Radiology resident pay falling short of expectations, as programs overlook one key factor

Radiology resident compensation is falling short of trainees’ expectations, with programs failing to account for one key factor, according to a recent study.

While published stipends in the U.S. start at $49,547, when accounting for cost of living, pay can drop considerably, diving as low as $26,915. In pricey New York City, for instance, accounting for cost of living decreases a rad resident stipend’s value by almost 54%, experts reported in JACR.

On average across the country, that loss stands at about 9.1%, based on an analysis of data from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. With reports of residents grappling with high debt loads and other financial issues, leading to depression and poor academic performance, program directors may want to look closer at this issue, the study suggests.

“Calculating the cost of living-adjusted stipend based on regional and national data would allow applicants to compare programs when applying and would benefit residency programs when recruiting applicants more accurately,” Marco Ertreo, MD, with the Department of Vascular and Interventional Radiology at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, and colleagues wrote Dec. 30.

To reach their conclusions, Ertreo and colleagues queried the ACGME database for accredited, allopathic rad residency programs for academic year 2017-2018. They targeted stipend information for first-year diagnostic radiology residents (postgraduate year 2), excluding programs that did not publicly share pay. The research team further grouped data by geography and used the annual average cost of living index to compare from one area to the next.

All told, 118 ACGME-accredited programs—across 77 cites and 40 states—met the inclusion criteria. Bottom line: While the published stipend range lands between $49,547 to $72,000, when adjusting for cost of living, it fell down to between $26,915 and $68,827. Ertreo calculated an average COL change that swung from a loss of $40,953 to a gain of $10,958, with the latter occurring in cities with a lower cost of living. And the net decrease in effective cost of living-adjusted resident stipend ranged from a loss of 58.1% up to a gain of 21.7%.

“Although individual financial situations are inherently personal and unique, factors common to all residents can have significant effects on academic success, personal satisfaction, and family stability,” the authors advised. “Acknowledging these commonalities—such as cost of living and how it affects the resident stipend—can benefit both the residency applicant as he or she considers places to train and also residency programs as they seek to attract applicants.”

Read much more of their analysis in the Journal of the American College of Radiology here.