Radiologist salaries rise, despite cooler employment market

August 8, 2007

Radiologists may not be in such hot demand as years past, but those who are working command larger salaries than ever. Physician recruiter Merritt, Hawkins & Associates found that demand for the new placement of radiologists has slipped more than 20% compared with 2006. On the brighter side, average and starting salaries rose, staffing incentives show an all-time high, and some radiology subspecialties are in high demand.

Radiologists may not be in such hot demand as years past, but those who are working command larger salaries than ever. Physician recruiter Merritt, Hawkins & Associates found that demand for the new placement of radiologists has slipped more than 20% compared with 2006. On the brighter side, average and starting salaries rose, staffing incentives show an all-time high, and some radiology subspecialties are in high demand.

Merritt, Hawkins' 2007 review of recruiting incentives for more than 3000 physicians and medical professionals reports that search assignments for radiologists decreased from 237 last year to 187 in 2007. The 21.09% drop represents the first fall in radiology recruitment since the 2003-2004 period.

Radiology also showed a slight but steady decline among the listings of most highly recruited physicians, dropping from second place in 2005 to fourth place this year. Family practice, internal medicine, and providers of in-patient care in a hospital setting (hospitalists) filled the first, second, and third places with 303, 273, and 194 searches, respectively. Orthopedic surgery ranked fifth with 172.

The Irving, TX, firm surveyed 48 states in the 12-month period from April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007.

Those 187 radiologists, however, will make an average of $380,000, up 7.6% from $351,000 last year. Radiology salaries were among the top five for physician specialists below neurosurgeons ($527,000), orthopedic surgeons ($413,000), urologists ($400,000), and cardiologists ($391,000).

The minimum offered salaries for radiologists also rose, climbing 4% to $250,000 from $240,000 in 2006. Neurosurgeons received the best salaries on the lower end at $350,000, a 14.28% increase from 2006. The lowest offered salaries for cardiologists boomed from $175,000 to $250,000, marking a 30% jump. Lowest offered salaries for urologists went up 9% to $275,000 and remained the same at $250,000 for orthopedic surgeons.

"Five or six years ago, sign-on bonuses were kind of an anomaly. They were used mostly in areas that posed particular challenges in recruiting. But over 70% of our searches now offer sign-on bonuses," said Phil Miller, vice president of communications for Merritt, Hawkins.

Sign-on bonuses became the fastest growing recruitment hook this year. The survey found that a total of 2173 recruitment offers included the incentive, compared with totals of 1650 and 1236 in 2006 and 2005, respectively. The average sign-on bonus for all medical specialties in 2007 was $20,000, down 2.3% from the previous year. The top sign-on bonuses, however, surpassed the $100,000 mark for the first time, a more than 30% increase compared with the record $75,000 offered last year.

"The sign-on bonus has gone from luxury to standard tool in recruiting. The salaries for a number of specialties have reached a point where groups just cannot offer much more. So they are looking for other ways to enhance the recruiting package. That's an indicator that you have to be a little bit more aggressive in today's market to get a doctor to make a decision," Miller said.

The survey highlighted several trends. Demand for some specialists has gone down but remains strong, with niche subspecialties showing good numbers. Although radiology as a whole went down, body imaging and musculoskeletal radiology became hot recruitment areas. Population growth and aging seem to be pushing the demand for these and other specialties, such as sports medicine and orthopedics, Miller said.

Demand continues to grow for primary-care physicians, including general internists, family practitioners, and pediatricians. Searches for family practitioners and pediatricians, for instance, increased by 84% and 21%, respectively, in one year. Openings in primary care reflect the fact that fewer medical students are choosing to practice family medicine and internal medicine, according to Joseph Hawkins, CEO of Merritt, Hawkins. Again, a growing and aging population drives up demand.

Hospital employment of physicians went up more than 40% this year, reflecting a steady increase over the last five years. The trend was also evident during the managed care drive of the 1990s. The difference now, however, is that physicians are seeking employment in hospitals, not the other way around.

"You have an increasing number of doctors who are tired of dealing with reimbursement hassles and malpractice. They want to be employed by the hospital, focus on medicine, and forget about the other stuff. This is happening in radiology too," Miller said.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Radiologists thrive in temp positions

Demand for radiologists holds steady

Demand for radiologists stabilizes, starting salaries rise