Radiologists remain on top of salary pyramid

September 26, 2008
Rebekah Moan

Radiologists continue to be among the highest paid physicians, and the specialty has the fewest number of vacancies, according to a research letter recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Radiologists continue to be among the highest paid physicians, and the specialty has the fewest number of vacancies, according to a research letter recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Mark H. Ebell, a professor and assistant to the provost at the University of Georgia, compared the 2007 median income for physicians in various specialties and the percentage of residency positions for each filled with U.S. graduates. His findings appeared in the Sept. 10 JAMA.

The average starting salary for radiologists was $350,000, with every position filled, according to the research. At the other end of the spectrum, family medicine was the least popular specialty: 304 positions remained vacant, and average starting salary was $130,000.

After radiology, anesthesiology had the highest average starting salary at $275,000. Only 2.4% of positions remained unfilled. General surgery and otolaryngology pay the same amount, $220,000, and only two positions remained vacant. Next came emergency medicine at $178,000, neurology at $177,500, psychiatry at $160,000, internal medicine at $135,000, family medicine at $130,000, and pediatrics at $125,000.

The objective of Ebell's research letter was to demonstrate a linear correlation between the median income of physicians in a specialty and the percentage of residency positions for that specialty filled with U.S. graduates. It's no surprise that family medicine, with pay near the bottom, has the highest number of vacancies.

"County, state, and international comparisons have consistently shown that having a greater percentage of physicians in primary care specialties is associated with better population health outcomes, including reduced all-cause, cardiovascular, infant, and cancer-specific mortality," Ebell said.

Despite the necessity and importance of primary care physicians, rising levels of student debt, considerably lower salaries, and a perception that primary care physicians may have a less rewarding lifestyle have deterred U.S. graduates from pursuing this track as a career, according to Ebell.

Ebell suggests that addressing salary disparity would propel more graduates into primary care.

"Addressing salary disparity will require Medicare and leading insurers to pay less for procedures and imaging (doing things to people) and more for listening to, thinking about, and talking to our patients (cognitive skills)," Ebell told Diagnostic Imaging.

He cited debt forgiveness as another option for those choosing primary care. Average debt for the class of 2007 is $140,000, according to the Association of Medical Colleges.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Radiologists find many reasons for happiness in their daily jobs

Imaging technologists enjoy continuing income growth

Radiologist salaries rise, despite cooler employment market