Original Article

Estimating the Net Career Income of a Geriatrician and a Nurse Practitioner: Still Want to Be a Doctor?

Authors: Adam G. Golden, MD, Peixin Xu, BS, Thomas T.H. Wan, PhD, Saul Barry Issenberg, MD


Objectives: With a continual shortage of geriatricians, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners have assumed a greater role in the delivery of outpatient care for older adults. Given the long duration of physician training, the high cost of medical school, and the lower salaries compared with subspecialists, the financial advantage of a career as a geriatrician as opposed to a nurse practitioner is uncertain. This study compares the estimated career earnings of a geriatrician and an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner.

Methods: We used a synthetic model of estimated net earnings during a 43-year career span for a 22-year old person embarking on a career as a geriatrician versus a career as an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner. We estimated annual net income and net retirement savings using different annual compound rates and calculated the financial impact of forgiving medical student loans, shortening the duration of physician training, and reinstituting the practice pathway for geriatric medicine certification.

Results: Career net incomes for the geriatrician did not match the nurse practitioner until almost age 40. At 65 years of age, the difference between the geriatrician and nurse practitioner was 30.6%. A higher annual compound rate was associated with an even smaller percentage difference. Combining all three health policy interventions lowered the break-even age to 28 and more than doubled the difference in career earnings.

Conclusions: Small estimated differences in net career earnings exist between geriatricians and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners. Health policy interventions had a dramatic positive effect on geriatricians’ lifetime net earnings in calculated estimates.


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