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The Highest Paid Doctors in the USA: Medical Specialties with the Best Paying Salaries

Updated on December 11, 2012
The salaries of doctors depend on their specialties.
The salaries of doctors depend on their specialties. | Source

If you suspect that the money you pay for medical treatment fuels high medical salaries, you are correct. No less an authority than the U.S. Department of Labor marks doctors as having the best salaries in the United States.

This information is further supported by an annual compensation survey administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges. They represent all 134 accredited U.S. medical schools and 400 teaching hospitals and health systems, which cover 125,000 faculty members, 75,000 medical students and 106,000 resident physicians.

The survey lists the following five specialties as the best paying, ranking from lowest to highest. In comparison, general practitioners earn up to $220,196 annually, and general surgeons get $383,333 per year.

Gastroenterology

Gastroenterologists study a subspecialty of internal medicine that concentrates on the digestive track including the stomach, intestines, colon and esophagus. They may treat conditions such as constipation, ulcers, hemorrhoids and cancer. They do not perform surgery, but may perform biopsies or exam internal organs through endoscopes.

They must complete four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, three years of residency in internal medicine. They then continue with an additional two or three years in gastroenterology. They often also study hepatology, which covers the liver, pancreas and biliary tree, which transports bile from the liver to the small intestine. They start off the list of the highest paid doctors with a maximum of $481,923 per year.

Invasive Cardiology

Invasive cardiologists are physicians who not only diagnose and treat conditions of the heart and cardiovascular system. As opposed to non-invasive cardiologists, they perform catherization to locate blocked arteries. This involves inserting a catheter, which is a small tube, through the blood vessels until it reaches the heart. They do not perform surgery, which is the province of cardio-thoracic surgeons.

Training includes four years of college, four years of medical school and three years of residency, followed by two or three years of specialization. They max out at $495,000 per year.

Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgeons reconstruct, repair or replace physical defects in the head and face, musculoskeletal system, skin, and extremities such as hands or breasts. They can effect these repairs to correct congenital problems and accidental trauma, or to improve cosmetic appearance.

Their education encompasses four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, and five or seven years of specialty training. They earn up to $499,656 per year.

Radiation Oncology

Radiation oncologists use radiation to manage diseases, primarily those relating to malignant tumors, such as cancers of the brain, breast, lung and prostate. It can be combined with surgery performed by surgical oncologists, or chemotherapy, which is typically controlled by clinical oncologists, who can also handle radiation therapy.

Training for radiation oncologists covers four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, one year of general medical training and four years of radiation oncology training. They make up $518,991 per year.

Orthopedic Surgery

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in restoring function to the musculoskeletal system, which includes the spine, hip, knee, shoulder, elbow and extremities. They can use medicine, physical manipulation or surgery to treat medical problems in both adults and children.

Orthopedic surgeons train for four years in undergraduate studies, four years in medical school, one year in general surgery, and four years in orthopedic surgery, with six months devoted to the treatment of children. They are the highest paid doctors, with compensation up to $600,000 per year.

© Copyright 2011 by Aurelio Locsin.

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    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      The article does clearly state that this is the average as surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you click through on the link, you can examine the methodology the bureau uses to come up with these figures.

    • profile image

      Chris 

      5 years ago

      What people have to understand is that these websites that inform you of doctor's salaries are only telling you the average or maximum salary of a doctor who is an employee of a hospital, or a large medical corporation. Roughly around 30% of the medical doctors in the U.S. share ownership in private practice medical groups. These doctors will usually make up to four times as much as they would as employees of hospitals, or large medical corporation. My father is a Gastroenterologist in an 8 man private practice medical group with their own endoscopy center. Last year, he made just under 800, 000 dollars, yet this website tells you that a Gastroenterologist makes a maximum of 481, 000 dollars a year. That is highly inaccurate if they are referring to all Gastroenterologists in the U.S. Do you really believe that a Plastic Surgeon in a two or three man private practice medical group is going to make a maximum of 500, 000 dollars a year? That's highly inaccurate! These guys are capable of making over 2 million dollars a year in a private practice medical group! This also applies for Cardiac Surgeons, Neurosurgeons, Orthopedic Surgeons, Ophthalmologists, Dermatologists, Radiologists, Gastroenterologists, and Cardiologists. The point I'm making is this; what people have to understand is that these websites that inform you of doctor's salaries are only referring to doctors who are employees of hospitals or large medical corporations. They are not informing you of the salaries of doctors who share ownership in private practice medical groups. That's the truth, and that's what people have to understand.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      The pay is outstanding but I wonder when these doctors find the time to spend it. I really feel they deserve the pay because of the education even if the health care system is mismanaged. Great information and statistics!

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I appreciate hearing this from a doctor's point of view, TahoeDoc. Thanks for your heartfelt comment.

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 

      6 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      I am a practicing physician. When I worked 60 to 80 hour, stressful weeks, I never saw my kids, but earned a really good salary. Decided the kids came first- sometimes, I would only see them for an hour or two in 5 to 7 days. NOT ok.

