Employment vs. private practice: Who’s happier?


Alexandra Kharazi, MD, a California-based cardiothoracic surgeon, previously worked as an employed physician and is now in private practice. Though she appreciates that there are some trade-offs to working with her small group of three surgeons, Dr. Kharazi has no qualms about her choice.

“For me, it’s an issue of autonomy,” she said. “While I have to work a lot of hours, I don’t have to adhere to a strict schedule. I also don’t have to follow specific policies and rules.”

In contrast, Cassandra Boduch, MD, an employed psychiatrist with PsychPlus in Houston, is very satisfied with working as an employee. “I looked into private practice, but no one really prepares you for the complications that come with it,” she said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it than people realize.”

By hanging up her own shingle, Dr. Kharazi may be living a rapidly shrinking dream. According to the American Medical Association, between 2012 and 2022, the share of physicians working in private practice fell from 60% to 47%. The share of physicians working in hospitals as direct employees or contractors increased from about 6% to about 10% during the same time period.

Many factors contribute to these shifting trends, a major factor being economic stress stemming from payment cuts in Medicare. Add in rising practice costs and administrative burdens, and more doctors than ever are seeking employment, according to the AMA.

Though the traditional dream of owning your own practice may be slipping away, are employed physicians less happy than are their self-employed peers? By many measures, the answer is no.

In Medscape’s Employed Physicians Report 2023, doctors weighed in on the pros and cons of their jobs.

When asked what they like most about their jobs, employed physician respondents reported “not having to run a business” as their number-one benefit, followed closely by a stable income. The fact that employers pay for malpractice insurance ranked third, followed by work-life balance.

“We get no business classes in medical school or residency,” said one employed physician. “Having a good salary feels good,” said another. Yet another respondent chimed in: “Running a practice as a small business has become undoable over the past 10-12 years.”

And 50% of employed physicians said that they were “very satisfied/satisfied” with their degree of autonomy.

Still, employed physicians also had plenty to say about the downsides of their jobs.

Many pointed to “feeling like a cog in the machine,” and one doctor pointed to the hassle of dealing with bureaucracy. Others complained about the fact that nonphysicians ran the business and lacked an understanding of what physicians really need from their jobs. When asked whether administrative rules made sense, 63% of physician respondents said that yes, the rules make sense for the business; but, only 52% said that the rules make sense for the doctors themselves.

Other complaints included the requirement to reach high productivity targets and too low an income potential. In the 9 years since Medscape’s 2104 Employed Physicians Report, the share of employed doctors paid on a straight salary has declined from 46% to 31%. Those compensated on a base salary plus productivity targets and other performance metrics rose from 13% in 2014 to 32% now.

“Many doctors go into private practice because of the freedom it brings and the potential financial incentives,” added Dr. Boduch. “I know that many doctors have a dream of working for themselves, and in many cases, that works out great for them.”

Dr. Boduch noted that in her job as chief medical officer at PsychPlus, she still has flexibility plus the perks of working with a bigger practice. In this scenario, Dr. Boduch said, the company can negotiate with insurance companies, allowing her the financial rewards of private practice.


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