Although doctors enjoy some of the highest salaries to be found in any profession, there's a wide variation between specialties. In general the highest pay goes to specialist surgeons, and the lowest to primary-care physicians such as family doctors and pediatricians. In between are specialists such as nephrologists, who treat diseases and conditions of the kidney. Their salaries are high by most standards, but only moderate among their medical peers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't provide salary figures for individual medical specialties, so any review of physicians' salaries must rely on salary surveys conducted by doctors' groups and staffing organizations. One staffing firm, Profiles, specializes in placing doctors during the early stages of their careers. In the 2011-2012 edition of the company's salary survey, nephrologists in their first year of practice reported a median annual salary of $180,000. After six years in practice, when most nephrologists have had time to pass their board examinations, their reported salaries rose to an average of $252,000.
The 2012 Medscape salary report provided an average salary of $209,000 per year for nephrologists. The largest single group of respondents fell into the $200,000 to $249,000 bracket, with less than 16 percent of respondents earning $300,000 or more. A smaller survey by Renal Business Today magazine in 2011 showed roughly similar numbers. Eleven percent of respondents to its study earned $300,000 or more and 52 percent earned salaries between $150,000 to $250,000 per year.
Bonuses and Other Compensation
Nephrologists, like other physicians, also enjoy a range of benefits that make up part of their compensation package. Respondents to the Renal Business Today survey reported that professional liability insurance, medical and dental coverage, and employer contributions to a 401(k) plan were all common benefits. Others included stock options, education reimbursement and employer-funded retirement plans. Staffing firm Jackson & Coker monitors the value of such benefits in its own salary surveys. In 2012, the company's survey reported an average salary of $276,379 for nephrologists and an average of $55,276 in benefits, for total average compensation of $331,655.
Those figures place nephrologists at the lower end of mid-range salaries for doctors. In comparison, Jackson & Coker's 2012 survey reported an average salary of $380,065 for anesthesiologists, and $456,078 in total compensation. Gastroenterologists earned an average of $433,416 in salary and $520,099 in total compensation, and orthopedic surgeons received salaries averaging $520,475 and total compensation of $624,570. On the other hand, family physicians averaged $204,989 in salary and $245,987 in total compensation. Internists earned $220,555 in salary and $264,666 in total compensation, while pediatricians reported salaries averaging $209,139 and total compensation of $250,967.
Nephrologists begin their careers the same way as other physicians: spending four years in undergraduate education followed by four years in medical or osteopathic college. After graduation, they spend three years in an internal medicine residency and then two more in a renal fellowship. The number of residents opting for nephrology has dropped in recent years has dropped for a variety of reasons, detailed in a 2011 paper published by the American Society of Nephrology. The study pointed to factors including residents' perception of nephrology as an academically challenging field, and its relatively low salaries. This has created a demand for nephrologists, just age-related kidney disease becomes a factor for the large baby boom generation.