Are American Doctors Overpaid? My Vote

An article in Slate raises an interesting question: are doctors overpaid? Unquestionably, the article points out, doctors in the United States make a lot of money relative to doctors in other countries. American doctors make four times what French doctors earn. Four times! Comparatively, the gap between what doctors make and rest of us make is larger in the United States than in other countries.

The numbers are eye popping. In the 1990s, the ratio of the doctor’s income compared to the American employee’s income was about 5.5. In France, it is 1.9. In Great Britain, it is only 1.4. As I wrote last week in my response to Dr. George Hossfeld’s email, the top five highest paying jobs in the United States are all doctors.

Is it a travesty that one profession makes 5.5 times what the rest of us make? I don’t think so. I think doctors should make a lot of money because in the big circle of life, it is more important that doctors do their job well than at least 99% of the rest of us, and we need to recruit the best and the brightest. So I’m cool with doctors making a lot of money. What I have a harder time digesting, however, is the suggestion that doctors are not making enough money, so we should turn our civil justice system – that has been in the works for hundreds of years – on its head so doctors can make more money.

Updated:
  • Its true that doctors done a great job and our life is in their hand.So it does not matter whether they overpaid or not.And we will not have to argue on that.

  • Anthony

    What’s interesting to note is that these articles do not refer to the fact that a doctor’s education in other countries are completely paid for, and that the requirements and licensing exams, are, many times, much less rigorous. In Japan, you basically test into medicine after high school, and you’re set to go. There is no pre-med undergrad, MCAT, no USMLE 1, 2 and 3, no board certifications. You get your MD, and off you go to either specialize or work at a government-funded hospital. I was friends with a 24 year old Japanese cardiac thoracic surgeon who made $100k a year; however, he had no debt, because his education was paid for. It’s socialized medicine, unlike in the States. My brother attended Tufts Medical, and after his anesthesiology residency, he was swimming in around $500k of debt. I’m sorry, but if anyone is going to spend that much of their lives in school and training (not to mention lifelong continuing education) with that much debt, they better be making six figures or more.

  • George Hossfeld

    I read with amusement your response to my post. In 2008, I earned $115,000 before taxes. That’s for a 30 year career, past president of the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians, past Division Chief, University of Illinois. I have contributed ~ $75,000 in unreimbursed medical care per year for that last 30 years. I live in a 3 bedroom 2,000 square foot house and drive a 6 year old American car. My wife, an ER RN for over 30 years, and I have cared for thousands of patients without any financial compensation at all. And yes, I don’t think you lawyers even get the way doctors think. There are many, many more like me than the few you fixate on. I guess that lets you rationalize your profession. Everytime I hear a trial attorney tell me about rich doctors (and make personal attacks that make them look foolish) I wonder when they last did pro bono litigation work for the “poor little guy”. I dare you to post this, with your salary, house stats, etc.

  • Ron Miller

    I appreciate the information. It is certainly interesting. In one year of your life, 2008, you earned less than I would have expected and probably less than you deserve.

    I’m surprised you did explain why you wrote me an email one day – without ever having spoken to me in my life – wishing ill on my family. (See http://www.marylandinjurylawyerblog.com/2009/09/dr_george_hossfeld_comes_after.html)

    I’ve been blessed to be able to earn a decent living for my family. I’m not running from that. But my income or your income is not relevant. What matters is what the numbers say: doctors are paid 5.5 times more than the average American worker and more than your average American personal injury lawyer.

    I actually think you missed the point. Read this post again. I specifically said I don’t think doctors are overpaid.

  • Paulo

    5.5 times the average income of the nation?

    I wonder how that plays out in the undeveloped world, where many people still earn very little, and one would imagine doctors are at the very top of society. Maybe that’s an indicator of social inequity. At any rate, some docs make absurd amounts and others are honestly underpaid, especially pediatricians. Sure, brain surgery is complex (not all of them and not in the way popular culture portrays it), but I don’t see any reason for anyone to need 900k a year. 5.5 times is obscene. Europe has better health outcomes and pays less for their specialists: who is wrong?

  • joe

    Off course doctors are overpaid. That way when they make a mistake you have a malpractice company that you can collect gobs of cash from you frickin’ imbecile. I can’t wait for NPs to take over the medical profession, who ya gonna sue you dumbass!! A health professional has to get paid a considerable gross income just to cover their malpractice expenses. If they don’t get paid a lot there wouldn’t be a malpractice insurance industry, with no industry no one to sue, no one to sue and oh well I guess you’re screwed. Please, please, please, will NPs take over health care, then go try and sue them.

  • AK

    Um, how much should I make.

    I make $90 an hour, no benefits whatsover, since I am self-employed as a physician. Oh, and I am on-call 300 nights a year without a single dime in reimbursment for that.

    And my lunch “break”? Five minutes, maybe ten.

    Oh, and top five percent in high school. Top 0.3% in my SAT’s, a couple of Ivy League institutions and tuition debt to match.

    I’ll be okay with Doctors’ wages that they pay in India as soon as you charge me the price of an Indian house when you sell it to me.

    And, I work a 70 hour week, virtually no vacation. I don’t think that’s legal in France.

    Try to pay me like a nurse, and I’ll stop practicing. Why would I work so hard to make $90,000 a year?

    There is a low supply of us, the reason being that the work is hard and it’s critical. Don’t believe me? Then go to medical school, train for nine years after college, work 40 hour shifts, work 110 hours a week. Come out and then see if you are okay with $90,000 a year.

  • Ron Miller

    I appreciate what you are saying although I have to say I think you use a little hyperbole in your comment (I don’t think you are working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week).

    But AK, you fundamentally missed the point of the post. I think doctors sometimes see a lawyer writing about doctor salaries and assume that I’m saying you are overpaid. I’m not. I’m saying quite the opposite and I just said the same thing again a few days ago

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