Demand for physicians is accelerating as patients resume everything from well-visits to delayed consultations, procedures, and surgeries that had been delayed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to James Taylor, COO of AMN Healthcare’s Leadership Solutions Division, in the fourth quarter of 2021, “physician recruiting engagements hit an all-time high.” As a result, physicians’ salaries bounced back as well, with a mean overall income of $339,000. Mean income for primary care physicians was $260,000, and mean income for specialists was $368,000.

According to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) survey from 2010, researchers found a direct relationship between evaluation of life and emotional wellbeing up to a salary of around $75,000. Respondents with salaries up to that point showed increased emotional wellbeing as their salaries increased as well. Researchers came to the conclusion that high income “buys life satisfaction but not happiness.” They also determined that low income leads to both “low life evaluation and low emotional wellbeing” through stressors like poor health, divorce, and loneliness.

However, a 2021 PNAS survey yielded different results, finding that wellbeing and evaluation of quality of life have direct relationships with income that persists beyond $75,000, with no upper limit. According to the investigators, a potential explanation for these findings is that spending money may lessen suffering while raising happiness. As such, the more money a physician has to spend, the more likely they will experience a sense of emotional wellbeing and a more satisfying quality of life.

This is not meant to imply that physicians should increase their working hours in order to earn more money so that they can further improve their wellbeing and quality of life. In fact, doing so could jeopardize those factors, rather than enhancing them. According to a Journal of Internal Medicine Survey, increasing work hours and responsibilities significantly raises the risk of physician burnout, emotional exhaustion, and a lower sense of pride. This could result in adverse effects on patients and increased costs for physicians, with an overall decline in physicians’ financial stability. In the end, the choice to take on a greater workload depends on the physicians themselves, making sure to evaluate risk–reward on an individualized basis.