The Korea Herald


Pediatricians' incomes less than half what eye doctors get: report

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Feb. 25, 2024 - 13:11

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A recent government report showed substantial income disparity among South Korean doctors, with the annual incomes of physicians in fields like ophthalmology, neurosurgery and dermatology being more than double that of pediatricians.

An average ophthalmologist made 389 million won ($290,000) annually as of 2020, the highest out of all medical fields in the country, according to the annual report by the state-run Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. The next highest on the list was neurosurgeons, on 326 million won, dermatologists, on 285 million won, and doctors in rehabilitation medicine making 280 million won.

In contrast, the annual income for pediatricians was 135 million won, lowest out of physicians in any field. It was considerably lower than other relatively low-paying fields, such as general surgery (224 million won), thoracic surgery (226 million won), and emergency medicine (234 million won).

In general, South Korean doctors on average made 236.9 million won in a year, but the high disparity meant pay was less than that in most fields.

The report also showed disparity in doctors' salaries depending on the size of the medical facility they worked at. Specialists working at hospitals with 100 beds or fewer made an average of 331 million won per year, followed by those working at clinic-level institutions -- defined by the Medical Service Act as those providing medical services primarily to outpatients -- on 269 million won, and those working at general hospitals at 212 million won.

Long-term care hospitals -- including mental hospitals -- were No. 4 on that list, with specialists there making 206 million a won. But an ophthalmologist working at a large long-term care hospital, with at least 300 beds, made 768 million won annually, the highest of all doctor groups.

In contrast, pediatricians’ average income was below 200 million won regardless of the size of medical institute they worked at. The highest-paid group of pediatricians were those at hospitals with 100 beds or fewer. They made 192 million won a year.

South Korea has long suffered from a shortage of pediatricians, with many doctors avoiding the field due to the relatively low pay and higher legal risks. The quota for pediatric residents in hospitals across the country is 205, but only 53 have applied for pediatric residency in the first half of this year.

Of the so-called "Big Five" major hospitals in Seoul -- Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital and Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital -- AMC was the only hospital where all resident spots for pediatrics were filled. Not one trainee doctor applied to be a pediatric resident at Severance, despite the 10 spots being allocated.

Psychiatry, ophthalmology and plastic surgery were the most popular fields for trainee doctors, with the residency applications reaching 178.9 percent, 172.6 percent and 165.8 percent of their quotas.