News & Commentary

Fewer Physicians Are Self-Employed


The percentage of health care professionals who are hanging their own shingle is declining and the gap in earnings between the self-employed and those getting a paycheck is narrowing, according to a study in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers looked at the employment status of physicians, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and physical therapists.

Authors Kamyar Nasseh and Marko Vujicic, both with the American Dental Association, write that “large provider groups may be better able to deal with the increasing complexity of today’s health care economy and therefore better able to pass down this advantage in the form of increased wages to health care professionals.”

Using data from the American Community Survey, the study looks at 175,714 providers, more than half (99,077) of whom were physicians. The rest were optometrists, podiatrists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and dentists.

So what’s going on with physicians? Between 2001 and 2005, 52.4% were employed by the private sector. That proportion jumped to 64.2% between 2011 and 2015, according to the study. In 2001–2005, 35.2% were self-employed. That proportion declined to 24.7% in 2011–2015.

In terms of income, physicians employed in the private sector made $179,350 a year (unadjusted median) in 2001–2005 and $200,253 in 2011–2015. The earnings of self-employed physicians continue to be quite a bit higher: $223,805 in 2001–2005, and $249,767 in 2011–2015.