You would think that doctors should be pretty satisfied with their lots in life. Physicians make up the second largest job category among the top one percent of wage earners. A recent study showed the doctors made up nearly 16% of the top one percent, second only to business executives and nearly twice the number for lawyers. When you break that down on a per capita basis, doctors do even better. About 20% of physicians are likely to be in the top one percent. That compares to less than 15% for lawyers and 12% for executives. But as the old saying goes, there's always room for improvement.
I know many doctors who take time out of their overburdened lives to go make that extra dollar. They may hire themselves out as expert witnesses, sacrificing their souls to persecute a fellow physician for the sake of a fast buck. Some doctors get paid for being "consultants", advising device makers on how to improve upon a product hoping to cash in on fees and possible royalty payments if the company decides to sell it. Then there are the speaking fees that is the bread and butter of many physicians' extra source of income.
Nearly every medical student, resident, or doctor has been to one of these "educational" meetings. You're usually invited to some nice little steak restaurant in a swanky part of town. You get the privilege of eating a meal that you probably would never pay with your own credit card. In exchange all you have to do is listen to a doctor drone through a slide show about a medical condition and how a certain drug company's products would help improve the patients' lives if we would just prescribe it to them. We all thought it was pretty benign. We all knew the presenter was getting paid by the pharmaceutical company for giving the talk. What, you didn't think he'd give a lecture just for a free steak dinner, did you? He gets paid with cold hard cash. Now we know how much.
ProPublica, the website of Journalism in the Public Interest, has a page where you can look up a doctor's name and how much money he is receiving from Big Pharma. All this information has been forced public by Congress to bring more transparency to the murky relationships between drug companies and doctors. As it turned out, you can make a LOT of money giving talks to other doctors. According to ProPublica, the highest paid speaker over the last three years was Dr. Jon Draud, a psychiatrist from Nashville, TN. He made over $1 million during that time giving over 3,500 talks. That is an astonishing number, both the dollar amount and the number of speaking engagements. So on average he gave nearly one hundred talks a month, or three per day, during that time. So he is giving a paid speech with every meal of his day during those three years. How does he have time to practice medicine?
Not to be outdone is Dr. Gerald Sacks. Dr. Sacks enjoys the distinction of being both an anesthesiologist and the highest paid speaker in California, earning over $730,000 in three years. I guess having one of the best jobs in America isn't good enough for some people.
Go try the ProPublica site. It's fun. See how much that nasty surgical attending is making on the side. Look up that snobby cardiologist and understand how he could possibly afford his weekend Ferrari and vacation home in Aspen. You can even look up individual hospitals like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and be bowled over by how many millions of dollars drug companies bribe, er pay, hospitals for "research" into their products. I guarantee you'll be looking up names and places all day. I know I did.