      Now, I cut back my hours and am lucky enough to string together a living working part-time. I spend time with my children, but just make enough to pay back my student loans and medical malpractice insurance and contribute to my retirement. Those 3 things cost me nearly $6000 per month. Another several hundred per month goes to education and licensing and other occupation related expenses. Then I pay taxes on what I earn. Between my federal and state income taxes, that means I have to earn at least $160K just to break even. Part time? I really push it. I have enough left over to buy food, clothes and some extras for my kiddos and my house. I'm not living extravagantly and my husband works very hard, earning a (relatively) poor income as an emergency room doctor to make up the difference and pay his debts and our mortgage, etc. We are not struggling, but we we don't have fancy cars- he drives a 13 year old pickup- or take big vacations either. It's not always what it seems, really. And before this we both spent four years in residency AFTER medical school, earning what often amounted to minimum wage or less when the hourly rate was calculated.

      And you are right, doctors are as fed up with dealing with insurance companies and their criminal business practices as you are!

      The reality of the risk of lowering doctors salaries too much- It is too much stress, frustration, lifestyle (and health) sacrifice and responsibility to deal with without a reward or consolation of some kind. The brightest students will figure this out and do something else. I am actively discouraging my kids from medical school, even at high salary, it just isn't worth it and I don't want anyone I love to go through what I went through. Sad, because I LOVE doing my job when the hours are reasonable and the bullish** is minimized (almost never). And most physicians I know feel this way. AND, unless the price of medical education goes way, way down, no one will be able to afford to do it anyway.

      I certainly don't expect anyone to feel sorry for us, we are obviously fine and more secure than most people and feel lucky for this, but it's just another perspective to show that even when it sounds good, it's not quite the riches that people may think.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      alocsin....Yes, we shall see what the Big Kahunas have to say. Our situation as it is, IS scary.....and it is numerous other adjectives, none of which help to comfort and console us.

      I kept asking myself how much worse it can possibly get for us.....but bumped my head and woke up.....and I really don't want to know.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      The rising medical insurance costs in the U.S. just scares me, fpherj48. We'll see what the Supreme Court says.

    • tammyfrost profile image

      Tammy Frost 

      6 years ago from Oregon

      wow...I knew they made a lot but I didn't know that much. Great Information here.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Alocsin....So....now what? I'm too old to go back to school to become a Dr. (of any kind!!)....too tired AND too married to go out and snag a Dr. to support me...too busy to find a Doc to become BFF's with...I think I'll just keep trying to stay as healthy as possible so I'm not donating to their already massive incomes!!

      I do agree, GOOD Drs are worth the money. Think what it would be like to have a catastophic illness and NO Dr!!

      Perhaps the solution to our MEDICAL INSURANCE WOES will come after 2012??

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Another great and informed hub Aurelio,

      Your sources are impeccable. I totally agree with you. Doctors train for so long, and at the end of it.

      They have a career that deal's with people in their darkest moments every single day.

      That duty alone is worth their salaries.

      Medical specialties mean even longer training.

      I know that when I see a doctor.

      I want to see someone that knows what they are doing.

      Best paying salaries. They earn it daily.

      Voted up 4/5 buttons sharing.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Johnsrud, you'll find that info at the Association of Medical Colleges mentioned in the text.

    • profile image

      vic 

      6 years ago

      Johnsrud

      I agree with your opinion. You said you know Orthopedic surgeons that make up to 700,000-800,000? What state are you from. Because I know that it's different in states on how much you get paid

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I think doctors deserve their high income just because it takes so much to become one, Peggy W,including the overhead.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What some of the people complaining don't understand is that these salaries also include some overhead costs that eat into that salary figure...like office space; employees; exhorbitant high malpractice insurance costs, etc. I don't begrudge them their salaries. They work hard for it. Compared to sports figures who can earn millions...what, after all, is equitable?

      Nice job on this hub. No wonder the orthopedic surgeons I worked with in the OR years ago all seemed so happy! Ha! Voted up and useful.

    • TotalHealth profile image

      TotalHealth 

      6 years ago from Hermosa Beach, CA

      Thanks for the hub! I knew I should have gone to med school.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      The data is from the U.S. Department of Labor, so whether this article info is speculative depends on whether you consider U.S. government info speculative. And nobody is begrudging doctors their high salaries -- the long training along justifies it, coupled with deciding life and death.

    • profile image

      Johnsrud 

      6 years ago

      These salary ranges are all speculative. The salary depends just as heavily on where you work as on what medical profession you pursue. In Wyoming where I work, some Orthopedic Surgeons earn up to 700,00 to 800,000 per year. As an Anesthesiologist, I earn 650,000 not counting bonuses. Emile, if anyone deserves a high salary in your mind, what profession would that be? Physicians sacrifice 13 years of their life to learn their trade and do their job well. Often, we are placed in high-stress situations where the slightest mistake can lead to potentially fatal outcomes. So, it really isn't becoming to begrudge us of our salary.

    • profile image

      Dan M 

      6 years ago

      @ Emile R, stop being a whiner. Doctors sacrifice their 20's and have a mountain of debt to pay back. They deserve every penny for what they deal with! If you feel so

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I have to agree with Jason -- my understanding is doctors are just as annoyed having to deal with medical insurance as we are.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      6 years ago

      @Emile R you can thank this countries our sky-high insurance costs for that...

    • profile image

      Doctors online 

      7 years ago

      I think its a great resource for Doctors salaries.nice work admin.

    • Alex Simring profile image

      Alex Simring 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Interesting reading, I'm going to follow your hubs as they are entertaining as well as informative.

    • profile image

      Emile R 

      7 years ago

      I suppose, in their minds, bankrupting people in need of medical help isn't contradictory to the 'do no harm' mandate.

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