Cardiac, thoracic surgeons earn highest pay, but for how long?

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Cardiac and thoracic surgeons topped the 2011 list for pay for surgical specialists in the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) 2012 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey, while cath lab cardiologists ranked first for medical specialists. But in a continuing trend, the percent increase from 2010 to 2011 for cardiac and thoracic surgeons fell short of surgical specialists as a whole. 

Cardiac and thoracic surgeons made a median of $544,087 in 2011, according to the survey, up from $532,567 in 2010. But the 2.16 percent hike was 1.24 percentage points less than the increase seen by surgeons as a whole in 2011.  

Cath lab cardiologists earned a median compensation of $524,731 in 2011, a 4.09 percent increase from 2010. Cardiologists, on the other hand, pulled in almost $95,000 less than their interventional colleagues, with a median of $430,316 in 2011. Cardiologists’ median compensation in 2010 was $422,921.

Specialties as a whole saw a 2.8 percent rise and 79 percent of the specialties experienced increases in compensation in 2011. Surgical specialties’ hike averaged 3.4 percent. The survey reported that during 2011, the specialties experiencing the largest increases in compensation were hematology and medical oncology (7.13 percent), hypertension and nephrology (6.99 percent), urgent care (5.17 percent) and family medicine (5.13 percent).

Cardiac and thoracic surgeons received the highest compensation of all groups included in AMGA’s annual survey but they may be losing their edge. Orthopedic surgeons, with a median compensation of $515,759 in 2011, had a higher percentage gain, at 2.78 percent. And in 2010, cardiac and thoracic surgeons posted a slight decline in median compensation in a year when surgical specialties as a whole had a 0.44 percent increase.

In contrast, 2010 was a positive year for cardiologists and cath lab cardiologists, whose respective 5.2 percent and 4.13 percent increases in compensation beat an uptick of 2.5 percent for medical specialties as a whole.

"The data from the survey provides more evidence that the current Medicare system for the reimbursement and financing of healthcare is unsustainable,” Donald W. Fisher, PhD, president and chief executive officer of AMGA, said in a press release. “AMGA continues to advocate for changes in the Medicare reimbursement system, including a shift from volume-based to value-base payment models."

The report was based on 2011 data collected through survey responses from 225 medical groups, representing 55,800 providers. The survey data included starting salaries by specialty; medians, means, and percentiles; compensation/productivity ratios; and comparative data from previous surveys, as well as providing analysis by group size and geographic region. The financial data also included medians, capitation impact, accounts receivable analysis and department level analysis.

For more on compensation trends in cardiology and cardiac and thoracic surgery, read "Compensation Outlook: It's No Small Change" in the July issue of Cardiovascular Business.