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Highest-Paid Jobs & Salaries for Doctors

by Beth Greenwood, studioD

Medicine has traditionally been seen as an occupation with substantial monetary benefits. This impression is supported by May 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports average annual salaries for physicians in various specialties varied from $167,640 for pediatricians to $232,830 for anesthesiologists. Other specialists, however, may earn even more, and some jobs -- such as that of the medical director -- can also increase total compensation.

Medicine Vs. Surgery

Doctors tend to fall into two primary groups: medical specialties and surgical specialties. Crossover does occur, however; invasive cardiologists and interventional radiologists, for example, share a number of job characteristics with surgical specialties. Orthopedic, cardio-thoracic and neurological surgeons had the highest median compensation in 2011-2012, according to nationwide physician recruiting firm Cejka Search. General orthopedic surgeons earned $515,759, cardio-thoracic surgeons earned $544,087 and neurological surgeons earned $656,250. Invasive cardiologists -- one of the crossover specialties between medicine and surgery -- earned $512,000 in 2012, according to a July 2012 article in “Forbes” magazine.

Subspecialties and Salary

Even within a particular specialty, salaries can vary considerably if the surgeon chooses to practice a subspecialty. In orthopedic surgery, for example, Cejka Search reports that specializing in orthopedic hand surgery netted a surgeon $507,750 in 2011-2012, while a pediatric orthopedic surgeon earned $509,030. Orthopedic surgeons who performed only joint replacements earned $529,990. An orthopedic surgeon who chose to specialize in spine surgery, however, earned $710,556. Within the pediatric ranks, pediatricians who specialized in intensive care earned $310,536, while general pediatric surgeons earned $462,801.

Experience and Compensation

Experience can make a difference in compensation, according to Profiles Database, which provides job information to newly graduated physicians. Profiles conducted a salary survey in September 2011 that compared starting salaries and salaries after six years of practice. Cardio-thoracic surgeons earned $522,875 after six years, while neurological surgeons earned $589,500 and orthopedic surgeons who specialized in the spine earned $625,000. Of the medical specialties, cardiologists earned $402,000, and diagnostic radiologists who did not perform interventional procedures earned $444,850.

Additional Responsibilities

In addition to clinical practice, some physicians choose to take on a job such as medical director. These positions are often not full-time, according to an April 2012 article from Becker’s Hospital Review. Orthopedic surgeon medical directors, for example, worked 461 hours a year -- about eight hours a week -- while vascular lab medical directors worked 477 hours, and oncology medical directors worked 688 hours. The average compensation for these positions was $89,476, $66,651 and $111,212 respectively. This remuneration would be in addition to the physicians’ compensation for clinical work.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

Photo Credits

  • Jochen Sand/Digital Vision/Getty Images