What Do Doctors Really Make? And Would They Choose the Same Profession Again?


According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report* filed this year, the typical salary for a primary care doctor in America is just under $200,000 per year. A typical specialist earns about $285,000.

The median income for American citizens in 2014 was $52,000.

Who Earns the Most?

Orthopedic surgeons in the United States find themselves at the top of the money chain at $421,000/year.

Cosmetic surgeons come in 5th from the top at $354,000. This is interesting, considering that far more than half of all cosmetic surgery is not covered by insurance, and must therefore be paid for out-of-pocket.

At the low end of physician salaries are primary care physicians, which is one of the least popular specialties for medical students to choose. Internists’ typical pay is $196,000; Family medicine practitioners $195,000; Pediatricians’ average pay is $189,000.

Those specialists who care for some of the most complex patients in society – diabetic specialists and endocrinologists = earn about $196,000.

From 2012 to last year, most docs got a raise. The only specialists to earn slightly less than before were rheumatologists and urologists. HIV/AIDS physicians received the largest increase at 22%. Pulmonary specialists money increased 15%; emergency physicians 12%.

Female MDs historically earn less than males, due in a large extent that women doctors tend to work fewer hours per week and choose lower-paying specialties. Consider that a full 50% of all pediatricians are women, but only 9% of orthopedic surgeons are.

Who is Happy and Who Isn’t?

One of the more curious aspects of the study is the matter of job satisfaction. 60% of dermatologists, emergency physicians and pathologists believe they are fairly compensated. On the other hand, only 42% of orthopedists said they were well paid. Cosmetic surgeons? Only 44% of them say they feel fairly compensated. Helping folks look younger and more attractive must be important work, but we suspect they should be able to scrape by on $30,000 a month.

We find it interesting how often the lowest paid specialty – pediatricians – believe they are well-paid and generally pretty happy. But then again, it’s kinda cool to arrive at work to see toys in your waiting room.

Dermatologists overall have the highest satisfaction with their profession,  with 63% saying they would choose medicine again. 61% are satisfied with their incomes; 73% would choose their specialty again.

Internal medicine people were the most unsatisfied – 45% happy with income; but a mere 25% would choose their specialty again.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to income, doctors –  even the lowest paid primary care folks –  are doing pretty well: they all qualify for the top 1% of wage earners.

But the survey also makes it clear that money alone does not bring happiness or satisfaction. Consider this: 89% of male – and 92% of female – doctors, do NOT believe they are “making good money at a job I like.”

That’s an awful lot of very unhappy people poking and cutting with sharp objects while we are asleep.

That’s hundreds of thousands of doctors making the decision to “do just one more test.”

Suppose that accounts for all the crime?

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4 thoughts on “What Do Doctors Really Make? And Would They Choose the Same Profession Again?

  1. Ron Slade Sr. says:

    Dermatology must be the ideal discipline. Work 9-5 Monday through Friday, then prescribe something Monday morning which should have been applied Saturday morning. If a patient calls after hours or on weekends tell them, “go the emergency room; I’ll have my PA call you, or take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning.”

    • Russ –

      Excellent reference article.

      But I do not see any connection between salaries and ethical behavior. What I have noticed over 30 years is that quite often, the lower paid physician specialists commit far fewer crimes.

  2. Russ Duke says:

    to true. We had a saying in medical school. The top third of the class make the worst docs, the middle third the best, and the bottom third the richest.

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