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Study Says Residency Salaries Influenced by Demand

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Peter Dizikes over at Phys.org reports on a soon-to-be-published study in the American Economic Review that asserts the low salaries earned by medical residents is directly linked to the high demand for those positions and how few of those positions are available.

Nikhil Agarwal, an assistant professor of economics at MIT, conducted the study and told Dizikes, “Salaries will likely remain low unless residency programs can increase the number of positions.”

“On average, Agarwal's study finds, salaries of medical residents are lowered by an average of $23,000 due to the demand for slots,” Dizikes writes. “As the study puts it, residents are willing to accept an ‘implicit tuition’ in their wages in return for experience and prestige. In the long run, residencies may be a worthwhile tradeoff for doctors establishing themselves in the profession, even with seemingly reduced wages.”

Agarwal derived his analysis from the National Graduate Medical Education census data of 2003 to 2011. According to the article, the average salary for medical residents, circa 2010, was $47,000, while their professional counterparts in skill level, physician assistants, earned $86,000. This, in spite of the fact, that “[m]edical resident also have notably long workweeks and shifts.”

The paper examines “the fact that there are multiple residents in the same program. That tells you a lot about the residency program's preferences for residents. Once you figure out that side of the market, you're in business,” Agarwal said. “If a program [decides] to hire residents from [highly ranked] medical schools with similar licensing-exam test scores, then everybody it's matched with will be similar on those characteristics. But if it doesn't care about prestige of the medical school as much, there might be people from all kinds of medical schools, but their licensing-exam scores will be similar.”

“Partly by building a picture of those preferences and measuring it against the characteristics of the class of applicants, it is possible to estimate how many qualified applicants are available for residency positions,” Dizikes adds.

Agarwal also believes that the market for residents will always be imbalanced, no matter what adjustments are made, since most medical-school graduates want the same positions.

Are you looking for a residency opening right now? What has your experience been like? Are you struggling to find the kind of residency that will give you the experience you need to launch your career?

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