Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Calls May Suck, But Anesthesiologists Still Come Out Ahead

As I said before, taking calls suck. There is no nicer way of putting it. The lack of sleep, the disruption of your normal circadian rhythm, the randomness of the cases, and the high risks of treating emergency patients all make overnight calls one of the most hated experiences of being a doctor. However, most doctors do get compensated for working at night. According to a survey conducted by the Medical Group Management Association, more and more doctors are now getting paid to carry a pager overnight.

For the first time, over half of primary care doctors now receive compensation for calls, compared to 43% back in 2011. This compares to surgical specialists where over 80% get paid to take calls. The on call pay for PCP's also went up by almost seven percent to $250 per night. The specialists pay decreased during that time to $900 per night.

Doctors used to take calls as part of their work duties. They were rarely compensated. But now most physicians despise doing it. As medical students and residents become accustomed to doing shift work as part of their training, this trend away from calls will likely accelerate. Consequently hospitals have to pay doctors more money to entice them to work off hours. Otherwise they cannot consider themselves twenty four hour full service facilities.

What about anesthesiologists? We've been doing shift work and treating patients at all hours since the dawn of the profession. According to MGMA, anesthesiologists' median on call compensation in 2012 was $2,400. Assuming a 12 hour, 7:00 PM-7:00AM shift, that is $200 per hour. Compare that to PCP's who get $20 per hour and surgeons who pull in less than $80 per hour.

But of course anesthesiologists work much harder on call. While we're at the hospital, we're busy watching OB patients and fetal heart monitors, emergently intubating crashing patients on the floor, and frantically sustaining trauma patients on the OR table. Meanwhile the other doctors are answering the phone calls of emergency physicians from the comfort of their beds. Do they deserve any more money for merely giving verbal orders for admissions to the hospitalist? Even though we make more money than other doctors while on call, I dare say we totally deserve it.


  1. Hi, Ive been reading your blog for a while and its great!
    Im in 4th year med and interested in anesthesiology. Im also really interested in sports medicine. I know they are worlds apart but I was wondering if it was anyway possible to eventually be able to do both at the same time?

  2. Kofi, that's highly unlikely. Perhaps if you went into anesthesiology then a pain fellowship you might be able to do some nerve blocks on athletes but that will be a long shot.

  3. Is it because of the time commitment needed for anesthesiology? Could one do each part time?
    Thanks for the reply