NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 7, 2010

The amount of money medical specialists accumulate over their careers is twice as high as that of primary care physicians (PCPs), according to a new Duke University study published in the Journal of Health Affairs.  Many observers consider the higher income for specialists a significant reason for the shortage of primary care physicians in the United States, according to Health Affairs. 

Duke researchers examined income and interest minus living expenses -- what they called career wealth accumulation -- for cardiologists, PCPs, college graduates with a master's in Business Administration (MBA), college graduates who became physician assistants and people with bachelor's degrees: 

  • According to their calculations, cardiologists accumulate more than $5 million on average, compared with $2.5 million for PCPs.
  • Cardiologists are the 14th highest-paid specialists.
  • People with MBAs accumulated $1.7 million, while physician assistants accumulated $846,735 and people with bachelor's degrees accumulated $340,629 on average.  

The researchers also estimated how much additional compensation would be necessary to make choosing primary care more financially desirable for physicians: 

  • They estimated that increasing pay for PCPs by 50 percent would reduce the gap between cardiologists' income and PCP's income from about $2.7 million to $1 million.
  • In order to completely eliminate the gap, PCPs would have to receive an average annual income increase of $122,000, researchers found.  

Source: Report, "Specialists Make Twice as Much as Primary Care Doctors, Study Finds," California Health Line, May 5, 2010. 

For text:  

For study: 


Browse more articles on Health Issues