The True Value of A Doctor’s Salary

A doctor’s salary is not as high as many people think.

In fact, when you compare it to other professions, it’s actually quite low.

One may argue that what doctors lack in salary, they make up for in job satisfaction.

A doctor’s job is to save lives and help people, and that is something that is very rewarding.

Regardless, this begs the question, are doctors undervalued for their hard work, or are they one of many healthcare professionals facing wage stagnation?

two person doing surgery inside room
The True Value of A Doctor’s Salary

1. The True Value of A Doctor’s Salary

A doctor’s salary is in essence a representation of the value that society and government place on saving lives.

In the UK, this is likely to be more of a government decision, more than a decision made by society or members of the public.

It’s a recognition of the years of hard work and dedication that it takes to become a doctor.

And it’s a reflection of the trust that we place in our doctors to care for us when we are at our most vulnerable.

So when you consider the true value of a doctor’s salary, it’s clear that it is far more than just a number on a paycheck.

It’s a symbol of the vital role that doctors play in our lives and in our society.

2. How much do doctors really make?

Having derived where the true value of a doctor’s salary should come from, we must generate a framework by which a numeric value can be established from this.

A good place to start is with the current wage of doctors annually.

It is important to note that while doctors, on the whole, do similar tasks, there are different specialities, career stages, and various national rates depending on region.

These factors can influence a doctor’s pay significantly.

However, in most cases, entry level doctors in the UK (i.e junior doctors) will make around £33,000 in the first few years of practice.

Whereas experienced doctors such as consultants can expect to make £54,000 to £84,000+ depending on region of practice, speciality, and role (such as level of responsibility within organisation).

On the other hand, America doctors may start on a salary of $60,000 during residency, and this can grow to between $90,000 and $200,000+ throughout their careers depending on experience, specialty, and individual contracts.

As such, answering the question of how much money doctors make is not as simple as taking a cross-sectional sample of salaries and calculating an average.

Doctors’ salaries can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including their speciality, their location, and the size of their practice.

This means doctors may be being paid fairly in some places, and unfairly in others when experience level is factored.

3. The cost of becoming a doctor

The cost of becoming a doctor is high, but the rewards can be great.

The average cost of medical school in America is about $250,000 at public institutions and $330,000 at private colleges.

In the UK is roughly £46,000 in tuition fees and another £50,000 in living costs for a total of £96,000.

Much of the cost of training medical professionals is subsidised by the government.

In fact, the UK government spends up to £200,000 per trainee which the doctor never has to worry about.

This means that while training to become a doctor is expensive for the student, the government actually bears the majority of the cost.

This must be factored in when determining how much money doctors should make especially as trainees.

4. The difference between a doctor’s salary and other professions

In general, a doctor’s salary is higher than the salary of most other healthcare professionals.

The table below shows the salaries of 5 different healthcare professionals in the first year of service.

ProfessionSalary
Doctor£32,000
Nurse£27,000
Physician Associate£42,000
Radiographer£28,000
Dentist£34,000
Salary of healthcare professionals in the first year of practice

As the table shows, doctors are paid roughly the same as dentists in their first year, higher than nurses and radiographers, but lower than physician associates in the UK.

The argument now becomes “should doctors be paid less than physician associates in their first year of work”, or “should a doctor’s wage should be only 15% more than that of a nurse or radiologist when starting?”.

These are difficult yet important questions.

On the one hand, in a doctor’s role, more responsibility is placed on delivering quality care that is free of any errors, however, should you expect a significant salary while you train?

The table above looks very different after 5 years!

ProfessionSalary Growth
Doctor£66,000106%
Nurse£34,00026%
Physician Associate£47,00019%
Radiographer£38,00026%
Dentist£68,000100%
Salary of healthcare professionals after 5 years of practice

Fast forward five years later and the salaries are looking very different. Again, these are rough estimates and can vary from person to person.

We can still however see that doctors and dentists see the largest growth in pay over the period of 5 years.

Physician associates see the least growth.

Comparing cross-sectional slices of wage is important, however, can be massively misleading when context/time is missing.

It would however be interesting to see a time-series comparison of a cohort with data adjusted for overtime, and holidays as this would give an even better picture of salary disparities.

This is besides the point as our aim was to determine physician salaries relative to other healthcare professionals.

As it stand physicians are still one of the most well-paid healthcare professionals, granted they stick with their profession and gain more seniority like any other job.

5. The new salary framework doctors should be awarded

So, having established that doctors are paid well later on in their careers, but not so much when they start, is this still cause for concern?

Maybe. There is a legitimate concern about whether junior doctors are paid less than they should, especially when the current trend is bolstering an environment lacking in pay rises amidst the inflation crisis.

Historically doctors have campaigned for better pay but it seems things have gotten even worse. So there may be a genuine case for increasing physician pay regardless of training status.

How can this be achieved?

If doctors could be all awarded a standard contract in the UK, this in my opinion should be the model that is used.

Of course, adjustments and weightings will need to be applied in the relevant area such as high-cost areas, and roles requiring more responsibility within an organisation.

Student debt should be waived for doctors

Student debt should be waived for all doctors. The government already pays a significant portion of the training cost so it makes sense to fund the remainder.

To offset the high cost, medical school places should be reduced by 10-15%.

There should be more emphasis on selecting doctors interested in long-term service, while delegating more roles and responsibilities to professionals such as nurses and physician associates.

A consequence of free medical education would be a mandatory period of service (3 years) similar to what is already done in countries like wales.

Basic salary of a doctor should reflect experience level

This is what is already implemented, and shouldn’t be changed.

The pay progression of a doctor accurately reflects experience level.

Junior doctors should get a 10% pay rise

Junior doctors should get a 10% pay rise to place them at a similar level to physician associates in their first year of service, and offset the effects of inflation a little.

This would make sense as they are tasked with very similar roles in the early years of practice.

Doctors however shouldn’t necessarily be placed on a higher starting salary than physician associates during their first few years of service as this then becomes unfair in terms of the efforts PAs contribute.

they do practically the same job as junior doctors, and are almost more useful in the sense that their presence on wards are more stable.

When junior doctors get more experience their wage surpasses that of a PA in a few years which makes sense, and is the fair way to go.

Nothing should change on this front.

Summary

A doctors salary is a delicate yet important topic to speak on.

They are able to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.

Doctors are also able to provide emotional support to their patients.

they are invaluable in society.

However with the current healthcare system, there is only so much that can be done in terms of significantly boosting thousands of workers’ salaries.

Our healthcare system is resilient, yet seemingly contending with itself.

Something can indeed be done about the salaries of junior doctors, and should be, however, individuals seem largely delusioned by how much exactly can be done.

Most professions have faced a hit in the standard of living, stagnating wages, and rising costs, doctors are not special in this regard.

There will be a change, however the effects, if overly dramatic may prove fiscally calamitous.

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