Basic Questions for New Physicians – Be a Specialist or a PCP?

One of the most basic questions that new doctors ask themselves and their peers is whether they should be a PCP or pursue a career as a medical specialist. It could be a long discussion but the years of asking the same question has proven something; there’s an upside and a downside being either of the two.

To understand the question, we should first understand these two types of doctors have in the general picture of the healthcare industry. PCPs or primary care physicians are the first doctors to see the patient with an undiagnosed health concern. These services are not limited by the cause, diagnosis or organ system. While the term PCP has become the popular term, there are still others who refer to these physicians as “General Practitioners”.

Specialists on the other hand are doctors who have earned advanced units plus clinical training. These men and women also studied medicine for a specific part of the body or certain medical techniques.

However data gathered from a survey by health care consulting firm Sullivan, Cotter and Associates Inc. show that there was a slightly bigger increase for PCPs compared to Specialists from 2014 to 2015. The data was gathered from a survey given to 560 organizations which represent 115,000 individual physicians. According to the study, the total cash compensation for services paid by medical insurance companies reached 3.4%. Medical specialists, on the other hand, got to bring home 2.5%. Other professionals such as surgeons got their pay increased by 2.3%. The survey reports that staff physicians or general practitioners received $18,500 of incentives on average. This is about 6% of their total cash compensation for that year. T

What the study failed to analyze is the slight decrease in the earnings for specialists in the years 2014 and 2015. Traditionally, specialists are expected to net more money than PCPs because of their skills and experience in a specific field. They have a different co-pay setup for patients they see while they also fall under a different price bracket with medical insurance firms. Meanwhile copay for PCPs have a standard price only differing between one region to another.

This leads to the question new doctors pose. Should they stay as PCPs or general practitioners or should they begin the arduous task of becoming a medical specialist.

The logical answer to that would be to pursue further studies by becoming a specialist. Specialists are sought after because they are just that, specialists. They have studied every small detail about a specific body part or a specific procedure finding out how it works. Their expertise when it comes to one specific subject is also what makes them in-demand. Hospitals are known to pay more for specialists because it helps increase the number of patients that visit. Even health care companies pay a high premium for having specialists participate in their network of hospitals. This also gives an extra bonus for the specialists themselves because they get to bring home more money. On top of practicing in a hospital, medical specialists can also teach future doctors in med school.

If you are a physician finding yourself in the crossroads between being a PCP and a medical specialist it would be best to strive getting a specialist degree. While one survey suggests that PCPs earned more the past few years, they still cannot deny the fact that specialists really net more money. Plus it would be really great to see yourself in the next decade having the distinction of being a specialist with all the great benefits that come along with the hard work you put in.

Primary Care Provider Infographic

Primary Care Provider Infographic

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