Physician vs. healthcare CEO pay: 5 notes

Healthcare executives and surgeons are often cited as the highest paid people in healthcare, but how do their salaries compare?

1. Medscape reported the average compensation for primary care physicians was $242,000 in 2021, and average pay for specialists was $344,000. Plastic surgeons reported the highest average compensation at $526,000 while orthopedic surgeons followed at $511,000.

2. Physician pay was up slightly year over year for primary care physicians but dropped by $2,000 for specialists, according to the Medscape report. ENT physicians experienced the biggest pay drop, at 9 percent, from 2019 to 2020. Orthopedic surgeons, family medicine physicians and infectious disease specialists all reported flat pay, while plastic surgeons had a 10 percent jump in compensation.

3. Physicians operating their own practices also earned higher compensation on average than hospital employees. Self-employed physicians reported $352,000 on average, compared with $300,000 for hospital-employed physicians.

4. By comparison, healthcare CEO total compensation hit $15.5 million in 2020, according to the AFL-CIO's annual executive compensation report, the most recent data available. The highest paid health system executive was Samuel Hazen, CEO of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, who reported $30.4 million in annual pay. Ronald Rittenmayer, CEO of Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, earned $16.7 million and Alan Miller, CEO of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services, received $13.2 million.

5. Individual hospital CEO salaries are harder to pin down. However, a 2019 Dignity Healthcare report showed the average compensation for hospital CEOs with annual revenue below $50 million was $274,300 while top executives at hospitals with annual revenue above $1 billion make $1.4 million on average.


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