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It’ s easy to find figures on what hospitalists earn these days, but if your own income doesn’t match up, does that mean you’re underpaid? Not necessarily.

The SHM Survey

There are several sources that provide figures on hospitalist income, but SHM offers an accurate, detailed—and the largest representative—picture of what hospitalists earn now. In spring 2006, SHM released its latest comprehensive survey of membership, “The 2005-2006 SHM Survey: The Authoritative Source on the State of the Hospitalist Movement.” The report is based on responses of 396 hospital medicine groups representing more than 2,500 hospitalists. However, Joseph A. Miller, senior vice president of SHM, warns that the survey’s salary figures may skew toward one or more specific demographics.

“In our survey, we have a number of respondents in each cell—academic, pediatric, etc.—as well as a range of geographic areas and other differences,” he says. “Anyone who looks at the metric needs to understand the factors behind it.”

John Nelson, MD, director, hospital practice, Overlake Hospital, Bellevue, Wash., and author of “Practice Management” for The Hospitalist, who has participated in developing and analyzing SHM surveys for years, agrees that the figures in the survey should be used as general guidelines only. “It’s easy to take individual metrics in a vacuum without considering the variables,” he warns.

table 1

click for large version

With these caveats in mind, the basic information on hospitalist compensation from the survey breaks down as follows: (table right)

To put these numbers in perspective, the median number of patient encounters per hospitalist was 2,328 per year, and the median number of work RVUs was 3,213.

Both leader- and physician-hospitalists have enjoyed an 8% increase in compensation, as well as an 8% increase in benefits, compared with the 2003-2004 survey. Non-physician hospitalists have seen a whopping increase in median income of 26% since 2003-2004. (Their benefits increased 7%.)

Perhaps the main reason for steadily increasing hospitalist incomes is that demand for hospitalists continues to exceed supply. “I’ve been trying to recruit hospitalists to my group for years,” says Dr. Nelson. “I thought that by 2002 or 2003, the number of available physicians would exceed the demand—but that hasn’t happened. It’s true that the number of doctors interested in hospital medicine has gone up pretty dramatically, but the demand went up even faster.”

By some estimates, says Dr. Nelson, there are two or three open positions for every hospitalist jobseeker.

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