The herculean question up for debate: is a private practice career path worth the extra money? To answer this question, you have to know your career options. Suppose you are talking about standard career options for the radiologist (not the alternative career paths discussed in a prior post). In that case, you can divide it into three main choices: private practice, academic/government, and the hybrid model.
Lucky for you, if you are reading this article and you are now making this decision, you have come to the right place. I have worked in the world of academics as a fellow and dabbled in private practice at my first job out of training at Princeton Radiology. Now, I work at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, where we operate with a hybrid model (I was also formerly a resident at a program with a hybrid model-Brown University). Since I’ve been through it all, I am uniquely qualified to talk about how to decide between each option. So, I am going to do just that!!! (Don’t let other posers fool you!)
Are There Income Differences?
What is the difference in income for an academic practice radiologist versus a private practice radiologist? If you look at the Medscape Radiologist Compensation Report from 2016 (later surveys did not have this information!), the academic radiologist made around 262,000 dollars (in this category also is included the military and government physician). On the other hand, some of the other private practice type radiologists made significantly higher amounts: the office-based solo practitioner- 434,000 dollars; the office-based single-specialty group practitioner – 386,000 dollars; and the typical hospital compensated radiologist- 381,000 dollars. So, suppose you take these debatably inaccurate academic and private practice numbers into account. In that case, a pretty substantial difference exists between the income of private practice and academic radiologists (almost 100-150 thousand dollars per year).
It’s Not Just About The Income Though!
But not so fast! In terms of numbers alone, the actual compensation may not account for other benefits like pension and health care. Employees that work for the government or large institution academic hospitals can sometimes receive substantial fringe benefits such as a pension of 70-80 percent of the final salary. Or, they can get incredible health care insurance that you cannot earn elsewhere. Finally, some have other perks, such as free tuition for children in college.
Moreover, the typical smaller radiology private practice will not give these perks. If you take the pension alone, that could amount to a guaranteed (0.8)(262000 dollars per year) or about 210,000 dollars for the rest of your life based on 2016 salary numbers. You would need to have 5.24 million dollars in the bank to have that kind of money guaranteed annually, assuming a 4 percent relatively risk-free return. So, the difference may not be as substantial as initially thought at first glance.
So, now that I have debunked some of the income-based differences (there are always exceptions to every rule!), let’s talk about the different models and decide which option is the right one for you. Let’s start!
The Academic/Government Model
In the purely academic or government model, the primary goal is not reading films and making money. Instead, you will need to publish, teach, or exist (if you are talking about a place like the VA hospital!). Prestige and promotion results from these activities. For comparison, the typical private practitioner couldn’t give a lick about these job requirements. The philosophy is often: publish or perish!
The typical academic sort writes a lot, obtains grants, and is responsible for his/her residents’ teaching and welfare. He/she typically reads fewer studies and sees fewer patients than a typical private practice radiologist. But, that may vary depending upon the institution for which you work. He/she gives many conferences, travels all over the country/world to give lectures, mingles with other academic sorts on all different types of committees, and plays a significant role in directing the future of radiology. Many of these radiologists have outside ventures and partnerships with various companies and academics centers since they do not only occupy themselves with the standard day-to-day role of reading films. Some of the associations may be based on their research or area of expertise.
The higher-up academic radiologists manage their staff as chairmen. These individuals may be responsible for budgeting, hiring, and firing depending upon the institution. Again, your mileage may vary depending upon the role that you have in the institution. The almighty dollar has less control over your day-to-day work. (Although many would say it still plays a nice-sized role!)
The Pure Private Practice Model
What about private practice? In general, private practice wants to maximize income and the number of patients that go through your system. Of course, excellent radiology businesses have an element of quality. But quality exists to increase profitability, and the almighty dollar tends to rule the day. And, of course, all roads lead back to the almighty dollar. Employees and owners grind out films daily, day in day out. The philosophy: if you do not work, you do not make money.
Now, of course, the private practitioner also accomplishes other activities in trying to make money. These folks may perform some or all of the following practice needs: advertising, buying and selling equipment, strategic partnerships, and mergers, maintaining relationships with hospitals, hiring and firing an army of numerous employees (possibly radiologists, technologists, janitors, nurses, physicists, and so on), maintaining and purchasing real estate, payroll, billing, legal issues, parking, and utilities. On the other hand, academic hospitals/ institutional facilities typically take care of most of these issues. Therefore, you need to enjoy playing many different hats and roles and being a self-motivated entrepreneur.
The Hybrid Private Practice/Academic Model
I currently work in this role. I like to think that I get the best of both the private practice and academic world. (Although some would like to say that is the worst!) The hybrid practitioner’s philosophy: A dabbler who enjoys elements of both private practice and academia, but not in such depth.
So, how does the hybrid model work? First of all, you have a few variations on a theme. In my situation, I am involved in a hospital-based private practice with a residency program and multiple covered hospitals and imaging centers. For another type of system, the hospital may employ you, but the hospital may tie you to the private practice world via output bonuses. In essence, the practice expects you to teach, do a little bit of research, and maximize your work output. Thereby, you create income by grinding through studies. Most of these practices are not involved in purely academic activities such as obtaining grants. And, you will probably not involve yourself in typical pure private practice issues. For instance, you will probably not need to maintain the building utilities.
The hybrid practitioner/dabbler likes to do a little bit of everything without delving into some hardcore academic and pure private practice issues. I was never interested in writing grants, but I certainly wanted to teach. I was not interested in dealing with some of the fundamental problems of private practice, such as hiring/firing technologists. Yet, I was interested in the mechanics of business and private practice. For the sort of person that likes to be a bit more generalist, the hybrid model can be a great career path.
How To Make The Final Choice?
I think the final choice becomes a personality-based thought process, not one based on the different income constructions of each career model. If you hate business in all forms, work for the government or academia. If you hate writing and teaching, a private practice may be for you. On the other hand, if you love doing a little bit of everything, think about the hybrid model. Bottom line: You need to be true to your self. Do what you like, not what others will think you will enjoy. If you follow these precepts, you will make a great choice and have a fantastic career!
Comments are welcome!!!