Members of the medical profession spend many years in school and have a great deal of responsibility. In return, they are typically very well-compensated, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The specialty a physician chooses, however, can dramatically affect her income -- in some cases, by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The BLS tracks a number of different medical specialties, including primary care physicians such as internists and pediatricians. It also tracks surgeons and related medical specialists such as dentists and chiropractors. However, it does not differentiate among surgeons, a specialty in which there may be considerable differences in income, according to other sources such as Profiles Database and Becker’s Hospital Review. Primary care physicians, such as general pediatricians, family practice doctors and internists, earned $167,640, $180,850 and $191,520 respectively in 2012, according to the BLS. Obstetricians and gynecologists earned $216,760 and anesthesiologists earned $232,830.
Orthopedics is a Money-Maker
Cejka Search, a nationwide physician recruiting firm, reports income figures for a wide variety of medical specialties. According to Cejka, family practice physicians earned a median income of $219,362 in 2013, general surgeons earned $370,024 and anesthesiologists earned $377,375. Other specialties earned more. Orthopedic surgeons, for example, earned $515,759. Orthopedic surgeons who specialized in joint replacements, however, earned $529,990. Orthopedic surgeons who operate on the spine were the top money-earners, according to Cejka, with a median income of $710,556.
Profiles, an organization that matches graduating physicians with employers, reported both starting salaries and income after six years of practice in its 2011-2012 salary survey. Although all of the starting salaries for medical specialties were at least $138,000 -- the going rate for newly-graduated family practitioners -- orthopedic surgeons who specialized in spine surgery had the highest entry-level salaries, at an average of $465,000. After six years of practice, the top earners were neurological surgeons, with an average annual income of $589,500, and orthopedic spinal surgeons, who earned an average of $625,000.
Surgeons Top the List
Surgeons clearly are the group of physicians who earn the most money, but even within that group, salaries differ by specialty, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. Bariatric surgeons, for example, earned $456,266, while thoracic surgeons earned $473,927. Pediatric surgical specialists were three of the top five earners in Becker’s report, based on 2010 data. Pediatric general surgeons earned $475,645, pediatric neurosurgeons earned $643,188 and pediatric cardio-vascular surgeons earned $762,846. Neurosurgeons topped the list, however, with an average annual income of $767,627.
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