Pathologists’ incomes, which declined in 2013, are back up in 2014 and pathologists’ overall job satisfaction remains strong

When it comes to physician income, pathologists rank just below the median out of 25 medical specialties, according to the “2015 Medscape Physician Compensation Report.” The Medscape study for 2015 put pathologist compensation at $267,000.

This represented a 12% increase over the average pathologist compensation of $239,000 that was reported in the “2014 Medscape Physician Compensation Report.”

According to Medscape’s 2015 report, orthopedists are the highest earners, averaging $421,000 a year. At the other end of the scale are pediatricians who earn less than all other specialties with an average annual compensation of $189,000.

All but two physician specialties saw an increase in their earnings this year. The exceptions were rheumatologists and urologists.

The Medscape Survey

This year’s results were compiled from the responses of more than 19,500 physicians in 25 specialties. In addition to listing income, the physicians also answered questions about:

• the number of hours they worked,
• changes in their practices resulting from healthcare reform, and,
• how they have adapted to the new healthcare environment.

As in past years, this year’s top earners in the Medscape survey are physicians who perform procedures. At the bottom of the compensation chart are physicians who provide primary care and/or care for the chronically ill.

Pathology Particulars and Comparisons

Of the 25 medical specialties included in the survey, pathologists came in with the 15th highest income. Their 12% increase, which tied with the increases earned by emergency medicine specialists, was the third highest. Only pulmonologists, and physicians who care for patients with HIV or infectious diseases, had greater jumps in income—15% and 22% respectively.

It should be noted that HIV/ID physicians’ incomes were at the bottom of the list in the 2014 with an average income of $174,000.

As part of their annual compensation, pathologists also earned an average of $10,000 for non-patient related activities. This same amount was earned by psychiatrists, obstetrician/gynecologists, and family physicians.

Orthopedists earned the most non-patient related income ($29,000), and radiologists earned the least ($6,000).

Self-employed versus Employees and Men versus Women

This year’s survey shows little change when comparing incomes of self-employed pathologists and those who are employees. The survey results also indicate that the income gap between men and women physicians in the pathology specialty is small.

  • Self-employed male pathologists earn $347,000
  • Self-employed female pathologists earn $337,000 (3% less than males)
  • Employee male pathologists earn $241,000
  • Employee female pathologists earn $230,000 (5% less than males)

According to the Medscape survey, other specialties have wider gaps between male and female incomes. This may partly be due to the fact that in other specialties, women often work reduced hours. The numbers in the survey for pathologists are for full-time workers only.

Physician Compensation Graph

Are Pathologists Satisfied with Their Incomes?

Male and female pathologists are almost equally satisfied with their income (60% and 59% respectively), according to the Medscape survey. The same percentage also believes that they are fairly paid. These percentages are essentially the same as those in last year’s compensation report.

Which Work Settings Pay the Most and Where Are They?

There are sizable differences in compensation for pathologists, depending on their work settings.

The highest paid pathologists out-earn the lowest paid by $171,000. Here is how the average annual earnings stack up:

  • Office-based, multi-specialty, group practice pathologists earn $356,000
  • Office-based, single-specialty, group practice pathologists earn $327,000
  • Healthcare organization pathologists earn $270,000
  • Hospital pathologists earn $265,000
  • Office-based solo practice pathologists earn $260,000
  • Academic (non-hospital), military, research, and government pathologists earn $185,000

When looking at geographic areas and earnings, the North Central ($291,000) and Southeast ($287,000) regions are where pathologists earn the most. Lowest earners live in the Northeast ($249,000) and the Mid-Atlantic ($255,000) regions.

Who’s Afraid of Medicare?

Despite dire warnings from the American Medical Association about future Medicare payments, or lack thereof, a vast majority of employed pathologists (84%) and nearly all self-employed pathologists (94%) still choose to participate as Medicare and Medicaid providers. These percentages are up considerably from Medscape’s 2014 survey, when 64% of employed and 79% of self-employed pathologists said they would continue to accept these patients.

The percentage (16%) of pathologists who couldn’t make up their minds last year about Medicare and Medicaid has dwindled to 5% this year. They may be considering the huge and growing number of baby boomers who are now, and will be in the future, insured under Medicare.

Pathologists’ Overall Satisfaction

This year’s survey indicates that more pathologists (59%) are satisfied with their choice of medicine as a career than last year’s group (50%). The gap between this year’s respondents and last year’s is a little less when it comes to being satisfied with choice of specialty. Fifty-two percent of the 2015 respondents said they would choose pathology again, which is nearly the same as the 2014 respondents (51%).

Only about one in four of the respondents from both the 2014 and 2015 surveys answered that they were satisfied with the choice of work settings.

When it comes to overall job satisfaction, pathologists tie for second with psychiatrists at 57%, which is an increase of 4% over last year. Radiologists who also were hospital-based scored 51%.

Dermatologists top the chart in overall job satisfaction at 63%.

One in two (51%) participating radiologists this year reported experiencing overall career satisfaction.

General surgeons brought up the rear for general job satisfaction at 49%, followed by neurologists (48%), and Internists (47%).

It’s Not Always About the Money

There are other aspects about being a pathologist that are examined in the 2015 report.

About three out of four pathologists say that being good at what they do and providing diagnoses is the most satisfying aspect of their work. Only 12% of male pathologists and 8% of female pathologists say that the most rewarding aspect is making good money at a job they like.

Choosing pathology is not solely about income, according to pathologist J. Carlos Manivel, M.D., a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

“The pathologist is an important member of the clinical team,” he wrote in “Choosing Pathology as a Specialty,” on the U of M Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Residency website. “Simply put, how the patient will be treated and what the outcome will be depends on the pathologist’s diagnosis. As a corollary, the pathologist does not treat patients directly, but deals with other members of the clinical team. This provides interactions that are intellectually very rewarding and a continuous source of learning.”

—E’Louise Ondash

Related Information:

2015 Medscape Physician Compensation Report

2014 Medscape Physician Compensation Report

Choosing Pathology As a Specialty

National Survey of Clinical Pathology Laboratory Executive Salaries to Be Presented at 17th Annual Executive War College on Lab and Path Management 

Bad News for Clinical Pathology Laboratory Workers: Salaries Not Keeping Pace with Cost of Living Increases

Certain Pathologists Found Themselves in the ‘Highest Paid’ Media Spotlight after Medicare Officials Published Physician Pay Data for 2012

Some Hospital-based Physician Pay Trends Identified by Becker’s Hospital Review Could Play to Pathology’s ‘Sweet Spot’