Though the purpose of medicine is primarily to heal patients,1 the medical field also provides careers to numerous physicians, nurses, technicians and more. Because so many earn their livelihoods from health professions, it is important to acknowledge health care providers’ work hours, quality of life, compensation and other job-related factors.2 For example, factors such as gender,3 race4 and specialty5 can impact a physician’s salary and work life, thus affecting choices made as early as medical school. Also, all specialties are affected by changes in patients’ needs,2 and anesthesiologists are not immune to variations in work-life balance and pay.2
The Medscape Physician Compensation Report is the most comprehensive and widely-used physician salary survey in the United States, using responses from 19,328 physicians across 30 specialties to make conclusions about pay, hours, patient care and more.2 The results from the 2019 survey show that anesthesiologists are above the middle earners of all physician specialties, making an average of $386,000 per year.2 Average salaries range from $209,000 per year for public health and preventive medicine to $482,000 per year for orthopedics.2 Anesthesiologists are also above other specialties in satisfaction with their compensation, with 54 percent saying they are satisfied with their salaries.2 As with most specialties, anesthesiologists who are self-employed—i.e., have their own practices—earn more than those who are employed by others.2 Additionally, 84 percent of interactions between anesthesiologists and patients are reimbursed by insurance, though 45 percent of anesthesiologists also receive remuneration directly from patients.2 Overall, according to the Physician Compensation Report, anesthesiologists are compensated more and are more satisfied with their compensation than physicians in most other specialties, and their source of income varies from patient to patient.
Discrepancies in pay and satisfaction exist between anesthesiologists of different genders, races and ethnicities.2 This is comparable to disparities found in other physician specialties, such as primary care4,6 or cardiology.7 For example, among anesthesiologists, men earn an average of 18 percent more than women,2 and 77 percent of anesthesiologist responders to the survey were men.2 Male anesthesiologists also spend 6 percent more time seeing patients than do their female counterparts, likely due to gender discrimination.2,8 Indeed, one study by Miller and Katz found that women anesthesiologists perceive more gender-based discrimination at work than do men.9 With regards to race, the survey was unable to make conclusions about pay gaps due to insufficient representation of non-white and non-Asian anesthesiologists,2 suggesting an underrepresentation of minorities in anesthesiology.10 In the future, organizations such as the American Society of Anesthesiologists should make efforts to increase diversity in their leadership, with the ultimate goal of reducing disparities in the anesthesiology workforce.11
The compensation report also collected data on various other aspects of anesthesiology, such as work satisfaction and time spent on different activities. For example, only 17 and 32 percent of anesthesiologists engage physician assistants and nurse practitioners in their practices, respectively.2 This is compared to 36 and 50 percent for physicians overall. Additionally, anesthesiologists responded that the most challenging parts of their jobs are having many rules and regulations (29 percent), having to work long hours (23 percent) and difficulties getting fair reimbursement (14 percent).2 Conversely, they stated that the most rewarding aspects were excelling at their work (27 percent), earning good wages at an enjoyable job (25 percent) and relationships with patients (17 percent).2 Indeed, anesthesiologists showed high satisfaction, with 75 percent saying they would choose to go into medicine again2 and 92 percent either very satisfied or satisfied with their job performance.2 Also, although Medicare reimbursement is lower than reimbursement from most private insurance companies, 74 percent of anesthesiologists surveyed said they will continue to take new Medicare/Medicaid patients.2
In sum, anesthesiologists make more than most other physician specialties, and most anesthesiologists are satisfied with their pay. However, there are differences in pay between anesthesiologists, likely due to gender- or race-based discrimination in the specialty. While anesthesiologists do not have as many interprofessional relationships as physicians in other specialties, they are generally highly satisfied with their jobs. Future research and policy should explore ways to close wage gaps in anesthesiology and to bring non-physician health professionals into anesthesiology practice.
1. Smith DC. The Hippocratic Oath and Modern Medicine. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 1996;51(4):484–500.
2. Kane L. Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2019. Web: Medscape; April 10, 2019.
3. Yoon-Flannery K. Gender Inequality in Compensation in Medicine and Surgery. In: Yoon-Flannery K, Fisher C, Neff M, eds. A Surgeon’s Path: What to Expect After a General Surgery Residency. New York: Springer International Publishing; 2018:81-85.
4. Ly DP, Seabury SA, Jena AB. Differences in incomes of physicians in the United States by race and sex: Observational study. BMJ. 2016;353:i2923.
5. Morra DJ, Regehr G, Ginsburg S. Medical students, money, and career selection: Students’ perception of financial factors and remuneration in family medicine. Family Medicine. 2009;41(2):105–110.
6. Weeks WB, Wallace TA, Wallace AE. How Do Race And Sex Affect The Earnings Of Primary Care Physicians? Health Affairs. 2009;28(2):557–566.
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8. Stratton TD, McLaughlin MA, Witte FM, Fosson SE, Nora LM. Does students’ exposure to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in medical school affect specialty choice and residency program selection? Academic Medicine. 2005;80(4):400–408.
9. Miller J, Katz D. Gender Differences in Perception of Workplace Experience Among Anesthesiology Residents. The Journal of Education in Perioperative Medicine. 2018;20(1):E618–E618.
10. Palepu A, Carr PL, Friedman RH, Ash AS, Moskowitz MA. Specialty Choices, Compensation, and Career Satisfaction of Underrepresented Minority Faculty in Academic Medicine. Academic Medicine. 2000;75(2):157–160.
11. Toledo P, Duce L, Adams J, Ross VH, Thompson KM, Wong CA. Diversity in the American Society of Anesthesiologists Leadership. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 2017;124(5):1611–1616.