Physician Perception of Pay Fairness and its Association with Work Satisfaction, Intent to Leave Practice, and Personal Health

Audiey C. Kao, Andrew J. Jager, Barbara A. Koenig, Arlen C. Moller, Michael A. Tutty, Geoffrey C. Williams, Scott M. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Primary care physicians generally earn less than specialists. Studies of other occupations have identified perception of pay fairness as a predictor of work- and life-related outcomes. We evaluated whether physicians’ pay fairness perceptions were associated with their work satisfaction, turnover intention, and personal health. Methods: Three thousand five hundred eighty-nine physicians were surveyed. Agreement with “my total compensation is fair” was used to assess pay fairness perceptions. Total compensation was self-reported, and we used validated measures of work satisfaction, likelihood of leaving current practice, and health status. Hierarchical logistic regressions were used to assess the associations between pay fairness perceptions and work/life-related outcomes. Results: A total of 2263 physicians completed surveys. Fifty-seven percent believed their compensation was fair; there was no difference between physicians in internal medicine and non-primary care specialties (P = 0.58). Eighty-three percent were satisfied at work, 70% reported low likelihood of leaving their practice, and 77% rated their health as very good or excellent. Higher compensation levels were associated with greater work satisfaction and lower turnover intention, but most associations became statistically non-significant after adjusting for pay fairness perceptions. Perceived pay fairness was associated with greater work satisfaction (OR, 4.90; 95% CI, 3.94–6.08; P < 0.001), lower turnover intention (OR, 2.46; 95% CI, 2.01–3.01; P < 0.001), and better health (OR, 1.33; 95% CI, 1.08–1.65; P < 0.01). Discussion: Physicians who thought their pay was fair reported greater work satisfaction, lower likelihood of leaving their practice, and better overall health. Addressing pay fairness perceptions may be important for sustaining a satisfied and healthy physician workforce, which is necessary to deliver high-quality care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)812-817
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • pay fairness
  • physician well-being
  • physician workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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