Industry Trends Physician

Emergency medicine physician salaries 2021: COVID’s impact on compensation

Graphic: Emergency Medicine Salary Report

Emergency medicine physician salaries decreased by 1% on average in 2020, according to Medscape’s EM Physician Compensation Report 2021. This is a change from past years, where salary increases were reported in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The emergency medicine salary decrease is largely due to COVID-19; 89% of emergency medicine physicians surveyed said the pandemic affected patient volume and their work hours.

How emergency medicine physician salaries compare

Emergency medicine physicians earned an annual average salary of $354,000 in 2020, down slightly from $357,000 in 2019. This is in the middle of the pack compared to other physician specialties, with plastic surgeons being the highest-paid at $526,000, followed by orthopedists at $511,000 and cardiologists at an average of $459,000.

Chart showing EM physicians earnings

The lowest-paid specialties include pediatrics ($221,000), family medicine ($236,000), and public health and preventive medicine ($237,000). While public health and preventive medicine saw a 2% increase from 2019 to 2020, family medicine salaries remained the same, and pediatrics saw a 5% decrease.

Emergency medicine doctors who earned an incentive bonus reported an average of $44,000 in 2020, which falls on the lower end of the physician pay scale. Orthopedists earned the largest incentive bonus ($116,000 on average), while psychiatrists earned the smallest ($24,000 on average).

Chart showing EM physicians' avg. incentive bonus

COVID-19’s effect on salary and hours in 2020

About 22% of all physicians Medscape surveyed said they saw a reduction in hours due to COVID-19, and 15% did not receive their annual raise. Thirteen percent received no salary for a temporary period, about three months on average. However, 45% of physicians surveyed said their finances and practices were not negatively affected by the pandemic.

Of the 22% of physicians who saw a reduction in hours, 65% of specialists said their hours had been restored and 32% said pay had been restored. About 25% of emergency medicine physicians whose pay decreased during the pandemic said they expected it to return to pre-COVID levels within the next year, while 42% expected it would take two to three years; 24% predicted their compensation will never return to their pre-COVID income level.

Chart showing opinions of when EM physicians compensation will return to pre-COVID levels

Male EM physicians earned more than female EM physicians in 2020

Male EM physicians earned about 19% more than their female counterparts in 2020, an average of $370,000 for men compared to $311,000 for women.

Chart comparing EM physician compensation by gender

Income disparities are prevalent among all physician specialties, especially in those that are male dominated. Only about 26% of emergency medicine physicians are women, which is low compared to specialties like pediatrics (61%), OB/GYN and women’s health (59%), and diabetes and endocrinology (50%). Overall, fewer women work in the highest-paid specialties with just 9% in orthopedics, 11% in urology, and 14% in cardiology.

Self-employed physicians earn a higher salary

In 2020, self-employed physicians earned an average annual salary of $352,000, about 17% more than employed physicians, who earned $300,000 on average across all specialties.

Chart comparing employed to self-employed physician compensation

While Medscape notes that the percentage of self-employed physicians is continuing to decline, self-employment, including locum tenens work, often allows physicians to bring home a larger paycheck while working fewer hours.

Administrative burden for emergency medicine is below average

Many doctors also tout locum tenens because of the lighter administrative burden associated with temporary work. Overall, emergency medicine doctors reported spending an average of 13.4 hours a week on paperwork and administration in 2020. This number is at the lower end of the scale compared to other specialties — infectious disease specialists averaged 24.2 hours a week on paperwork, while those in preventive medicine spent nearly 21 hours a week on these tasks. On the lower end, anesthesiologists and ophthalmologists spent the least time on paperwork, about 10.1 and 10.3 hours weekly respectively.

Chart comparing administrative burden in different physician specialties

Emergency medicine compensation poised for growth

Despite the slight salary decrease and challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 62% of emergency medicine physicians surveyed say they feel fairly compensated, and 79% say they would choose the same specialty again.

Chart showing how fairly compensated physicians feel

Although the long-term impacts of the COVID pandemic are uncertain, one thing is clear — when the pandemic eases and patients feel safer returning to emergency rooms for care, emergency medicine physician compensation is poised to rebound and grow.

Interested in learning more about locum tenens for emergency medicine physicians? Give us a call at 954.343.3050 or view today’s  locum tenens EM job opportunities.

Chart images from

About the author

Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a communication professional with experience writing for the healthcare and entertainment industries as well as local government. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.