May 5, 2015

Inside doctors' finances: Which specialties take longest to pay off med school?

Daily Briefing

A new survey from Medscape Medical News finds that most doctors are financially stable, but some specialties run into more trouble than others and take a longer time to pay off school loans.

Medscape recently surveyed 19,657 physicians on their earnings, debt and overall financial health as part of its annual "Physician Compensation Report." Overall, physician's earnings are growing steadily, but examining doctor's financial health by specialty offered a more nuanced picture.

Medscape: Two physician specialties saw compensation drop last year

Overall net worth

Medscape ranked the average net worth of specialties by sorting them into five categories: under $500,000; between $500,000 and $999,999; between $1 million and $1,999,999; between $2 million and $5 million; and over $5 million. Medscape then assigned each specialty a net worth rating based on how many doctors were in each bracket. 

The specialties that had the highest average net worth were:

  • Orthopedics (2.95);
  • Urology (2.85); and
  • Gastroenterology (2.75).

Meanwhile, specialties that had the lowest average net worth were:

  • Family medicine (1.95);
  • Internal medicine (1.98); and
  • Psychiatry and mental health (2).

Student loans and practice issues

Medscape also asked physicians if they were still paying off student loans. Overall, younger physicians were more likely to report student loan debt, with 77% of those under age 28 saying they were still paying off school. However, 2% of doctors ages 65 to 69 said they were still paying off debt.

The physicians who were most likely to still be paying loans at the time of the survey were those specializing in emergency medicine (37%), critical care (35%), and family medicine (34%). Meanwhile, HIV/ID doctors, cardiologists, rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonary specialists were the least likely to still be paying off student loans—with 20% or fewer doctors saying they were still doing so at the time of the survey.

Sticker shock: Average med student graduates with more than $162,000 in debt

There was also significant variation in how likely doctors were to say that practice issues had caused them financial losses. The three specialists most likely to report such issues were:

  • Urologists (21% reported such problems);
  • Allergists and immunologists (18%); and
  • Plastic surgeons (18%).

In contrast, 8% of psychiatrists and mental health specialists, 8% of pediatricians, 7% of ED doctors, and 6% of critical care specialists said the same (Peckman, Medscape Medical News, 4/29).

The takeaway: According to a recent survey, orthopedists have the highest average net worth. The survey also found that the rate of financial challenges among doctors varies significantly by specialty.

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