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Does an Engineer, Lawyer or Doctor Earn More?

by Terri Williams

Engineers, doctors and lawyers are some of the highest paid professionals in the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists all three occupations in the top 20 highest salaries in its May 2012 National Occupation Employment and Wage Estimates. However, while the BLS lists a general salary for lawyers, the pay for doctors and engineers varies greatly by specialty.

Salaries for Doctors

As a general rule, doctors earn the highest salaries in the country. Anesthesiologists are the top earners with an annual mean wage of $232,800, while surgeons are in second place with $230,540. Obstetricians and gynecologists make $216,760, while oral and maxillofacial surgeons are the highest paid dental surgeons at $216,440. When including other specialists, such as orthodontists, family and general practitioners, psychiatrists and prostodontists, doctors occupy almost half of the top twenty highest paid salaries. Podiatrists were the lowest-paid specialists in the top twenty, with an annual mean wage of $132,470.

Salaries for Engineers

At $147,470, petroleum engineers are the highest paid engineers, ranking 16th out of the top twenty highest salaries. However, they are the only engineers in the top twenty. Nuclear engineers are a distant second with $107,140, while aerospace engineers are the third highest engineering specialists, earning $104,810 annually. Computer hardware engineers make $103,980, while chemical engineers earn $102,270. The rest of the engineering specialists, such as marine engineers, electronics engineers, electrical engineers and biomedical engineers, earn less than $100,000. The salaries for materials engineers, environmental engineers, mechanical engineers, civil engineers and industrial engineers are under $90,000.

Salaries for Lawyers

Lawyers barely made the list of the top twenty salaries in the country. At $130,880, they were in 19th place. They are paid less than most doctors, but more than all of the engineers – except petroleum engineers. The BLS does not differentiate between types of lawyers, so this salary covers various specialties, such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, government counsels and corporate or in-house counsels. It also covers legal aid lawyers, environmental lawyers, tax lawyers, intellectual property lawyers, family lawyers, securities lawyers and litigation lawyers.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirement for doctors is a medical degree and three to eight years of residencies and internships, depending on the specialty area. Lawyers must complete three years of law school to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.). Engineers need a bachelor’s degree in their specialty area.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects a 24-percent increase in demand for physicians and surgeons through 2020, which is faster than the 14-percent average growth rate predicted for other U.S. occupations. However, the demand for lawyers is only projected to increase by 10 percent through 2020. The job outlook for engineers varies by specialty. Biomedical engineering is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country with a 62-percent growth rate through 2020. Civil and petroleum engineering jobs will increase by 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively. On the other hand, nuclear engineers will only experience a 10-percent growth increase, while materials engineers, mechanical engineers and computer hardware engineers will only see a 9-percent increase. Chemical engineers, electrical engineers and electronics engineers can expect a 6-percent growth rate, while aerospace engineers will only see a 5-percent growth rate.

About the Author

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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