The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on healthcare institutions, with hospitals and private practices reporting revenue losses in the billions of dollars, but how has this affected physicians’ earning potential? According to a recently released annual survey of physician recruitment and compensation, the median compensation for many specialties has remained stagnant or declined despite looming physician shortages, while others have actually seen some growth.

The survey examined physician and advanced practitioner recruitment practices and incentives from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, “a time when the dynamics of the physician recruiting market were atypical.” The following 10 key findings were observed:

  1. Compared with 2019/2020, average base salaries were decreased for physicians in the following specialties: anesthesiology, cardiology (interventional), dermatology, gastroenterology, hematology/oncology, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and pulmonology.
  2. Compared with 2019/2020, average base salaries were increased in cardiology (noninvasive), family medicine, neurology, pediatrics, and psychiatry.
  3. Demand for primary care physicians was down, with recruitment for this specialty making up only 18% of search engagements versus 20% in 2020 and 22% in 2019.
  4. Nurse practitioners (NPs) were highest in demand, supplanting family medicine physicians for the first time in 14 years, with the top five most requested specialties being NPs, family medicine physicians, radiologists, psychiatrists, and internists.
  5. Among the top five most requested specialties, average signing bonuses were highest for family medicine physicians at $34,644, followed by psychiatrists at $33,260, radiologists at $23,235, internists at $22,861, and NPs at $6,939.
  6. Average starting salaries for NPs and physician assistants (PAs) both showed strong growth, increasing 12% and 14%, respectively, to reach an average of $140,000 and $128,000, respectively.
  7. Interventional cardiologists were offered the highest starting salary, which averaged $611,000 (low of $400,000 to a high of $1 million).
  8. Pediatricians were offered the lowest starting salary, which averaged $236,000 (low of $180,000 to a high of $400,000).
  9. Search engagements for solo practices or partnership settings were down, representing only 3% of all searches, further highlighting the decline in physician private practices.
  10. Most search engagements (67%) were for positions located in communities with at least 100,000 people, suggesting demand for physicians and advanced practitioners is not restricted to small or rural communities.

The survey was conducted by Merritt Hawkins, a national healthcare search and consulting firm that specializes in recruiting physicians and advanced practice professionals across medical specialties. The current survey is the company’s 28th.