Young doctors are earning more. Will it be enough?

By Joe Hannan | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published January 25, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Young physicians saw their earnings increase as of 2022, along with those of all doctors. These increases mark an improvement after the COVID-19 pandemic pay cuts.

  • Certain financial hurdles remain, however, such as the gender pay gap, the high debt burden, and the rising cost of living.

  • Doctors can hope that wages continue to rise in step with increasing costs.

Wages are rising for young physicians—and for all doctors, according to research for 2022.

But while it’s a relief to see that doctors’ compensation is recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic suppressed wages for many doctors, certain challenges persist.

Hope may come in the form of continued wage increases that keep pace with the rising cost of living.

Overall earnings picture

There are numerous bright spots in the 2022 Medscape Young Physician Compensation Report.[] Take, for example, the 27% of doctors who said that patient relationships are the most rewarding aspect of their job—or the 68% of physicians who said they would choose medicine all over again.

Across age groups and specialties, doctors earned an average of $339,000, with specialists bringing in an average of $368,000 and PCPs earning an average of $260,000.

That’s an improvement over 2021, according to Medscape’s 2021 Physician Compensation Report.[] In that year, specialists earned an average of $344,000 and PCPs an average of $242,000. Totals for 2021 were roughly level with 2020 earnings averages.

Doctors under the age of 40 tended to follow the overall upward earnings trend in 2022. In 2021, they earned about $272,000. That figure climbed to $293,000 in 2022, with the average specialist netting $324,000 and the average PCP netting $214,000. Overall, 54% of young physicians said they feel fairly compensated.

The data are clear that pay goes up with experience. For example, PCPs between the ages of 35–39 brought in about 16% more than those between the ages of 28–34. For specialists, the earnings gap between the cohorts is about 13%.

Regardless of age, the majority of doctors in the 2022 report shared one thing in common: 57% indicated that an incentive bonus was a component of their income. The bonus amount has crept up from 2020, when it was an average of $33,000, to 2022, when the average incentive bonus stood at $39,000.

Comparing by gender

According to the 2022 report, 46% of physicians in the under-40 cohort are women. Among the over-40 crowd, 34% are women.

The percentage of women in medicine has been steadily increasing, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).[] In 2007, only 28.3% of physicians were female. In 2019, that percentage climbed to 36.3%.

Moreover, women are further branching out into other specialties. For example, the number of women in critical care went up by 38.3% from 2014 to 2019, and the percentage increase was 52.8% for pediatric anesthesiology. During the same time period, women in internal medicine increased by 5.5%, and in family medicine/general practice by 5.3%, while general surgery stayed level.

But it wasn’t all good news in the 2022 Medscape report. While the gender gap in medicine and specialty selection appears to be narrowing, the pay gap persists. In 2022, the average female physician earned $246,000. Compare that with the average male physician, who earned $337,000. According to the report, men—regardless of age or specialty—earned more on average than women.

Comparing by location

As in so many other professions, compensation in medicine can boil down to location, location, location.

According to the Medscape 2022 report, young doctors who want to cash in on rising earnings may want to put down roots in the West North Central region of the US, which includes states like Missouri and Minnesota. Previously, doctors there earned an average salary of $261,000. In 2022, that average rose 20% to $314,000.

Earnings increases in the rest of the regions rank as follows:

  • East Central: 12%

  • West: 9%

  • New England: 8%

  • Pacific: 7%

  • Mid-Atlantic: 7%

  • South Atlantic: 4%

  • West South Central: 2%

However, these regions aren’t necessarily where doctors are earning the most money, according to Medscape’s 2022 Physician Compensation Report.[] Kentucky was the top-earning state in 2022, with an average annual physician salary of $364,000. Rounding out the top five states were Tennessee ($364,000), Alabama ($358,000), Missouri ($357,000), and Oregon ($352,000).

Of course, this does not account for the cost of living. For example, ranks Oregon sixth in its overview of the top 10 most expensive states.[] Compare that with Alabama, which was the third most affordable, Tennessee, which was the sixth most affordable, and Missouri, which was the seventh most affordable.

Related: Why doctors go broke—and how to avoid it

Comparing by debt

Income isn’t everything, especially with interest rates rising. It isn’t what you earn, but what you keep—and keeping those earnings is a challenge for debt-burdened young doctors.

According to Medscape’s 2022 Young Physician Compensation Report, 62% of young doctors have a mortgage, which isn’t so surprising. But on top of that expense, 51% have medical or undergraduate loans and 37% have car loans.

In 2022, purchasing a home became a more expensive proposition. While the housing market appears to have begun to cool, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are up, as reported by Forbes Advisor.[] Rates were around 3.2% in January. They then climbed to a high of about 7% in November before settling at around 6.2% in December.

And while rates on student loans tend to be fixed, doctors tend to have a lot of education debt. According to the AAMC, for the class of 2022, physicians had a mean education debt of $205,037 and a median education debt of $200,000.[]

Related: What residents are making, and how much debt they're holding

Costs are rising

Cars haven’t gotten cheaper either. Year over year, new car prices were up 6.3% in 2022, according to JP Morgan research.[] Things haven’t looked much better for used cars in recent years. Prices were up 42.5% in September 2022, compared with February 2020.

While it’s great to see physician income on the rise, life is getting more expensive. Young doctors can only hope that their earnings continue to keep pace.

What this means for you

Earnings for young physicians, and physicians overall, appear to be on an upward trend. But the gender pay gap persists, and broader economic issues such as a high debt burden, inflation, and rising interest rates can potentially erode the gains in pay. Doctors of all ages may want to account for these factors in their 2023 financial planning.

Read Next: Protect your future: Financial checklist for doctors
Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter