The average annual income for family physicians is $173,000, while oncologists earn $335,000, radiologists $391,000 and cardiologists $419,000, according to recent data compiled by Merritt Hawkins, a medical recruiting firm.
The disparity results from Medicare-driven compensation that pays more to doctors who do procedures than to those who diagnose illness and dispense prescriptions. In 2005, for example, Medicare paid $89.64 for a half-hour visit to a primary-care doctor in Chicago, according to a Government Accountability Office report. It paid $422.90 to a gastroenterologist who spent about the same amount of time performing a colonoscopy in a private office. The colonoscopy, specialists point out, requires more equipment, specialized skills and higher malpractice premiums.