According to a recent Medscape compensation report for 2021 that surveyed almost 18,000 physician respondents across more than 29 specialties, orthopedists continued to be near the highest paid specialties. However, more than half of orthopedists surveyed, or 56%, reported some decline in compensation despite average orthopedist income remaining the same in 2020 at $511,000 as it was in 2019. Orthopedics ranked second only to plastic surgery, at $526,000, in highest-earning specialties, with cardiology in third at $459,000.

Some of the negative trends for orthopedists detailed in the report, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic, are below.

  • The vast majority, 95%, of orthopedists who saw a drop in income cited COVID-19-related issues like job loss, fewer hours, and fewer patients as contributing factors.
  • A slight majority, 55%, of orthopedists who earned an incentive bonus achieved more than three-quarters of their potential annual payment, representing a 9% drop from the previous survey year.
  • Only 41% of orthopedists who suffered financial- or practice-related ill effects due to the pandemic expect their income to return to normal this year.
  • Orthopedists are seeing 79 patients per week on average, which is 14 patients fewer than in the previous survey year.
  • Just under half, or 45%, of self-employed orthopedists believe that a drop in patient volume of up to a quarter is going to be permanent.

Not all the data was negative, however. Some of the positive trends for orthopedists are as follows.

  • Orthopedics ranked first in average incentive bonuses among all specialties in the survey at $116,000. The next closest specialty was ophthalmology at $87,000. The average payment among orthopedists who received a bonus was 23% of the total salary, which was up 4% over the previous survey year.
  • Orthopedists spent only slightly more time on average this year, 13.9 hours per week, versus 13.7 hours per week from the previous year, on medical-related work outside of patient visits, including time devoted to paperwork, EHR documentation, administrative and managerial work, participation in professional organizations, and clinical reading. This was in the bottom percentage among the specialties surveyed, with the overall average for all physicians, by comparison, of 16.3 hours per week on such tasks.
  • Compared to the prior pre-COVID-19 survey year, the number of work hours orthopedists spent per week went down by three hours to 53. Conversely, the hours for intensivists, infectious disease physicians, and public health and preventive medicine physicians went up by six or seven more per week during the same period.

Self-employed orthopedists averaged $526,000 in earnings versus $497,000 for those employed. This difference is smaller than the overall physician average, which is $352,000 for those self-employed and $300,000 for those employed.