The highest-paid doctors are in the Heartland

04/23/2014 7:37 AM

04/23/2014 7:37 AM

If you’re at a cocktail party or the kids’ softball game or on an exam table and the doctor by your side starts grumbling about Obamacare or low insurance reimbursements or other signs that the end is near for the profession of medicine, consider this:

Doctors in America’s Heartland are the best paid in the nation, and those in the rest of the country aren’t doing too badly either.

In the six-state region of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, doctors averaged $257,000 last year, according to a survey released this month by the online news and information site Medscape. The only doctors with higher incomes — averaging $1,000 more — were in the six Midwestern states clustered around the Great Lakes.

Perhaps counterintuitively — if you tend to think of places like Park Avenue or Harvard when the words “money” and “doctor” appear together — the survey found the lowest-paid doctors in the Northeast. Doctors from New York up to Maine averaged a more modest but still not too shabby $239,000. Doctors farther south along the East Coast from New Jersey to South Carolina did $1,000 better.

Medscape’s researchers offer a couple of lines of speculation for why compensation of doctors tends to be lowest where real estate prices and taxes are among the highest.

First, country doctors generally make more than their urban counterparts. That’s because rural communities often must pay doctors extra to lure them out of cities.

Second, the large concentration of doctors in the Northeast may be fueling competition for patients and limiting what doctors can charge.

The Medscape survey found that most doctors saw their incomes rise or hold steady last year, although some specialists did lose ground. Cardiologists, for example, took a 2 percent cut. Before you send off a condolence card, though, keep in mind that cardiologists still averaged $351,000, placing second after orthopedic surgeons as the most highly paid doctors.

The survey found that doctors were split 50/50 over whether they were fairly compensated.

But as the wise have told us, money doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.

The doctors most likely to say they would choose a career in medicine if they had it to do all over again were mainly those in specialties like family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics that were among the least lucrative. Fewer than half of some of the most highly paid specialists, including plastic and orthopedic surgeons, radiologists and anesthesiologists, said they would choose medicine again.

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