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When Nurses Earn More Than Doctors

Nurses have long chafed at a perceived "status gap" with doctors, and so in that sense at least, here's some good news: Some specialist nurses now earn more than primary-care doctors.

Nurses Get More Respect -- Sort ofThis tidbit comes to us courtesy of Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a leading physician-recruitment firm, whose 2008 salary survey reports that nurse anesthesiologists now earn an average of $185,000 -- edging out the $172,000 earned by family doctors. That's great for nurses, at least those fortunate enough to be trained in anesthesiology. Both nurses and doctors, however, are increasingly paid far more as specialists than as generalists -- orthopedic surgeons, for instance, pull down an average of $439,000, while radiologists get $401,000.

Much of this reflects the way doctors are paid by insurers and Medicare, who reimburse them for doing something -- ordering tests, taking biopsies, or surgery -- but not for observation, diagnosis and other "cognitive" activities.

The firm receives more requests from its clients for family physicians than for any other type of doctor, Smith observes. General internists, are second on the list, followed by hospitalists, who specialize
in providing care to hospital inpatients. A population that is both growing and aging is driving demand for family physicians and other primary care doctors, according to [Merritt Hawkins CEO Mark] Smith, but the supply of such doctors is limited.

"Most American medical students simply are not interested in becoming family physicians," Smith says. "The majority of medical students who elect to train as family physicians today went to medical schools overseas."

Partly as a result of the difficulty of running individual practices, more physicians are also taking hospital jobs, Merritt Hawkins reports. Of 3,416 search assignments the firm undertook from April 2007 to March of this year, 45 percent involved hospital employment, up from only 19 percent several years ago.

(Hat tip: Fierce Healthcare)

Library of Congress image via Flickr user pingnews.com, CC 2.0

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