2023 Resident physician salary and debt report: Pay is rising

May 15th, 2024 8 Min read 2023 Resident physician salary and debt report: Pay is rising Blog

The Medscape resident salary and debt report for 2023 found that medical residents’ compensation jumped 5%, breaking the slow growth trend in the last few years. At the same time, medical resident debt stayed consistent, with half of surveyed residents carrying more than $200,000 in student debt. Here are the key takeaways from Medscape’s 2023 report on residents’ salaries, debt burden, and general work experience.

Medical residents’ salaries increased in 2023

The average resident salary in 2023 was $67,400. This was a 5% increase from 2022’s average of $64,200, and it marks the first significant jump since before the COVID-19 pandemic. This salary also increased for each year of residency — while first-year residents earned an average of $61,000, fifth-year residents earned $71,000.

What residents earn on average

Chart displaying the salary of medical residents over the past five years

How much can you earn? Find out what physicians made in 2023

The majority of residents feel unfairly compensated

Despite the jump in salary, 76% of medical residents feel unfairly compensated. Of those unhappy, 86% felt their compensation didn’t reflect their work hours. Residents worked long hours in 2023 — 79% said they worked with patients for more than 40 hours a week, and 22% saw patients for more than 70 hours a week.

Do residents feel fairly compensated?

Chart showing number of medical residents who feel fairly compensated

In addition, 84% of residents felt dissatisfied with their compensation because their pay was lower than that of other medical staff, such as PAs and nurses.

Medical residents’ debt burden remained steady

The average amount of medical school debt carried by residents remained the same as in recent years, with half of residents owing more than $200,000. In addition, 26% of residents had more than $300,000 in debt, while a lucky 21% of residents were debt-free.

When he graduated, Trevor Cabrera, a pediatrician, had $315,000 in debt. He wanted to pay off his medical school debt as soon as possible, so he started working locum tenens after finishing his residency. His locum tenens agency covered his airfare, car rental, and lodging costs, which he estimated saved him a minimum of $25,000 yearly. He put all of that toward repaying his student loans.

Pair that with the generally higher wages for locum tenens physicians, and Dr. Cabrera was able to pay off more than $100,000 of his student loans in just one year.

See for yourself: Calculate how quickly you can pay down your loans working locums

Residents prioritized work/life balance and higher pay

When choosing a residency program, 76% of residents said work/life balance is one of the most important aspects. This was particularly important to female residents and those 34 or younger. Compensation was also important; 71% ranked their salary as one of the three most important factors for choosing a residency program.

More than half of surveyed residents wanted programs with a supportive environment, while only 11% of residents felt that the prestige of their residency program was the most important factor.

Most important factors in seeking a residency

Bar chart showing factors residents found most important in their residency

Residents were torn on being a partner or practice owner

Of the surveyed residents, only 23% expect to become partners or practice owners, the same percentage as people who expect to be traditional employees. Some residents want to explore both options, but about a third of surveyed residents said they weren’t sure about whether they see partnership in their future.

Do residents see partnership in their future?

Four pie charts showing residents' predictions on working in a private practice or for an employer

Locum tenens can be an excellent way to explore all sorts of practices, from small clinics in quiet towns to busy clinics in big cities and larger-scale hospitals.

Administrative work often ended up with residents

Like many physicians, residents had to spend time working on administrative or unskilled work, often informally called “scut work.” Just under half of residents said they spent one to 10 hours a week on scut work, while 24% spent 11 to 20 hours on it. About one in 10 residents (11%) had to spend 21-30 hours each week on this work.

Hannah Hedriana, a resident in her first year, told Medscape, “I think some scut work is advantageous, especially if it has to do with learning how the hospital is run. However, I do not think it should exceed an hour or two for each working day, as you are mainly there to learn and become a physician.”

Generally, locum tenens physicians spend much less time on this type of work than their traditional physician counterparts.

Locum tenens can help with medical school debt

Locum tenens is a great option for those who want a combination of work/life balance, higher pay, and learning opportunities once they finish residency. It’s also a chance to travel and put all that training into practice.

Dr. Cabrera quickly paid off his student debt by working as a locum tenens physician right after finishing his residency. His locum tenens income was nearly double what his traditional counterparts were earning, and he found the work/life balance that so many residents want. He also found he could immediately use his medical knowledge in communities that needed it most.

Quote from Dr. Cabrera about working locums straight out of residency

“By transitioning straight from residency to locum tenens, I found myself bringing fresh blood to jobs that had lacked consistent providers, needed intermittent coverage, and appreciated having up-to-date information at their fingertips,” said Dr. Cabrera. “I’ve brought recently acquired skills and techniques to supplement existing providers who had been out of training for decades.”

Pay it off: How to pay off medical student debt more quickly (Locumstory)

Interested in learning more about working locum tenens? Give us a call or view today's locum tenens physician job opportunities.


Kathleen Stone

Kathleen Stone is a writer for CompHealth from Salt Lake City, Utah. In her spare time, she loves going to the desert, trying new foods and being with family.

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