Family Physician Salaries Continue to Rise at Rapid Clip

Survey Ranks Family Medicine as Most Recruited Specialty for 10th Year Running

June 17, 2016 04:39 pm Michael Laff

Family physicians continue to be in high demand among health care recruiters, and their salaries are rising to catch up to their worth, according to a recent survey.  

[Physician speaking with woman across a desk]

Average salaries for primary care and other specialties continue to climb, including a 13 percent year-over-year increase for family medicine, according to the 2016 survey report( by Merritt Hawkins, a Dallas-based health care recruiting agency. The report showed family physicians now earn an average of $225,000 annually, with some earning as much as $340,000 per year.

And for the 10th consecutive year, family physicians ranked first on the list of most-requested recruiting targets.

The report, based on 3,342 recruiting assignments conducted from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016, tracked salaries as well as other incentives.

"Demand for primary care physicians remains particularly strong, as they are seen as the keys to achieving quality and cost objectives necessary under emerging team and population health-based delivery models," the report stated.

AAFP President Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., of York, Pa., said the rising salaries are a byproduct of both the demand for more family physicians and the ongoing transition to a payment system based on value rather than volume. Filer told AAFP News that she often receives requests for referrals of job candidates.

"I am happy to see salaries are going up," Filer said. "Physicians can say, 'At least financially I am better off than I was five years ago.'"

Family medicine residents tell Filer that their email boxes are flooded with job offers. Some even report that recruiters track them down when they are consulting with patients.

"Residents are inundated by their second year with offers and sometimes even during their first year," Filer said. "It's a pleasant problem to have."

Family medicine residents know that they are highly sought after by recruiters, but medical students still need to hear the message.

"Most medical students have no idea what family physicians make," Filer said. "They think we earn between $50,000 and $100,000. When I tell them what the actual salary is, their mouths drop. I say to them, 'You won't make as much as an orthopedist does, but that is a completely different career.'"

Primary care stands to benefit the most in a new payment system that rewards teamwork and care coordination. However, some medical students still look toward subspecialties as the answer to their debt load.

"Medical students hear this hogwash that (family physicians) will be replaced by nurse practitioners and physician assistants," Filer said. "I tell them we are the No. 1 career opportunity in medicine and the one discipline where you can take care of complex patients across all organ systems and both genders. You will always have a job as a family physician."

Another factor contributing to higher pay in primary care and other specialties is increased competition among health care institutions.

"While hospitals remain a key driver of physician recruitment, other settings, such as physician-owned medical groups, federally qualified health centers, academic medical centers and urgent care centers have increased their recruiting activities, creating a more diverse market for physicians," the report stated.

Average salaries for family medicine are now closing the gap with those of other highly recruited specialties such as internal medicine ($237,000), hospitalist ($249,000) and psychiatry ($250,000).

A lot of the highly paid subspecialists could see their salaries decline in a value-based payment system or because of technology, Filer predicted.

The survey showed that among all physician compensation packages that included loan forgiveness, the average total of that forgiveness was $88,000. Filer said one family medicine resident she met will receive loan forgiveness worth $20,000 annually for five years.

Signing bonuses for all physicians held steady from a year earlier, averaging just under $27,000. The percentage of physicians who received a signing bonus increased from 46 percent in 2004-2005 to 77 percent in 2015-2016. Filer hears from residents who are being offered between $20,000 and $25,000 in signing bonuses, but she said that does not apply to physicians in academic settings.

Some positions offered a salary plus a bonus for meeting specific targets. Among those, 58 percent were based on factors that included relative value units, 32 percent included quality measures such as patient satisfaction or adherence to treatment protocols, and 22 percent included net collections.

One area of financial disparity Filer wants to see resolved as demand increases is that between family physicians and internal medicine specialists in hospitalist careers.

"That is an equity problem," she said. "If you are doing the same work, you should be paid the same salary."

Related AAFP News Coverage
Fresh Perspectives Blog: FP Salaries Increasing, But How Much?

Family Physician Salaries Up but Still Trail Those of Subspecialists

High Salaries Not Key to Satisfaction Among Physicians, Survey Finds
Interaction With Patients Trumps Compensation Concerns, Says One FP


More From AAFP
Negotiating Employment Contracts