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Infectious Disease Sector Salaries on the Rise, Though Pay for Women in the Field Still Lags: Public Health Watch

A survey commissioned by the Infectious Disease Society of America shows positives and negatives regarding salaries for infectious disease physicians.

This may be the season of giving, but the calendar year drawing to close also makes for an excellent time to talk about receiving —as in, the salaries that infectious disease specialists are earning for their all-important clinical practice.

In a report commissioned by the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA), as a follow-up to a similar analysis conducted in 2015, investigators surveyed nearly 7000 infectious disease physicians in May and June 2017, and collected more than 2500 responses. The final results were posted by Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

The good news: In general, salaries are on the rise. The bad news: Female infectious disease specialists still receive significantly less (approximately 20%) compensation than their male counterparts.

“Duties like infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship result in lives saved, risks reduced, cost savings, and more precise and appropriate care and should therefore be valued as such,” co-author Robin L. Trotman, DO, hospitalist, infectious diseases, CoxHealth Infectious Diseases Specialty Clinic, Springfield, Missouri, told Contagion®. “Especially in the current era of value-based purchasing and quality-driven reimbursement, these critical skills of the infectious disease specialist are of paramount importance to health care organizations. We have literature to support that our interventions—for instance, infectious disease consultation for certain diagnoses—results in significantly improved outcomes.”

Overall, this “value” seems to be reflected within pay for the field. Compared with results from the 2015 IDSA compensation survey, both median and average income levels in 2017 were somewhat higher, with the median salary for all respondents working full-time in private practice increasing from $248,000 to $260,000.

“We believe that this is a natural increase in compensation not unique to the infectious disease specialty,” Dr. Trotman explained.

The survey also found that full-time private-practice infectious disease docs (n = 366) reported higher incomes, with a median annual salary of $260,000, than respondents employed by hospitals, clinics, or academic medical centers (median salaries of $237,500 and $181,500, respectively). Solo practitioners reported the highest median salary ($300,000), while physicians employed as associates within a private practice had a median salary of $208,000. In all, individuals in private practice reported an average annual compensation of $316,600.

Furthermore, according to the survey findings, the majority of hospital- or clinic-employed infectious disease specialists (n = 472) reported a median income of $250,000, which was higher than similarly employed physicians that provided care for most of their patients in a hospital-based ambulatory clinic or a community-based clinic. Similar differences in compensation were seen among physicians employed by academic medical centers (n = 636), who reported a median annual salary of $181,500 and represented the lowest compensation among survey participants in the patient care segment. Still, among these physicians, 37% reported having an academic administrative appointment, and their median salary was $40,000 higher than the median salary of those without an administrative appointment.

Notably, given the gender equity issues highlighted by the findings, 40% of the 2017 survey respondents were female, and 64% listed patient care as their primary responsibility, followed by research (20%), and public health (4%), respectively. Within the patient care group, 25% of respondents reported working in private practice, while 42% were employed by an academic medical center and 33% employed by a hospital or clinic. The average age of survey respondents was 51 years old, and the average practice experience was 18 years. The disparity between male and female pay was seen in every industry sector, except among those female survey respondents who were employed by academic medical centers early in their careers. The authors noted that additional analysis of the survey results focused on this income disparity is underway.