Average medical oncologist income grew in 2020, according to Medscape’s Oncologist Compensation Report 2021. The annual survey, which provides detail on medical oncologist salary trends, found that although most oncologists saw an increase in income, some medical oncologists reported a decline in income, primarily due to the pandemic. The report also looks at medical oncologist salary and job satisfaction, administrative burden, and the aspects of the job found to be most rewarding and most challenging.
Average medical oncologist salary grew in 2020
While 35% of oncologists reported some decline in compensation in 2020, the average income for oncologists increased from $377,000 in 2019 to $403,000 in 2020. These earnings place medical oncologists in the top third of salaries for physicians across nearly 30 specialties.
Pandemic effect on compensation, hours, patient load
Encouragingly, 45% of physicians overall reported that the pandemic did not cause financial or practice-related harm.
However, among oncologists who saw a decline in compensation in 2020, 88% cited COVID-related factors, including reduction in hours, fewer patients, and even loss of employment. For oncologists whose earnings were impacted by the pandemic, more than half expect a return to normal within a year and an additional 42% expect a return to normal in 2-3 years.
Oncologists worked a similar number of hours per week in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels (51 hours per week post-pandemic relative to 50 hours per week pre-pandemic). And while most physicians reported seeing fewer patients per day — due to new safety protocols and other factors — oncologists actually reported seeing more patients per week in 2020 (an average increase from 58 to 61 patients per week).
Administrative responsibilities for oncologists
Oncologists reported spending an average of 16.7 hours per week on administrative responsibilities, including paperwork, EHR documentation, managerial work, participation in professional organizations, and clinical reading. This total is consistent with the prior year for oncologists, and on par with average time reported by physicians overall (16.3 hours per week).
Oncologist satisfaction with job, specialty, and compensation
Despite the many challenges facing physicians in 2020, the report suggests high job, specialty, and salary satisfaction among oncologists, in particular.
Nearly eight in 10 oncologists feel they are fairly compensated, up from 67% the prior year and at the top of the list among all specialties surveyed. Further, 88% of oncologists would choose a career in medicine again (the highest ranking, among all physicians surveyed) and an overwhelming 96% of oncologists would choose the same specialty.
Most rewarding aspects of oncology
When asked what aspects of their career they find most rewarding, 40% of oncologists credited relationships with and gratitude from patients as the most meaningful part of their work. Twenty-one percent of oncologist respondents pointed to the satisfaction felt from finding answers and diagnoses, and another 17% enjoy the feeling of helping others and making the world a better place.
Challenging aspects of oncology
Among the aspects of their work they find most challenging, many cited rules and regulations (23%), long hours (17%), and the administrative burden of an EHR system (17%).
Locum tenens heightens rewards, reduces administrative burden
For many medical oncologists, the decision to pursue locum tenens aligns to the rewards and challenges identified in the report.
Dr. Sarah Ali turned to locums as a way to avoid burnout during the pandemic. Although she had been happy in her full-time practice of eight years, she desired a setting where she could devote more time per consult.
“I’m so invested in the relationship I have with my patients,” says Dr. Ali. “It’s nice to be exposed to a different style of practice. I saw a fewer number of patients and had more time with each patient compared to my previous practice. I learned I was able to contribute so much more meaning in each 30-minute visit with my patients and they really appreciated that. I learned more about myself and the way I want to practice, which is spending quality time and not being rushed. This locums experience has allowed me to see that and to really enjoy practicing oncology.”
Another medical oncologist, Dr. Steven Paul, says he was ready for a change after 50 years in private practice. He didn’t want to stop practicing, so he began working locums as a way to stay connected to the career he loves. Among the benefits, Dr. Paul points to the reduced administrative burden of locums compared to private practice.
“You don’t have the pressure of running a private practice — including billing, medical records, and scheduling availability,” says Dr. Paul. “You actually have the opportunity to just take care of patients and not deal with all the other stuff that goes along with private practice.”
Chart images from Medscape.com