By Dr. James M. Dahle, WCI Founder
Is not hard to find out how much money physician make in terms of salary. But doctors work hour information is notoriously difficulty to find. Answering the common question “how much does a doctor make an hour” is not always easy. The only information that combined physician work hours with their income is from a survey in JAMA published in 2003, and obviously using even older data.
How Much Does a Doctor Make an Hour?
Here's the “money shot” of physician salaries per hour.
There's a lot of salary information there, but I'm just going to use the 4th column, the average hours worked. I'm also going to adjust the column for the trends we're seeing in medicine of decreasing hours. Over the last 15 years or so, physicians have been cutting back on their work hours. Part of this is decreasing compensation and increasing practice burdens, part is a greater focus on lifestyle issues, and part is due to increasing numbers of women in our ranks who are more likely to work part-time and/or take off significant time due to pregnancy/child-rearing issues. At any rate, it works out to about a 2 hour per week decrease since 2003.
Physician Salary per Hour by Specialty
Now, let's find some reasonable doctor salary data out there. Medscape has a survey using 2021 data. I've used that data and combined it with the hours in the table above adjusted for the decreased work hours I've noted. I've also made the possibly erroneous assumption that all physicians work 48 weeks a year. Also, where I don't have the data, I've tried to fill it in from other, less reliable sources. Those figures have an asterisk next to them in the table. Here's what we end up with:
|Specialty||Income||Work Hours per Week||Work Hours per Year (X 48)||Income Per Hour|
Now, I'm sure there are plenty of inaccuracies in this table. But nonetheless, there are some useful salary trends to analyze. For example, among specialties with three year residencies, physician hourly income ranges from $96 (FP) to $168 (EM). Specialties requiring four years of training show a range from $125 (Psych) to $187 (Derm). Five year specialties range from $134 (Gen Surg) to $190 (Ortho).
I've always found it interesting that emergency doctors do a two year fellowship to specialize in pediatric emergency medicine only to make less money than they made before specializing. Many other subspecialists, especially academicians, are in the same boat.
You can also see that if doctors want to get into the $100 an hour club primary care is pretty much out. Procedures are where the big bucks are, not only as a general rule among specialties, but also within a specialty. I find it embarrassing how much higher my reimbursement per time spent is from reducing a phalangeal dislocation or suturing a facial laceration compared to dragging a history out of an 85 year old demented patient and her family and reviewing her records. If only I could get an entire clinic full of patients with nursemaid's elbows then maybe I could break into “The 1%”.
Lastly, if you go to the trouble to calculate out your hourly wage (and especially if you do it on an after-tax basis), you can see what services you're currently paying for that might be worth doing yourself. For example, if you're an FP, making $78 an hour, let's say $52 after tax, and you're paying someone $40 to mow your lawn, but can do it yourself in a half hour, then you might want to consider doing it yourself and making twice as much as you make at work. On the other hand, if you're an orthopedist, and have cut back on your hours to allow time to build on an addition to the house, you might want to consider hiring it out. There are ways for doctors to make more money but managing your own finances and investments is still one of the highest-paying activities you can do, on an hourly basis.
How does this data compare to what you thought doctors made per hour? Does it align with your income?