Doctors are rich! Right? Well, depends on the specialty. A plastic surgeon and general practitioner are both physicians, but one makes much more than the other. In this post, we’ll go over the best paid specialties.
Is the Money Important?
While the money should absolutely not be a primary reason for you to go into medicine, let’s be real, it is an important factor. After all, we wouldn’t pursue being a doctor if it only paid $50,000 per year and came with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. That’s just not a smart move.. That being said, I would argue that the salary of each specialty should not sway your decision in which specialty to pursue. It’s simply not nearly as important as finding a good fit in doing something that you love. It doesn’t matter how much money you make if you don’t enjoy the operating room.
First, let’s set a frame of reference with the average physician salaries overall. If you took all the doctors in the United States and averaged their salaries, it would come out close to $299,000. That’s not bad. Subdividing that group further, you’ll notice that primary care physicians average a much lower $223,000 per year, and specialists average $329,000 per year.
Here’s the good news for doctors: physician income overall has been steadily rising over the past 7 years. One reason is the fundamental economic principle of supply and demand. However, it should be noted that the rate of salary growth slow and steady, very much unlike hospital administrator salaries, but that’s a topic for another post.
Changes in Compensation in Recent Years
It’s important to note that the average salary of each specialty changes year to year. In this last year, psychiatrists’ average salary increased by a whopping 16%, in large part owed to the increased demand for psychiatrists in recent years. Demand for mental health services has exploded at a faster rate than we are able to mint new psychiatrists. Other specialties that have seen significant increases in compensation include plastic surgery at 14%, PM&R at 13%, and oncology at 10%.
So Which Doctors Make the Most?
This year, plastic surgery topped the list at an average of $501,000 per year. Orthopedic surgery trailed closely in second with $497,000 and cardiology in third with $423,000.
None of these surveys are perfect. The data I’m using comes from the MedScape 2018 survey of physicians. There are other surveys out there, with similar but slightly different results. In recent years, you’ll notice that a handful of specialties consistently perform at the top in terms of compensation. Those top 5 specialties include neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, cardiology, and gastroenterology.
Factors Contributing to High Salaries
So what do neurosurgery, plastics, orthopedics, cardiology, and gastroenterology have in common that results in such high salaries? It comes down to one key principle: procedures. The way the current healthcare system works in the U.S., procedures are compensated quite handsomely. On the flip side, you’ll notice that the 5 lowest compensated specialties aren’t procedurally focused.
Does that mean you should pursue a specialty that is procedure heavy? Not based on salary alone. I personally love working with my hands and precise, meticulous attention to detail, which is why I matched into plastic surgery. But if you don’t love working with your hands, you’d be miserable doing any form of surgery.
Other Factors to Consider
There are several other factors beyond specialty choice that can significantly sway the average compensation of a doctor.
A huge one is location. In this year’s survey, Indiana, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Nevada topped the list as the top-earning states for doctors. States like New York and California are much lower on the list, even though both California and New York have much higher average costs of living. So what gives?
Again, it’s a matter of supply and demand. Lots of doctors want to live in California, since it’s obviously the best state in the U.S. in my completely unbiased opinion (/s), and therefore there’s relatively more supply of doctors than demand. As a result, hospitals can pay doctors less than they would in, say, Wisconsin. Because fewer doctors are eager to work in less populated areas like Wisconsin or Oklahoma, hospitals need to pay a higher salary to attract talent there. Simple economics at play.
2) Practice Type
Second is practice type. Self-employed physicians, meaning private practice docs, on average make substantially more than employed physicians. This has held true for decades, although private practice is less appealing than it was 10 years ago. Again, your decision shouldn’t be based on just the money. Private practice usually comes with the significant added headache of handling the business side of things, and you can expect to be working harder hours than if you were employed.
3) Factors Outside of Your Control
Unfortunately, there are factors outside of your control, including race, gender, and age that factor into your compensation. However, that is a topic for another pos.
Who Would Choose Their Specialty Again?
Do you think that the top earners would be the most likely to choose their specialty again? The correlation is there, but it may not be as strong as you think.
Orthopedic surgery and plastic surgery topped the list, just as they do with average salaries, but radiologists and oncologists also seem quite happy with their decision, despite having significantly lower salaries. Again, money isn’t everything, and it’s important you find a specialty you love.
Getting into one of these top paying specialties is insanely competitive, and you need to have the strongest of applications to make it. That’s where Med School Insides comes in. We do much more than just make insanely helpful YouTube videos and blog posts. We have an entire team of top doctors who have excelled in plastic surgery, dermatology, orthopedic surgery, and several more ultra competitive specialties. They understand what it takes, because not only did they do it, but they even served on admissions committees at top medical schools and residencies. If you’re serious about maximizing your chances of acceptance and becoming the best doctor you can be, view our one-on-one services.
What sets us apart from other companies? Our team spent months creating a proprietary systematic approach that guarantees the best results every time. You never have to worry about getting unlucky or getting a bad advisor. And we don’t do cookie cutter approaches – just as we advocate here on YouTube, each individual is unique, and to be the best doctor you can be requires much more than just checking all the boxes. Ultimately, that means less variability and uncertainty with our services, and more of what you want: awesome service and awesome results. From MCAT or Step 1 tutoring to personal statement editing and advising, we’ve got you covered.