Industry Trends Physician

Pulmonology and critical care salary report 2021: How COVID-19 impacted specialist physician income

Illustration for Pulmonology and critical care salary report 2021

2020 was a year of unexpected challenges in healthcare, and pulmonologists and critical care physicians were among those most affected by the pandemic. While many physician specialties experienced reduced patient volumes and worked fewer hours, pulmonologists and critical physicians often faced long hours and stressful working conditions with little adjustment to compensation.

Compensation down for pulmonologists and up for critical care physicians

According to Medscape’s 2021 physician compensation report, pulmonologists earned an average annual salary of $333,000 in 2020, a decrease of 3% from $342,000 in 2019. Critical care physicians, however, saw a slight salary increase. They earned an average salary of $366,000 in 2020, up 3% from $355,000 in 2019.

Chart showing average physician salary in 2020 by specialty

Many also faced unexpected expenses; the report found that specialists spent an average of $11,000 on personal protective equipment in 2020.

How pulmonology and critical care compare to other specialties

Pulmonologists and critical care physicians ranked squarely in the middle of the salary scale in 2020. The highest-paid specialty was plastic surgeons with an annual average salary of $526,000, followed by orthopedists ($511,000) and cardiologists ($459,000). The lowest-paid specialists are pediatricians at $221,000 annually, followed by family medicine physicians ($236,000) and public health and preventive medicine doctors ($237,000).

Of the physicians surveyed, 55% of specialists said they received an incentive bonus as part of their compensation. While the Medscape report did not track incentive bonuses for pulmonologists, critical care physicians earned an average bonus of $41,000 in 2020.

Char - physician' average incentive bonus by specialty

COVID-19 impacted work for one in five physicians

Although 45% of physicians surveyed said they did not experience financial or practice-related hardship due to COVID-19, 22% said they had worked fewer hours as a result of the pandemic. However, of those who saw reduced hours, 65% of specialists said those hours had been restored, and 32% said their pay had been restored.

Chart showing the events that affected physician salary in 2020

Many specialists were also optimistic that their income would return to pre-pandemic levels soon. About 42% of specialists surveyed said they expected their income to return to normal in the next year, and 41% said they expected their income would be restored in the next two to three years.

Male specialists earn 33% more than their female counterparts

The report found that men working in physician specialties earned an average salary of $376,000 in 2020, 33% more than the $283,000 average annual salary for women specialists. Fewer women work in the highest-paid specialties — only 20% of plastic surgeons are women, 9% orthopedists, and 14% cardiologists. In critical care 25% are women, followed closely by pulmonology (24%). A majority of physicians in pediatrics (61%) and OB/GYN & Women’s Health (59%) are women.

Chart showing percentage of women in specialties

Self-employed physicians earn about $50,000 more annually

Employed physicians overall earned an average salary of $300,000 in 2020, compared to $352,000 for self-employed physicians.

While the overall percentage of self-employed physicians continues to decline, a recent survey of medical residents found that 21% of medical residents plan to become a practice owner or partner.

Locum tenens is another career option for those seeking independence and a higher salary. A 2018 survey found that locum tenens physicians work fewer hours and earn more than employed physicians.

Chart comparing compensation for employed and self-employed physicians in 2020

Pulmonologists and critical care doctors spend more time on paperwork

Although neither specialty clocks the highest average time per week spent on paperwork (that honor goes to infectious disease doctors with 24.2 hours), both pulmonologists and critical care physicians report a significant amount of their time is spent doing paperwork each week: 18.4 hours for critical care and 16.7 hours for pulmonology.

Chart showing hours per week spent on paperwork and administration

The average time spent across all specialties is 15.6 hours weekly. Anesthesiologists spend the least amount of time on paperwork (10.1 hours), followed by ophthalmologists (10.3 hours) and radiologists (11.6 hours).

However, despite the administrative burden, pulmonologists and critical care doctors are happy with their careers for the most part. 83% of those in pulmonary medicine and 78% in critical care medicine said they would choose their specialties again.

Interested in learning more about locum tenens for pulmonologists or locum tenens for critical care medicine? Give us a call at 954.343.3050.

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.

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