Family practice doctors, also known as general practitioners, are the Jacks-and-Jills-of-all-trades in medicine. They treat patients of all ages who suffer from a wide variety of medical conditions. These physicians may also deliver babies. They're also the medical doctors at the top of the physician shortage list, according to nationwide physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, which reported 532 requests for family practitioners in 2011. Wages might be one reason for the shortage, as family practitioners aren't among the highest-paid doctors.
Family practitioners earned an average base salary of $178,000 in 2011, Merritt Hawkins reports; the salary climbed to $197,000 for those who did obstetrics. These figures don't include benefits or production bonuses. Salary offers ranged from $130,000 to $290,000 for family practitioners and $159,000 to $310,000 for family practitioners who also did obstetrics. The American Medical Group Association reported the median salary for a family practitioner was $208,658 in 2011. In comparison, several specialties earned much more: gastroenterologists earned $415,872, cardiologists made $422,921 and cardiac and thoracic surgeons received $532,567. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that family practitioners earned $180,850 in 2012.
Work Setting and Location
Work setting and location affect family practitioners’ salaries, according to the BLS. Those who worked in colleges, universities and professional schools earned an average annual salary of $116,200 in 2012, while doctors who worked in general medical and surgical hospitals made $175,410. Physicians who worked in private practice brought in $184,630. By moving into home health care, a family practitioner could increase income to $188,030. The most remunerative work setting for family practitioners in 2012, however, was in medical and diagnostic laboratories, with an average annual wage of $238,270. Family practitioners in Delaware had the lowest earnings, at $147,040, while those in Arkansas earned the most, at $214,080.
Discretionary Income and Debt
Medical school debt can affect a family doctor’s discretionary income, especially in the first few years after graduation. The median debt for family practitioners was $160,000, according to a January 2013 article in “Academic Medicine.” The authors reported that a recent family practice graduate could raise a family in an expensive urban area like Boston while still repaying an educational debt of $150,000 within 10 years. According to that model, the physician would have $1,100 a month in discretionary income. If the debt was $200,000, however, discretionary income dropped to $200 in a high-cost place like Boston.
The majority of family practice physicians enter private practice as small-business owners or members of a physician group. These physicians incur business expenses that can affect their net income, according to a January 2012 article in “American Medical News.” Between 2001 and 2012, general operating costs for multispecialty practices increased 52.6 percent. Physicians who are cost-conscious, however, can reduce operating expenses and put more money in their pockets through savings in office supplies, equipment, medical supplies, energy costs, financial management and advice from consultants. Practices such as buying in bulk, buying used or reconditioned office and medical equipment, managing vaccine use for peak demand periods and group purchasing can increase a family practitioner’s net income.
- Merritt Hawkins: 2011 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives
- American Medical Group Association: 2011 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-1062 Family and General Practitioners
- Academic Medicine: Can Medical Students Afford to Choose Primary Care? An Economic Analysis of Physician Education Debt Repayment
- American Medical News: 5 Simple Ways to Cut Medical Practice Costs
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images