Why Some Physicians Make Less Than PAs

If you’re smart and good at science, become a Physician… right? That may have been the obvious choice at one point in time, but there has recently been continued speculation that other careers may be more rewarding in comparison. A new group of medical specialists, Advanced Care Practitioners, prominently includes Physician Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs). In recent years, these careers have both experienced an explosion of interest. In 2015, glassdoor even named the career of Physician Assistant thesingle best job in America in a list that failed to even mention physicians.

 

IS MEDICAL SCHOOL WORTH IT IN THE LONG RUN?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the speculation. Let’s look at the data and figure out which career is better once and for all. Since nothing seems to settle this question definitively in the minds of the people, I will continue to update this post as I come across more data- please feel free to contact me if you have anything you think I should add. Here in part 1 of this multi-part post, I will examine this everlasting argument strictly from a monetary perspective. Hopefully by the end of this article you will have a better idea which of these careers is most fiscally lucrative.

 

THERE IS A CLEAR SALARY DIVIDE AMOUNG MDS THAT SPECIALIZE AND THOSE THAT DON’T

Job

2015 Average Salary

Physician Assistant

$107,268

Nurse Practitioner

$99,471

Physician: Specialist

$293,500

Physician: Primary Care

$186,850

I did my fair share of research on this topic before writing this article and I am very aware that there are deviations of salary within each job, but for ease of interpretation (and lack of any reasonable publicly available descriptive statistics) I have used the average salaries for each field above. I ignored the effects of standard deviations and error margins for both PA’s and NP’s, but couldn’t do the same for Physicians. – This is because there is way too much variation among average physician incomes due to a clearly forming divide in the field. (Possibly propagated by the recent influx of PA and NPs?).

 

PAS WHO SPECIALIZE OFTEN MAKE MORE THAN PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIANS

End of article. Right? Wrong! Although it might seem like these numbers speak for themselves – e.g. I would rather be making $293k than $107k – these singular data points tell me very little about what my income will be tomorrow or the next day, etc. To be able to predict future salary trends within each job type, we must take a look at historical salary data.

 

..Ok so it took me like two seconds to type that last sentence and then like two hours to assemble a semi-respectable data set. The numbers that I gathered are in the table below and I will list the various resources that I used at the end of this article. I am still missing quite a few data points but that’s okay- I can approximately fill in the blanks with a regression line. If anyone is able to locate any of the missing data points, please forward them to me so I can add them in.

Year

Nurse Practitioners

Physician Assistants

Physicians: Primary Care

Physicians: Specialists

2015

$99,471.00

$107,268.00

$186,850.00

$293,500.00

2014

2013

$98,817.00

$107,268.00

2012

$93,032.00

$102,165.00

2011

$90,583.00

$94,870.00

2010

$90,770.00

$96,876.00

$195,000.00

2009

$89,579.00

$93,105.00

2008

$187,500.00

$274,500.00

2007

$81,397.00

$86,214.00

2006

2005

$74,812.00

$81,129.00

2004

$161,816.00

2003

$69,203.00

$76,039.00

2002

2001

$63,172.00

$71,046.00

2000

$147,232.00

$256,494.00

1999

$143,000.00

$250,000.00

1998

$52,664.00

1997

$52,026.00

1996

$50,362.00

1995

$47,202.00

$133,000.00

$215,978.00

1994

$45,228.00

1993

$42,332.00

1992

$40,079.00

1991

$36,815.00

1990

$35,856.00

$105,000.00

$188,000.00

 

 

THE HISTORY OF PA, MD, AND NP SALARIES

Woah! When I first looked at this graph, I had to do a double take. Is the data lying? No! Data doesn’t lie! When analyzing this graph, you have to keep in mind the massive number of data points we are considering here (*I feel like I should again note my assumption that the original data collectors used a large and random sample of the population). In 2010, there were 106073 NPs, 70383 PAs, and 850085 physicians with an active license in the United States. Here I go cutting corners again but I think it’s pretty obvious from the graph that average physician salaries for the given time period deviate significantly from those of physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

 

PAS MAKE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THAN NPS

Let’s remove the physician data points and resize the graph window a bit.

A Two-Sample F-Test for Variances yields a p-value of .004424 and F-statistic of .33885. We reject the null hypothesis… Bla bla bla –…so basically the observed difference between PA salaries and NP salaries didn’t happen by chance and we can confidently state that on average, physician assistants have higher salaries than nurse practitioners.

 

 

 

 

THE FUTURE OF PA, MD, AND NP SALARIES

Now for the part we have all been waiting for. Let’s predict the future using the past. I’ll spare you the gritty details. Add in some voodoo linear regression math stuff that I had the computer do for me:

 

 

 

 

Once again we are left with a few possible surprises. According to our predictions, PA’s will on average have higher salaries than primary care physicians. WHAT!?!?! How could this be so? Remember the data doesn’t lie. Regression lines are not created from emotions; they are simple projections of previous patterns in data. This overlap can easily be explained by looking a bit further into these previous patterns. It is likely that physician assistant salaries will follow suit with those of physicians and form a clear divide in the near future separating specialist physician assistants and primary care physician assistants. Thus, it is likely that the majority of PA’s will continue to make less than the average primary care physician and the overlap in average salary can be explained by a few PA’s who specialize in complicated surgical procedures and earn outlying salaries.

One thought on “Why Some Physicians Make Less Than PAs

  1. Bridget says:

    Hi Adam, thanks for your site.
    I am a 1992 medical graduate from Nigeria looking for a career change. I have studied the job description of PA’s and feel strongly that it is what I want .
    As an IMG, what are my chances of getting in on the program and I would appreciate any advice going forward.
    Thanks .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *