Although doctors enjoy a high level of income, salaries and work loads vary widely between specialties. That makes choosing a specialty one of the most important decisions a new doctor makes. Some opt for neurological or orthopedic surgery, with their stratospheric salaries, while others choose specialties such as pathology in search of predictable hours and relatively low stress levels. While pathology pays less than some other specialties, its scientific orientation and limited patient contact appeal to some doctors.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers limited information on doctors' salaries because they're literally off the scale. The bureau's database offers only incomplete data for most physicians. A number of industry organizations, recruiters and healthcare consulting firms perform regular physician salary surveys in an effort to fill the need for objective benchmarks as a basis for salary negotiations. "Modern Healthcare" magazine reviews several of these major surveys every year in a special feature on physician compensation, providing a useful single-source point for comparison. Average salaries tend to vary widely among the different surveys because of different sample sizes and methodologies.
Only seven of the 16 salary surveys reviewed provided salary data for pathologists. The American Medical Group Association reported the highest median salary, at $374,965 a year. The other surveys computed salary averages rather than medians. The Medical Group Management Association placed pathologists' average yearly salary at $364,382 per year, while ECG Management Consultants reported an average of $347,536. The remaining salaries were much lower, spanning a relatively narrow range. Consulting firm The Hay Group reported the fourth-highest average salary for pathologists, at $259,600 a year, while Pinnacle Healthcare reported the lowest average at $230,000.
The lower group of pathologist salaries was similar to the compensation reported for most primary-care physicians. For example, internists' average salaries ranged from $180,000 to $279,233 a year, while hospitalists earned $201,200 to $268,625. Overall, pathologists ranked in the low-to-middle range for physician salaries. Their incomes overlapped with gastroenterologists, whose averages ranged from $299,432 to $534,257 a year; and anesthesiologists, whose average salaries spanned a range from $316,500 to $471,667.
Pathologists spend eight years in premedical and medical education, the same as other physicians. After graduation, they complete a four-year residency in pathology. During this time they'll learn the clinical and laboratory skills they need, working with more experienced practitioners. After passing the necessary exams and becoming board-certified pathologists, they can choose whether to pursue specialized fellowships in forensic pathology, chemical pathology or other areas of practice. Employment prospects for pathologists should be strong. In an address to East Carolina University, Dr. Barbara J. McKenna of the American Society for Clinical Pathology forecast a substantial shortage of pathologists by the year 2021.
- Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: Pathology
- Summit Pathology: What Does a Pathologist Do?
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Clinical Pathology Overview
- Modern Healthcare: Market Pricing (2012 Physician Salary Special Feature)
- East Carolina University: The Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Workforce Shortage -- an Impending Perfect Storm
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