Study: Primary care doctors in Charlotte earn highest average pay in U.S. while salaries in Charleston rank among lowest

April 29, 2017 GMT

While primary care doctors in Charlotte earn some of the highest salaries in the United States — and those in Charleston some of the lowest — a new study shows, in both cities, the wage gap between male and female physicians remains wide.

In Charlotte, for example, male doctors earn 33 percent more than their female colleagues — the widest gender wage gap in the country. In Charleston, the gap isn’t much narrower — 29 percent — placing the Lowcountry ninth on the list.

The numbers were self-reported by doctors in 50 metro areas and complied by Doximity, an “online social networking service for U.S. clinicians,” for its first Physician Compensation Report. The report’s authors say this data could impact decisions made by medical school graduates, particularly influencing what type of medicine they practice and where they practice it.


Even more, Chris Whaley, lead author of the report and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, said exposing this gender wage gap among doctors could change patient care.

″(The wage gap) impacts the equity of the medical practice,” he said. “It’s easy to think how that could impact patient care and the overall efficiency of the health care system.”

In South Carolina, researchers only analyzed physician compensation data in the Charleston market. In North Carolina, only salaries earned by Durham and Charlotte doctors were included in the report.

Dr. Greg Tarasidis, an ear, nose and throat doctor in Greenwood and past president of the S.C. Medical Association, said physician pay, regardless of gender, is largely a function of the demographics of the patient population and the area, but that Medicare and Medicaid rates play a role, too. Salaries also vary depending on the doctor’s employer or if the physician practices independently.

“All of that comes into play,” Tarasidis said. “How physicians get paid in this country is extremely complicated.”

According to the Doximity report, primary care doctors in Charleston earn an average $216,038 a year while primary care doctors in Charlotte earn an average $285,109. Specialists, such as neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, earn much more.

Meanwhile, most medical school graduates, no matter their gender or location, leave school with a staggering debt load. In 1988, doctors graduated with an average $38,500 in loans, according to a report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 2011, their average debt load ballooned to $161,300. At the Medical University of South Carolina, the average student in 2015 graduated with $190,000 in debt.


Dr. Clark Denniston, executive associate dean for graduate medical education at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said that’s one reason why students consider how much money they will potentially earn in the future.

“What, I think, is borne out in some fairly legitimate studies, is medical students choose their specialty, sometimes based on the ultimate compensation they can expect when they finish their residency training,” Denniston said.

Students with more debt tend to choose higher-paying specialties, he said. Still, discussions about future compensation rarely come up with administrators as they advise medical school students about their career path.

“From an educator’s perspective, what we really try to help them determine is: Is their specialty choice right for them, not from a salary perspective, but from a life’s work perspective?” he said. “If they’re not happy with their life’s work, it doesn’t matter how much they’re making.”