Despite having to navigate the added complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, 78% of psychiatrists reported a growth in their compensation in 2020. According to Medscape’s 2021 Psychiatrist Compensation Report, the average psychiatrist salary grew nearly 3% from $268,000 in 2019 to $275,000 in 2020.
Psychiatry salaries compared to other specialties
Although psychiatrists did report an increase in compensation, psychiatry still ranks lower than many other physician specialties in terms of compensation — 48% less than the top-earning specialty (plastic surgery), but still 20% more than the lowest-paying specialty (pediatrics). Regardless, two-thirds of psychiatrists surveyed said they feel fairly compensated for their work.
If given the choice, 84% of psychiatrists surveyed said they would choose to pursue medicine again (compared to 78% of physicians overall). Eighty-six percent said they would choose the same specialty.
What’s COVID got to do with it?
About 22% of psychiatrists reported a drop in salary in 2020, and of those 79% cited issues related to COVID, including reduction in hours and patient volume. However, 41% of those affected said they expect their salaries to return to pre-pandemic levels within a year.
Although many physicians saw a decline in work hours due to the pandemic, psychiatrists are now working roughly the same hours they did pre-COVID (46 hours a week prior to COVID compared to 47 hours a week now). And unlike other specialties, like pediatricians, who are seeing a decline in the number of patients they see each week, psychiatrists are seeing about the same number of patients they were before the pandemic.
Female psychiatrists earn less than their male counterparts
Pay disparity remains a big issue for many medical specialties. Overall male specialists earn 33% more on average than women. According to the psychiatrists surveyed, men earned nearly 20% more on average than women.
Average incentive bonuses for psychiatrists
Psychiatrists’ incentive bonuses ranked the lowest amongst other specialties at 9% of their total salary ($24,000). Of those psychiatrists who earn an incentive bonus, only 57% said they achieved more than three quarters of their potential annual payment (down from 66% the prior year). In addition, psychiatrists on average achieve close to two thirds of their potential bonus payout, which is similar to physicians overall.
Self-employed psychiatrists earn more
On average, psychiatrists who are self-employed bring in 10% higher incomes than those who are employed ($296,000 compared to $266,000). When compared to physicians overall, self-employed physicians earn 17% more annually than their employed counterparts ($352,000 compared to $300,00).
This is consistent with Weatherby Healthcare’s internal data, which shows that self-employed locum tenens psychiatrists typically earn higher pay than their employed counterparts.
“Psychiatrists who choose to do locums as a career typically will earn two to three times what a salaried psychiatrist would earn per hour working at a hospital,” says Jamie Chatten, director of the psychiatry division at Weatherby Healthcare. “Locum tenens psychiatrists can usually make more money in half of their time with us than they can in their fulltime job in their hometown.”
Pros and cons of psychiatry
According to the Medscape report, a majority of the psychiatrists surveyed still find their work rewarding despite the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic. Thirty-three percent said that their main source of career satisfaction was knowing they make the world a better place, followed closely by the relationships with their patients (21%) and finding diagnoses for patients (18%).
However, rules and regulations continue to be a burden, with 26% of psychiatrists reporting it as the most challenging part of their job. Physicians overall spend an average of 16.3 hours per week on paperwork and other administrative tasks. Similarly, psychiatrists reported spending 16.5 hours per week on the same tasks, taking away from valuable time with their patients. Other challenges psychiatrists face include dealing with difficult patients, working with an EHR system, and working long hours.
Although salaries increased for many psychiatrists in 2021, so did the number of hours they were in the office and the number of patients they saw. Locum tenens could be a viable alternative for psychiatrists who want to increase their income and improve their work/life balance while reducing the administrative burden placed on them.
Chart images from Medscape.com