieri.
Job and compensation satisfaction
Of those surveyed, 53% of emergency medicine physicians said they feel they are fairly compensated. However, fewer emergency medicine physicians are happy with their medical career than last year. Only 66% of respondents said they would choose medicine again if they could re-do their career choice — the second lowest among specialties. This is a drop from 2021 when 73% of respondents said they would choose medicine again.
How the administrative burden compares for EM physicians
Emergency medicine physicians spent an average of 12.8 hours per week on paperwork, putting them in the bottom third among specialties for the amount of time spent on paperwork. The average amount of time spent on paperwork for all specialties is 15.5 hours per week.
What emergency physicians love about their jobs
Among respondents, 28% said that the most rewarding part of their job is being good at what they do, including finding the answers and diagnosing patients. Twenty-three percent said the most important part of their job is knowing they’re making the world a better place and helping others. And 14% of respondents said that their relationships with patients is the most rewarding part of the job.
Working locum tenens, in particular, has helped Dr. Altieri expand her ability to help patients in need in her home state of Arizona. “A lot of the places where I’ve worked are underserved or border medicine,” she says. “It can have a huge impact on not just the patient but their families. In these situations, it can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
What emergency physicians don’t like about their jobs
A quarter of emergency medicine physicians said that difficult patients are the most challenging part of their job. In addition, 22% of respondents said that rules and regulations make their jobs difficult. Fifteen percent said their biggest difficulty is the fear of being sued. Interestingly, although emergency departments were one of the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, only 6% of respondents said that COVID-19 was the biggest challenge of their jobs.
Although the impacts of the COVID pandemic still linger, the strong rebound in emergency medicine physician salaries bodes well for the future. Although there is more dissatisfaction with medicine, a majority of emergency medicine physicians expressed satisfaction with their jobs and enjoy diagnosing and caring for patients.
“I feel like I’m doing what I think I’ve been put on this earth to do,” Dr. Altieri says. “The big picture is to help people and I think medicine is one of the best ways of doing that.”
Chart images from Medscape.com