Be that Doctor!

A recent blog article in Wall Street Journal caught my attention. There are 64 job occupations that earn more than $100,000 per annum in US as per latest data from Labor department.

While this in itself is a good news, what is surprising to note is the dominance of medical jobs. Here is a fact check:

  • There are 9 job occupations that earn more than $200,000 with a median salary of $228.780. ALL OF THEM BELONG TO MEDICAL PROFESSION

  • There are 6 job occupations that earn between $150,000 to $200,000 with a median salary of $172,880. 4 OF THEM BELONG TO MEDICAL PROFESSION

  • There are 49 job occupations that earn between $100,000 to $150,000 with a median salary of $114,120. EVEN HERE 7 OF THEM BELONG TO MEDICAL PROFESSION

Almost all conceivable medical designations pop up in this list: Anesthesiologists, Surgeons, Obstetricians and gynecologists, Oral and maxillofacial surgeons, Orthodontists, Internists, Psychiatrists, Pediatricians, Dentists, Prosthodontists, Podiatrists, and finally Veterinarians!

The top job is held by Anesthesiologists who earn an income of $270,000 and their income grew by 40% between 2007 and the present. Surgeons are not far behind at $252,000 experiencing the same scorching growth rate.

It merits to pause and reflect on what has caused this extreme skew in favor of medical profession.

Obviously it is a demand factor at play. US is ageing, and with life style related health issues (like obesity), more people are queuing up in hospitals than movie theatres. Rising cost of medical insurance is not making it any easier to get affordable medical care. As opposed to other products and services, buyers have little choice to either think through or negotiate the terms of diagnosis. They are not in a technical position to challenge the diagnosis and at best can seek a second or third opinion. Medicine prescriptions, duration of treatment or tests to be taken are all factors beyond the bargaining power of a typical patient. This unique position of the seller (doctors) enables active or passive understanding with other service providers like pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and medical accessories manufacturers. Conflict of interest can easily be either undermined or ignored and this can explain the super healthy rate at which salary levels are growing in almost all medical specializations ranging from anesthesiologists to dentists.

To be fair, the high levels of salaries persisting with the medical field can also be a function of investment and length of time to qualify and practice as doctors. When factored for these, the return on investment measured in terms of payback period can be on par with other professions.

Is this skew in salary levels in favor of medical profession doing any “public good”? Obviously not. While the role of doctors in treating patients is important, it cannot be so important that other professions like engineering, sciences, legal, economics and finance are completely crowded out. The median salary for Sciences and Education is $105,000 a far cry from Medical median of nearly $180,000.

One cannot control or direct how this shapes up as they are mostly dictated by market forces. But such a structure can have a heavy influence on career choices by young people going forward. If you want to earn well, be that doctor!

PS: The author thanks Subha Iyer for data assistance.


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