Industry Trends

2023 medical oncology salary report: Compensation increased significantly

Compensation for medical oncologists grew a whopping 13% in the past year, according to Medscape’s 2023 Oncologist Compensation Report. That increase — from $411,000 in 2021 to $463,000 in 2022 — demonstrated the highest pay raise by percentage across all medical specialties.

Despite this jump in compensation, many medical oncologists reportedly don’t feel fairly compensated, perhaps due to an increase in paperwork and other administrative tasks over the past year. Challenges such as difficult patients and regulations persist. Yet, nearly all medical oncologists say they would choose their specialty again, and many feel rewarded by the difference they’re able to make in so many patients’ lives.

Medical oncologist compensation increased significantly

Since 2015, medical oncology salaries have risen 53%, according to Medscape data, up from about $300,000 to today’s $463,000. This is partly due to a continued rise, even during the COVID pandemic, when many specialties saw declines in compensation.

Medical oncology now ranks as the eighth highest-paying specialty among physicians, up two spots from its tenth-place ranking in the 2022 report.

Average annual compensation, by specialty

Chart - Physician pay by specialty

The numbers in 2022 look much more promising than they did in 2021, when medical oncologists’ salaries only grew 2% over the prior year. This meager increase had placed them nearly at the bottom of all specialties that saw increased income. In 2022, the tides turned, and oncologists are now experiencing the largest growth rate of any physician specialty at 13%.

Take a look at the numbers: How much physicians earned this year by specialty

Medical oncologists are taking on extra work

Despite seeing such a large increase in compensation, oncologists continue to seek out additional work to supplement their income. Overall, about one-third (35%) reported taking on extra work in 2022, similar to the prior year’s rate of 32%.

However, this year 27% reported taking on extra medical-related work, a large increase from the 17% who reported the same in 2021. In contrast, those who reported working a non-medical or side hustle job decreased this year, from 11% last year to only 3% this year.

Graphic showing the percentage of oncologists taking on extra work to supplement their income

Find additional work close to home: See how local locums can work for you

Self-employment can give oncologists greater freedom and flexibility

While some oncologists are content with moonlighting or other gig work, some have taken the step to become independent contractors. Not only can this provide higher income — on average, self-employed physicians earn more than employed physicians — but it also gives physicians greater schedule flexibility and freedom to choose when and how they work.

Medical oncologist Dr. Mark Vellek transitioned to working locum tenens after over three decades in private practice. He’s worked on assignments in Hawaii and Nevada and doesn’t foresee himself going back to a staff position.

“Working locums really removes all of the reasons I left private practice — my partners, the stress, the politics — and it just allows me to do what I think I do best, and that’s concentrate on patients,” he says. “It just has been eye-opening. I should have done this five years ago. The amount of stress that has been relieved is enormous.”

Find the right fit: 6 locum tenens agencies to consider

Fewer medical oncologists feel fairly compensated

Despite a general increase in income over the past year, the percentage of medical oncologists who feel fairly compensated has dropped dramatically in the same time period. Just over half (57%) of oncologists reported feeling fairly compensated, a considerable drop from the 67% who felt fairly paid in 2021.

While oncologists were the second-highest specialty to report feeling fairly paid in 2021, they’ve dropped to ninth place in this year’s survey. Despite this change, 94% of oncologists say they would choose the same specialty again if they were given the chance. This is an increase from last year’s report when only 88% said they’d choose oncology again.

What percentage of physicians feel fairly paid?

Chart - Oncologists who feel fairly paid

Get paid what you’re worth: A physician’s guide to competitive compensation

Time spent on paperwork and administration increased

Perhaps one reason medical oncologists are feeling less fairly compensated is the increase in administrative work — they reported spending an average of 17.6 hours per week on paperwork, an increase of 1.8 hours over last year. Yet, the average across all physician specialties remained unchanged at 15.5 hours, indicating that oncologists are dealing with a steeper increase than many other specialties. 

With this increase, oncologists now rank fifth out of all specialties in time spent on paperwork and administrative tasks, with physician medicine and rehabilitation — the highest-ranked specialty when it comes to paperwork — spending only .9 hours more per week than oncologists.

Hours per week spent on paperwork and administration

Chart - Hours medical oncologists spend on paperwork

Medical oncologist Dr. Sarah Ali decided to try out locum tenens after feeling burned out at her former practice. “I was seeing 30 patients a day. I knew there was another way,” she says. After being contacted by a consultant at Weatherby, she ended up on an assignment in Colorado, where she was able to combine her interests in oncology with integrative medicine.

Difficult patients top oncologists’ list of job challenges

Though the majority of medical oncologists say they’d choose their specialty again, the job doesn’t come without challenges. Nearly one-fifth (18%) state that dealing with difficult patients is the hardest part of their job, a large increase from the 10% who found difficult patients most challenging in 2021.

The second-highest stressor in oncologists’ professional lives has remained steady from 2021, with 18% stating that dealing with the industry’s rules and regulations is most challenging. Interestingly, the percentage of physicians who stated having problems getting fair reimbursement from insurers dropped from 20% in 2021 to 17% in 2022.

Having to work long hours and dealing with complicated EHR systems round out the top five biggest challenges for oncologists.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Chart - Oncologists' most challenging job aspects

More time with patients, not paperwork: Find relief with locum tenens

Medical oncologists find satisfaction in helping patients

Despite these ongoing challenges, there are many positives medical oncologists cite as the reason for doing the work they do. One-third (35%) of oncologists find satisfaction from the gratitude and appreciation they receive from patients, while one-quarter (24%) feel their work is helping to make the world a better place through helping others. 

Another quarter (23%) of oncologists gain satisfaction from a job well done, and they enjoy finding answers and continuing to improve their professional skills.

It’s clear that the majority of medical oncologists don’t do their jobs just for money — only 6% cited their income as the most rewarding part of their work.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Chart - Most rewarding parts of a medical oncologists' job

Dr. Ali feels she’s been able to make a bigger difference in her patients’ lives while working locum tenens. While on assignment in Colorado, she says, “I saw a fewer number of patients and I had more time with each patient compared to my other practice. I learned I was able to contribute so much more within each 30-minute visit with my patients, and they really appreciated that.”

She’s discovered that locums allows her to practice medicine the way she feels it should be practiced, by spending quality time with patients and not feeling rushed. “Having this locums experience, it allowed me to see that and really enjoy practicing oncology.”

Consider taking your specialty on the road. 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 oncologist job opportunities.

About the author

Alisa Tank

Alisa Tank is a content specialist at CHG Healthcare. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of others. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, road trips, and exploring Utah’s desert landscapes.