Thursday, June 29, 2006

Those poor doctors

Orac posted about a survey showing that doctors' salaries are decreasing (when adjusted for inflation). Here are the quotes he includes:
Doctors may be well off compared with the bulk of their patients, but a new study says fees physicians get from the government and private insurers aren't keeping up with inflation. Last week, the Center for Studying Health System Change said net incomes for physicians fell from an average of $180,930 in 1995 to $168,122 in 2003, a decline of about 7 percent, when adjusted for inflation.

Medicals pecialists fared better, the study said. Their incomes slipped an average of 2.1 percent, from $178,840 to $175,011 over the period.


But primary-care physicians -- the doctors most people see most often -- saw their incomes drop an average of 10.2 percent, from $135,036 to $121,262 a year.
Now, I know that doctors have to go through an incredible amount of training, and most work extremely hard, but I have a hard time feeling sympathy for someone complaining about their salary when they make more than $100,000 a year. Why? Well, let's take a look at some US income statistics from 2005 (data from the US Census Bureau's 2005 Current Population Survey; data table here):
  • There were 230,425,000 people over the age of 15 in 2005; of those, 205,146,000 were earning income.
  • The median income was $23,186 (with a standard error of $91)
  • The mean income was $33,846 (with a standard error of $123)
  • There were 9.39 million people making $100,000 or more (the highest income bracket included) in 2005; this is 4% of the population over 15, and 4.5% of all income earners.
  • There were more than 60,000,000 people making less than $12,500 a year, and more than 100,000,000 people making less than $22,500 a year (non-income earners are not included in either total).
Orac, of course, plays the "rare is the newly minted doctor who doesn't finish with a six-figure debt" card. This article reports that in 2001 the average debt for medical school students was just around $100,000. Yes, that is indeed a large number. However, even assuming that number has risen to $125,000, that's still less than one year's salary for the average physician.

Now let's add house prices into the mix. CNN reports, "The median home price in the United States jumped 13.6 percent last year ... [b]y the fourth quarter [of 2005] ... the median home sold for $213,900." So, a person earning the median income buying a median priced house must take on more than nine years' worth of income as debt. Leaving medical school with less than one year's income worth of debt somehow seems like much less of a burden.

I think I'll spend my time worrying about the incomes of the tens of millions of Americans who earn less than 1/10th that of the average doctor, rather than those who are in the top 5% of all income earners. Sorry, Orac.

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