Which doctors stash the most cash?

Orthopedists, urologists and gastroenterologists reported the highest net worth in a newly released survey of nearly 20,000 physicians across 26 specialties. They had the largest percentage of net worth of over $5 million.

At the other end of the scale, doctors in family medicine, internal medicine and psychiatry reported the lowest net worth, as tabulated by Medscape researchers between late December 2014 and March 2015.

Respondent doctors estimated their own net worth, defined as total assets (e.g., money in bank, investment and retirement accounts, home equity and value of personal items) minus total liabilities (e.g., money owed on mortgages, school loans, credit card debt and other loans). Researchers then assigned a point value for ranges of net worth (e.g., 1 point for net worth under $500,000 and 5 points for net worth over $5 million).

Net worth generally followed a pattern for specialty compensation, reported last week by Medscape from the same respondent pool, with orthopedists at the top and family doctors at the bottom.

More than three-quarters of all surveyed doctors said they have not experienced a significant financial loss in the past year.

"Considering the flux in the healthcare environment, it was somewhat surprising that only 11 percent said they had lost large amounts because of practice changes or problems," the report stated.

Analysis showed that specialists are more likely than primary care doctors to have financial losses due to practice issues. The specialists most affected by practice issues are urologists, allergists, plastic surgeons, orthopedists and ophthalmologists.

Across all specialties, the largest category of net worth up to age 49 was under $500,000. About 55 percent of surveyed physicians said they were worth at least $1 million by age 50. By age 65, nearly half (49 percent) said they had accumulated more than $2 million.

However, the research reveals a significant gender gap. Female physicians not only earn an average of 24 percent less than male physicians, but their net worth is also much lower. Nearly half of female physicians have net worth of less than $500,000, compared to about one-third of male physicians below that threshold. Conversely, nearly half of male doctors have net worth over $1 million compared to one-third of female doctors.

Most physicians, 67 percent, are still paying a mortgage on their primary residence, and 38 percent are making car payments. The next-highest category of debt/expense — school loans — shows another split by gender, with 35 percent of females still paying off their debt compared to about 25 percent of males.

"This might be due to a higher proportion of younger to older female physicians," the survey report stated.

When it comes to spending habits, 61 percent of respondents said they live within their means, and another 24 percent said they actually live below their means. About 11 percent spend above their means and have credit card balances. There was no discernable difference in spending between male and female doctors.

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