Invasive cardiologists’ $648K starting salary is the highest in medicine

Invasive cardiologists earn the top starting salary in medicine, according to a new report from Merritt Hawkins, raking in an average $648,000 in their first year of practice.

Though invasive cardiologists took the top slot in this year’s rankings, their noninvasive counterparts weren’t far behind, earning the fifth highest starting salary among physician specialties. Noninvasive cardiologists’ $441,000 annual earnings ranked just below urologists’ ($464,000), gastroenterologists’ ($495,000) and orthopedic surgeons’ ($536,000).

July’s report marks Merritt Hawkins’ 26th annual review of physician recruiting incentives in the healthcare industry, conducted on behalf of major clients like The Physicians Foundation, Society for Vascular Surgery, American Academy of Surgical Administrators and certain subcommittees of Congress. The consulting firm based its 2019 report on a sample of 3,131 permanent physician and advanced practitioner search assignments conducted between April 2018 and March 2019.

While cardiologists enjoyed some of the highest starting salaries between 2018 and 2019, Merritt Hawkins points out they weren’t the most in-demand specialists that year. Instead, for the thirteenth consecutive year, family physicians—a group that’s offered an average starting salary of $239,000—topped the list of Merritt Hawkins’ 20 most requested recruiting assignments for 2019. Cardiologists ranked eleventh. 

“While demand remains strong for primary care physicians, specialists are increasingly needed to care for an older and sicker population,” Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins, said in a statement. “In some medical specialties, shortages are emerging that will pose a serious challenge to public health.

“The shortage of medical specialists flies under the radar, but it is a serious public health concern that deserves more attention.”

The report also highlighted an increased demand for cardiologists—one that’s outpacing the U.S.’s current supply. Merritt Hawkins analysts predicted that by 2025 we’ll need around 35,460 cardiologists, but just 28,560 are likely to be practicing by then. That’s a deficit of 7,080 physicians, higher than any other internal medicine subspecialty by thousands.

As a whole, cardiologists’ starting salaries have been growing year-over-year, with invasive cardiologists seeing a 9.8% jump between 2017/18 and 2018/19 and noninvasive cardiologists experiencing a more modest 3.3% increase in the same time period.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • The average signing bonus for new physicians is $32,692
  • The use of quality- and value-based physician compensation is rising, with 56% of physician production bonus formulas featuring quality-based metrics in 2019’s report
  • Psychiatrists were second on the list of Merritt Hawkins’ most-requested recruiting assignments for the fourth consecutive year, highlighting a “severe” shortage of mental health professionals
  • Employment, as opposed to independent practice, remains the dominant physician recruiting model