By Eric Rosenberg, WCI Contributor
With inflation declining after peaking in June 2022, you may be curious about which medical specialties outearn the rest. The average physician's salary increased by 3.8% from 2020 to 2021, a silver lining to a uniquely challenging year for doctors. Compare that to the 1.5% salary increase from 2019 to 2020, and it suggests physicians, including cardiologists, were better equipped to deal with increased inflation this past year than many other professions.
According to a 2022 report from Medscape, cardiologists are in the top earning tier for doctors. Here’s a closer look at how much cardiologists make compared to the average doctor and a cardiology income outlook into the future.
A Cardiologist's Average Salary
Cardiology is an elite medical profession, often reserved for those who rank near the top of their class in medical school. With highly demanded skills and no shortage of Americans with heart disease, a cardiology specialty generally proves to be an excellent long-term investment.
We used Medscape’s Cardiologist Compensation 2022 Report to assess how cardiologists have fared. The report surveyed more than 13,000 physicians in 29+ specialties. They answered questions ranging from bonuses to income supplements and general feelings toward their career.
Cardiologists earn among the highest salaries of medical professionals, with an average annual salary of $490,000 in 2022. If you’re a cardiologist and make less than this amount, it may be due to your location or a lower-than-average experience. The only two medical specialties that earned more on average in 2022 than cardiologists were plastic surgeons and orthopedists.
Is Cardiology Income Rising?
Cardiology income rose 7% year-over-year in 2022, an increase from the previous average salary of $459,000. The 2022 report included a comparison to 2021, which was heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 7% increase in 2022 places cardiology in the middle of the 29+ specialties Medscape surveyed for change in income. According to leadership at the AMN Healthcare’s Physician and Leadership Solutions division, “compensation for most physicians is trending back up as demand for physicians accelerates.” However, 1 in 5 physicians reported a decline in earnings in 2022. Participants were less likely to attribute the drop to the pandemic than in 2021. They were more likely to blame factors like a decrease in grant money rather than patient demand.
The average compensation for specialists has increased by 30% since 2015, a good sign for the income of cardiac specialists, surgeons, and other specialists.
More information here:
Do Cardiologists Have Incentive Bonuses?
Medscape’s report showed that 57% of physicians have incentive bonus arrangements. In 2021, the average cardiologist bonus was $71,000. In 2022, that figure increased to $85,000. Studies show bonuses increase worker productivity and effort, so they are likely to remain a part of physician compensation structures when working for large healthcare organizations. With an increased focus on burnout in the medical world, the relatively high bonuses that most cardiologists receive may lead to higher retention levels within the field.
Cardiologists most often cited non-physician practitioners as their most significant source of competition. One respondent pointed to the Arkansas legislature legalizing independent practice for certified registered nurse anesthetists as making cardiologists unnecessary in some situations.
The average cardiologist incentive bonus trailed only orthopedics ($126,000) and ophthalmology ($100,000) among the specialties cited by Medscape.
Do Self-Employed Cardiologists Make More Money?
In the 2021 report, self-employed cardiologists made an average of $477,000 per year, compared to employed cardiologists’ $450,000. Self-employed physicians overall tend to earn more money than employed physicians, according to Medscape. While the difference may not appear significant, a difference of $25,000 per year can add up to hundreds of thousands over a busy medical career.
Seventy percent of cardiologists don’t take on additional work to supplement their income, while 20% accept other medical-related work and 4% add more hours to their primary job. Overall, 36% of physicians took on extra work in 2022, suggesting cardiologists are, on average, in a slightly more stable financial situation. Or perhaps they feel they already work long enough hours.
High levels of student debt and the motivation to retire early also impact these numbers.
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Do Cardiologists Feel Fairly Compensated?
Cardiologists fell in the middle of the 29+ specialties surveyed with 57% of respondents saying they felt fairly compensated. An encouraging figure is that 81% of cardiologists said they would choose to pursue medicine again if they could go back in time, the most of any other specialty. Still, only 86% of cardiologists said in 2021 that they would pursue medicine again, suggesting the pandemic and other factors have disenchanted some cardiologists.
Eighty-eight percent of cardiologists said they would pursue cardiology given the chance, while 34% of cardiologists said patient relationships and gratitude from people they help are the most rewarding parts of their job.
The Medscape survey is not the end-all and be-all of physician salary data. There are other sources out there, and our recommended contract review firms use them to help ensure you are getting paid what you're worth. Other average salary numbers you can find from surveys done about the same time as the Medscape survey include:
- MGMA: $551,107
- AAMC: $444,000 (this survey only includes academics)
- Doximity: $537,777
- Merritt Hawkins: $446,000
- AMGA: $518,750
Increasing Your Physician Income
One of the most important things that you can do to earn more for your work is to negotiate your pay and the terms of your contract. Many doctors wind up with bad contracts that leave them improperly compensated, facing high costs and non-compete agreements that restrict their future opportunities.
If you’re negotiating a new contract, The White Coat Investor has a list of vetted attorneys and law firms to work with to make sure you get a good deal.
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