The average medical oncologist salary grew by 2% in 2021, according to Medscape’s 2022 Medical Oncologists Compensation Report. This is a jump from 2020, but at a slower rate than prior years. Another complication facing medical oncologists was the rate of inflation. In 2021, the annual inflation rate in the United States rose 4.7%, affecting purchasing power across the board.
Despite the slow pay growth rate, given the chance, a large majority of medical oncologists say they would choose their specialty again. Sure, there are frustrations aplenty — from paperwork to insurance billing complications and more — but in general, medical oncologists who responded to the survey say they find their work rewarding and valuable. Overall job satisfaction is attributed largely to the positive relationships medical oncologists develop with both their patients and their patients’ families.
As of 2021, the average medical oncology salary was the 10th highest among the specialties surveyed, with an average annual income of $411,000.
This is about an $8,000 pay increase from 2020’s average of $403,000.
Despite the rise in overall income, the picture looks slightly more troublesome when you look closer at the low growth rate of medical oncologists’ salary in comparison to physicians of other specialties.
On average, the compensation of medical oncologist’s rose about 2% year over year compared to the prior year. Of the 29 specialties surveyed by Medscape, medical oncologist compensation increased, on average, much less than many other specialties.
Around 32% of medical oncologists take on extra work to supplement their income — nearly on par with the rate of physicians in general, which sits at 36%.
Of those who pursue side hustles, the majority of gigs are medical-related or medical moonlighting, which includes locum tenens. Surprisingly, about one in 10 respondents earning supplemental income cite pursuing non-medical-related work (11%).
Self-employed vs. employed medical oncologists
Some physicians have transitioned to working for themselves as independent contractors — both for the freedom it provides and the higher earning potential. On average, self-employed physicians earn 20% more than employed physicians.
Working for himself as a locum tenens medical oncologist, Dr. Steven Paul says, “You don’t have the pressure of running a private practice. You don’t have to deal with billing and medical records and scheduling availability. You actually have the opportunity just to take care of patients and not deal with all the other stuff that goes along with a private practice.” Dr. Paul has worked locum tenens exclusively for the past two years.
Dr. Paul says his earnings as locum tenens physician are better than what he made in private practice. “My compensation is as good — if not a little bit better.”
Just over two thirds of the medical oncologists surveyed say they feel fairly compensated — the second highest among the 29 specialties surveyed. That said, this number (67%) represents a 12% decrease across respondents from the 2021 survey.
Even so, a full 88% would choose the same specialty of medical oncology again if they were given the chance. While impressive, this is also a dip compared to 2021 results, which sat at 96%.
How medical oncologists feel about low-paying insurers
According to the Medscape 2022 report, 17% of all physician specialties surveyed said they could or would drop low-paying insurers. That means the 13% of medical oncologists with similar considerations falls below the average, at just 13%.
The remaining 87% of medical oncologists cite business, ethical, and the level of “appropriateness” as justifications to maintain even lower-paying insurers for the sake of their patients’ health.
Dr. Paul shares in the frustrations surrounding medical billing and insurance and is happy he doesn’t have to worry about administrative duties as a locum physician.
“I had a private practice after training, but things changed. Managing various insurance companies, plus Medicare, while trying to be in private practice was just not feasible anymore. But I didn’t want to stop practicing medical oncology because I like what I do. So that’s one reason I started doing locum tenens work.”
One possible downside of working as a medical oncologist is that documentation can bog down your workload. While the average physician spends 15.5 hours per week handling paperwork and administration, the medical oncologists surveyed report spending 15.8 hours a week on similar tasks.
Though slightly above average compared to other specialties, it is still well below the higher end of the scale. Infectious disease doctors report spending 19.8 hours per week entering electronic health records — a full 20% more than a medical oncologist. That’s over 200 additional hours of administration a year.
Dr. Sarah Ali, a medical oncologist who has been practicing since 2012, can relate to a feeling of drowning in paperwork. “I was getting burned out. Frankly, it was a beautiful practice, but I was seeing over 30 patients a day. I knew that there was another way,” she says.
Her exhaustion inspired her to pursue locum tenens in Colorado and California, where she was able to marry her interests of integrative medicine and oncology.
Though medical oncologists find several areas of their work rewarding and personally fulfilling, the job still comes with its challenges.
Difficulties in getting fair reimbursements from insurers, including Medicare, was named as the chief concern for 20% of medical oncologists in 2021.
Tied just behind it, at 18%, are two frustrations: First, the obstacles born of complying with and juggling the many rules and regulations, which can sometimes feel like moving targets. Second, the irritations wrought of working within electronic health record systems for managing patients’ medical history.
Having to work long hours round out the top four parts of the job cited as most challenging.
What medical oncologists find most rewarding
Despite these ongoing difficulties, medical oncologists still find a lot to love about their jobs. Around one third of medical oncologists derive high satisfaction from the positive interactions with their patients, including warm feelings of gratitude and appreciation.
“I’m happy to give good care wherever that may be. In Colorado, I had as much of an impact on the community and its patients as they had an impact on me,” says Dr. Ali. “It was a great exchange all around.”
Twenty-three percent of respondents, meanwhile, find high value in the sense of excelling at their jobs. Finding answers and making diagnoses is gratifying, especially in conjunction with a sense that they are making the world a better place.
Making good money at a job they like are other common sources of joy found through medical oncology work.
Consider taking your specialty on the road. Medical oncologists are in high demand as locum tenens physicians. Give us a call at 954.343.3050 to learn more or view today’s locum tenens medical oncologists job opportunities.
Chart images from Medscape.com