Lead author Dr. Martha Grayson, senior associate dean of medical education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, was at the New York Medical College at the time of the study. Grayson and colleagues surveyed more than 2,500 medical students attending either New York Medical College or the Brody School of Medicine.
Over an 18-year period -- from 1992 to 2010 -- the medical school students were surveyed in their first and fourth years about the area of medicine they planned to enter, their anticipated debt upon graduation, the annual income they anticipated five years after completing residency and the importance they placed on income in general, Grayson explained.
A 2010 Medical Group Management Association income survey found primary care physicians earned nearly $200,000 per year and those in 12 high-paying specialties selected by the researchers earned double -- with an average of just under $400,000 per year. Medical school students have an average $158,000 in student loan debt.
The study, published online in Medical Education, found medical students who anticipated high levels of debt upon graduation and placed a premium on high income were more likely to enter a high-paying medical specialty such as radiology, anesthesiology or dermatology than to enter primary care.
"The income gap between primary care and specialty physicians started growing in earnest in 1979, and now we're seeing the consequences of that ongoing trend," Grayson said in a statement.