A primary-care physician is the doctor who takes primary responsibility for the care of a patient, performing annual checkups and providing other routine medical care. When a patient suffers an illness or injury that requires more specialized treatment, the primary-care physician provides the necessary referral to a specialist, and monitors the patient's progress. The salaries of primary-care physicians are typically lower than those of other specialists.
Primary Care Physicians:
Physicians in four areas of care are generally considered to be primary-care physicians. Doctors of internal medicine, or internists, treat illnesses of the major organ systems. They can act as primary-care physicians to most adults, from the late teens to end of life. Pediatricians are primary-care providers for children, from birth to the age of 18. Ob-gyns are specialists in pregnancy and women's reproductive systems, but this expertise also makes them excellent primary-care providers for women of all ages. Family physicians combine all of these specialties into a single practice, often treating whole families through multiple generations.
A July 2011 special issue of "Modern Healthcare" magazine collected and analyzed a number of major physician salary surveys. It found average salaries ranging from $162,908 to $221,196 per year for physicians in family medicine, one of the lowest ranges in any field of medicine. Internists fared slightly better, with surveys reporting average salaries as low as $188,500 per year and as high as $236,544 per year. Salaries for pediatricians began at an average of $161,732 and rose to $229,041. Ob-gyns were the highest-paid among primary care providers in the surveys, reporting average salaries ranging from $247,600 to $420,000 per year.
While these represent enviable incomes by most standards, specialists and surgeons often enjoy significantly higher salaries. For example, Modern Healthcare found salaries of $341,583 to $520,000 for anesthesiologists, and $355,484 to $468,571 for gastroenterologists. General surgeons, the least specialized in their field, averaged $312,310 to $431,347 per year. For orthopedic surgeons, the range of average salaries began at $378,062 and increased to $576,350.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 24 percent increase in the number of physicians and surgeons between 2010 and 2020, higher than the average for all occupations. Relatively few medical students opt for primary care, in part because of the lower average salaries. This creates excellent employment prospects for in those fields. In its 2011 report on physician recruiting, medical-staffing firm Merritt Hawkins reported family medicine and internal medicine as its two most-recruited specialties, with obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics also ranking in the top 10.