Medscape’s latest physician salary report shows an overall growth trend in physician salaries for 2020, while recognizing that recent events have negatively impacted salaries. Medscape surveyed over 17,000 physicians in more than 30 specialties prior to February 10, 2020. In the months since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected physicians in myriad ways, including financially.

COVID-19 effect on physicians

While the top concern for most physicians right now is caring for their patients and maintaining their own health, it’s important not to dismiss the pandemic’s financial impact. Physicians surveyed reported that their practices have experienced a 55% decrease in revenue and a 60% decrease in patient volume since the beginning of the crisis.

This has caused 9% of private practices to temporarily close, and many hospitals and physician groups have made the difficult decision to implement pay cuts, furloughs, and/or layoffs. Specialties that rely heavily on elective procedures — such as orthopedics, dermatology, and ophthalmology — have reported some of the largest losses.   

Physician salaries continue to grow

Prior to the pandemic, physician salaries in 2020 continued to grow. PCPs (primary care physicians) reported earning an average salary of $243,000, compared to $237,000 in 2019, while specialists earned an average of $346,000, compared to $341,000 in 2019.

Highest average physician salary by specialty

Orthopedics remains in the top position with an average salary of $511,000. The top five physician salaries by specialty in 2020 are:

  • Orthopedics: $511,000
  • Plastic Surgery: $479,000
  • Otolaryngology: $455,000
  • Cardiology: $438,000
  • Radiology: $427,000

Family medicine, public health, and pediatrics remain at the bottom of the list.

Average Annual Physician Compensation

Chart - average annual physician compensation

Despite its low ranking, public health physicians reported the largest overall increase in earnings, with an average increase of 11% from 2019. Allergy and immunology, orthopedics, oncology, and neurology all reported at least a 5% increase to their average salary. Conversely, otolaryngology and dermatology reported slight decreases.

Incentive pay is common

Over half of physicians (56%) say they’re eligible for incentive pay, which can make up a significant percentage of overall compensation.

PCPs reported an average incentive bonus of $26,000, while orthopedists reported an average bonus of $96,000. Typically, incentives are paid out either through a collections bonus, where a physician keeps part of a generated net profit, or an RVU model, where a physician’s productivity is tracked through electronic health records.

Because incentive pay is often tied to productivity, about a third of PCPs and specialists say they’ve worked longer hours to achieve their bonus goals. Overall, physicians report that they typically earn about two-thirds of their potential bonus.

Top paying states

Kentucky was named the top-earning state for physicians with an average salary of $346,000, jumping from sixth place in 2019. Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, and Utah round out the top five, with Utah, Ohio, and North Carolina making the top-ten for the first time.

Top-Earning States for Physicians Overall

Chart - Top earning states for physicians

Self-employed physicians earn more

Physicians who were self-employed continue to report higher pay than their employed counterparts, earning an average of 20% more overall ($357,000 per year compared to $297,000). Locum tenens physicians are typically self-employed, and many find that they’re able to earn higher pay despite working fewer hours.

A recent survey by CHG Healthcare on the impact of COVID-19 on provider employment found that many physicians and advanced practice providers are considering working locums tenens (37%) or changing employers (24%). Because of the income potential, locum tenens may be a good option for those looking to earn supplement income or as a stopgap while looking for new employment.  

Locum tenens physicians should also consider opportunities in the highest paying states to maximize their earnings while on assignment. The lower cost of living in many of these states, which are primarily located in the southern and midwestern regions of the country, will also help physicians take home more of their pay.

Satisfaction and career choice

Most physicians reported being satisfied with their compensation. Oncologists, emergency medicine physicians, and radiologists showed the highest rates of satisfaction, with 67% feeling they’re compensated fairly. Conversely, just under 50% of urologists, endocrinologists, and nephrologists said they were satisfied with their compensation.

Which Physicians Feel Fairly Compensated?

Chart - which physicians feel fairly compensated

However, most physicians don’t go into medicine solely for the pay. Survey respondents overwhelming said they would choose to go into medicine again if given the choice, with only 23% stating they would choose a different path.

The ability to make a difference in the world, create relationships with patients, and diagnose patients’ problems all ranked higher than pay when physicians were asked to name the most rewarding part of their job.

For more findings, view the full physician salary report on