Reader Survey

Oncologists’ income and satisfaction are up


Oncologists continue to rank above the middle range for all specialties in annual compensation for physicians, according to findings from the newly released Medscape Oncologist Compensation Report 2020.

The average earnings for oncologists who participated in the survey was $377,000, which was a 5% increase from the $359,000 reported for 2018.

Just over two-thirds (67%) of oncologists reported that they felt that they were fairly compensated, which is quite a jump from 53% last year.

In addition, oncologists appear to be very satisfied with their profession. Similar to last year’s findings, 84% said they would choose medicine again, and 96% said they would choose the specialty of oncology again.

Earning in top third of all specialties

The average annual earnings reported by oncologists put this specialty in eleventh place among 29 specialties. Orthopedic specialists remain at the head of the list, with estimated earnings of $511,000, followed by plastic surgeons ($479,000), otolaryngologists ($455,000), and cardiologists ($438,000), according to Medscape’s compensation report, which included responses from 17,461 physicians in over 30 specialties.

At the bottom of the estimated earnings list were public health and preventive medicine doctors and pediatricians. For both specialties, the reported annual earnings was $232,000. Family medicine specialists were only marginally higher at $234,000.

Radiologists ($427,000), gastroenterologists ($419,000), and urologists ($417,000) all reported higher earnings than oncologists, whereas neurologists, at $280,000, rheumatologists, at $262,000, and internal medicine physicians, at $251,000, earned less.

The report also found that gender disparities in income persist, with male oncologists earning 17% more than their female colleagues. The gender gap in oncology is somewhat less than that seen for all specialties combined, in which men earned 31% more than women, similar to last year’s figure of 33%.

Male oncologists reported spending 38.8 hours per week seeing patients, compared with 34.9 hours reported by female oncologists. This could be a factor contributing to the gender pay disparity. Overall, the average amount of time seeing patients was 37.9 hours per week.

Frustrations with paperwork and denied claims

Surveyed oncologists cited some of the frustrations they are facing, such as spending nearly 17 hours a week on paperwork and administrative tasks. They reported that 16% of claims are denied or have to be resubmitted. As for the most challenging part of the job, oncologists (22%), similar to physicians overall (26%), found that having so many rules and regulations takes first place, followed by working with electronic health record systems (20%), difficulties getting fair reimbursement (19%), having to work long hours (12%), and dealing with difficult patients (8%). Few oncologists were concerned about lawsuits (4%), and 4% reported that there were no challenges.

Oncologists reported that the most rewarding part of their job was gratitude/relationships with patients (31%), followed by knowing that they are making the world a better place (27%). After that, oncologists agreed with statements about being very good at what they do/finding answers/diagnoses (22%), having pride in being a doctor (9%), and making good money at a job they like (8%).

Other key findings

Other key findings from the Medscape Oncologist Compensation Report 2020 included the following:

  • Regarding payment models, 80% take insurance, 41% are in fee-for-service arrangements, and 18% are in accountable care organizations (21%). Only 3% are in direct primary care, and 1% are cash-only practices or have a concierge practice.
  • 65% of oncologists state that they will continue taking new and current Medicare/Medicaid patients. None said that they would not take on new Medicare/Medicaid patients, and 35% remain undecided. These numbers differed from physicians overall; 73% of all physicians surveyed said they would continue taking new/current Medicare/Medicaid patients, 6% said that will not take on new Medicare patients, and 4% said they will not take new Medicaid patients. In addition, 3% and 2% said that they would stop treating some or all of their Medicare and Medicaid patients, respectively.
  • About half (51%) of oncologists use nurse practitioners, about a third (34%) use physician assistants, and 37% use neither. This was about the same as physicians overall.
  • A larger percentage of oncologists (38%) expect to participate in MIPS (merit-based incentive payment system), and only 8% expect to participate in APMs (alternative payment models). This was similar to the findings for physicians overall, with more than one-third (37%) expecting to participate in MIPS and 9% planning to take part in APMs.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

The Medscape compensation reports also gives a glimpse of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on physician compensation.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, practices have reported a 55% decrease in revenue and a 60% drop in patient volume. Physician practices and hospitals have laid off or furloughed personnel and have cut pay, and 9% of practices have closed their doors, at least for the time being.

A total of 43,000 health care workers were laid off in March, the report notes.

The findings tie in with those reported elsewhere. For example, a survey conducted by the Medical Group Management Association, which was reported by Medscape Medical News, found that 97% of physician practices have experienced negative financial effects directly or indirectly related to COVID-19.

Specialties were hard hit, especially those that rely on elective procedures, such as dermatology and cardiology. Oncology care has also been disrupted. For example, a survey conducted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network found that half of the cancer patients and survivors who responded reported changes, delays, or disruptions to the care they were receiving.

This article first appeared on

Next Article: