Specialty in Salary: A Look into Physician Pay

So you’re considering a career in the medical field…congratulations! You decided to dedicate your life to helping others. But practicing medicine requires an extensive knowledge of the human anatomy and its treatments. You’ve enrolled in medical school, spent the required (but totally barbaric amount of) money on books and housing, purchased scrubs, a meal plan, and literally anything else you’re told you need to be a doctor. You’re probably wondering, “what’s the payoff here?” Well, luckily for you, physicians are among the highest paid professionals in the United States. And (added bonus), physician pay offers medical students the ability to relax (a little) about paying off their student loans right away.

Plus, where there are people, there is a need for doctors. You can find physician positions all over the United States. But, different doctors earn different pay for different reasons. Schooling plays a factor as well as experience and even location.

Physician Pay Based on Specialty

You’ve just joined the elite group of highest paid career professionals. And with your love of medicine and helping others, you can’t wait to get started raking in the dough. But your medical specialty could be a factor in determining your yearly pay.

Physician Pay

Courtesy of Medscape

According to a 2016 physician compensation report from Medscape, the highest-paid medical specialty is Orthopedics. An Orthopedic surgeon can specialize in different areas within his/her field but primarily focuses on the musculoskeletal system. Rounding out the top 5 were cardiologists ($410,000), dermatologists ($381,000), gastroenterologists ($380, 000), and radiologists ($375,000). The lowest earning in physician pay were family medicine practitioners, endocrinologists, and pediatrics, just clearing over $200,000 (though that’s still a fabulous yearly salary).

Why Do Doctors Make So Much?


A lot goes into becoming a physician. Some physicians spend almost half of their life preparing for this career. For example, orthopedic surgeons complete a 4-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, four years completing their residency in orthopedics, plus one to three years studying surgery and science. A lot of orthopedic surgeons also treat professional athletes; this requires another 1-2 years of studying sports medicine.

That’s anywhere from 12-15 years of post high school education (and we applaud you for it). Like most jobs, the amount of schooling and experience a physician has also plays into how much money they will earn each year. Many physicians, depending on training, handle surgical and non-surgical cases. They also continue research or take additional courses during their full-time career to stay up-to-date on treatment plans and changes in their specialty.


Sometimes, your geographic location and the size of the hospital you work at can define your salary. Medscape reports that living in the North Central ($296,000) and Southeast ($287,000) regions are the highest paying regions in the United States. The lowest paying regions are the Northeast ($266,000) and Mid-Atlantic ($268,000). Living in more rural areas give physicians more access to patients, as the health care policies have tried to even out the distribution. While money isn’t the most important thing in the world (although to some it may be and that’s your prerogative), changing your location based on income may better suit your lifestyle. Plus, it could give you the chance to travel a bit more too!

Gender Bias in Salary Range

Despite yearly physician pay being a top reason in job satisfaction among physicians, other factors play a role in salary outcome. One of the most highly debated topics in any career choice is the fact women are still paid less than men across the board. Even as a physician in the same field with the same experience and schooling, women still earn less than men. So, if you are in medical school with the hopes of becoming a highly paid physician, do your part in not only choosing what is best for you but speaking your mind on the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask for more or even equal pay to your male equivalent; you’ve done the same work to get here.

Author: Troy Diffenderfer

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