Compared with other health professionals, in the last 15 years there has been considerably less growth in the earnings of physicians in the United States, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2012;308:2083-2085).

Seth A. Seabury, PhD, of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., and colleagues studied trends in the earnings of health care professionals in the United States between 1987 and 2010. Earnings were estimated using data from the Current Population Survey. The sample included 30,556 respondents working as health professionals; 20.5% of the respondents were physicians.

While earnings fluctuated during the time periods studied, the researchers found that the median earnings increased by 9.6% from 1987-1990 to 2006-2010. During the same time period, larger increases were experienced by other health professionals; for example, pharmacists’ incomes increased by 44%. After adjustment, earnings grew from 1987-1990 to 1996-2000 by 19.9% for physicians and by 23.3% for dentists. No significant growth was seen in physician earnings from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010 (−1.6%), while adjusted earnings increased for other health professionals (e.g., pharmacists, 34.4%).

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“Despite attention paid to higher earnings of physicians in the United States compared with other countries, physician earnings grew less than those of other health professionals in the last 15 years,” the authors wrote. “Despite lack of recent growth, physician earnings remain higher than other occupations.”