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The Lowest Paid Doctors in the USA: Medical Specialties with the Smallest Salaries

Updated on March 17, 2012
The salary of surgeons form a useful comparison for the income of all physicians.
The salary of surgeons form a useful comparison for the income of all physicians. | Source

© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin

Doctors are the highest paid occupations in the U.S., according to the Department of Labor. However, not all specialties earn the top salaries as reported by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). These organization represents 125,000 faculty members, 75,000 medical students and 106,000 resident physicians in 134 accredited U.S. medical schools, and 400 teaching hospitals and health systems. Granted, pay is a relative term and even specialists with the low salaries make more than many other occupations.

The AAMC report shows the following five specialties as the least paying, ranging from the lowest to the highest salaries. As a baseline, general surgeons earn a minimum of $284,642 per year. (For a list of the highest paid doctors, see The Highest Paid Doctors.)


Pediatricians specialize in children from birth to young adulthood, and often see all the kids in the same family for many years. They handle common childhood ailments like measles to acute diseases like cancer. They must often take into account the physical, emotional and social development of their patients.

Their training goes through four years of college, four years of medical school and then three years of residency in pediatrics. Up to an additional three years are needed for certification in a subspecialty such as pediatric cardiology or adolescent medicine. Pediatricians earn a minimum of $160,111 per year.

Family Practice

Family practitioners, also known as general practitioners, cover general medical conditions, since they are often the first doctor seen by someone with a problem. They may treat all members of the same family, and may see the same patients over the long term. They are knowledgeable in many disciplines including children’s care, women’s health, geriatrics and preventative medicine. But they refer more complex conditions to specialists.

They learn their practice through four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school and three years of residency. Additional subspecialties such as sleep medicine or sports medicine require at least an additional year of training each. Their salaries start at $175,000 yearly.

Hospitalist Practice

Hospitalists focus their care on patients in a hospital, with many being board-certified internists. One of their primary responsibilities is communicating information to all specialists involved with a specific patient, such as his or her primary care provider. They are often also the only professionals who tracks all tests and results, and can recommend follow-up tests and visits based on that knowledge.

Hospitalists undergo four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship and three years of residency. Those who are also internists must also ust devote at least three years of internal medicine residency. They make a minimum of $175,000 per year.


Psychiatrists focus on the treatment of mental, emotional and addictive disorders such as substance abuse, anxiety or schizophrenia. They use a combination of therapy and medicine, and understand the psychological, biological and social components of any illness. They may often intervene with the family of a patient to prescribe effective treatment.

They undergo four years of college, four years of medical school and four years of psychiatry residence. Up to two years of study is added for each subspecialty like forensic psychiatry or pain management. Their salaries start at $182,724 per year.

Internal Medicine

Internists specialize in the interior of the body, including conditions that affect the heart, vascular system, kidneys, respiratory system, digestive system and joints. They handle both simple and complex illnesses in adolescents, adults and seniors. They can also plan a systemic approach that includes disease prevention, wellness and mental health.

Their training covers four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school and three years of general internal medicine. Specialties such as cardiovascular disease, hematology or infectious diseases can add from one to three years each. Their salaries start at $184,200. This makes them the top earners of the lowest paid doctors or medical specialists.


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    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      If you click the BLS link, step2cs, you'll be able to find the methodology that the government uses.

    • step2cs profile image

      Douglas Lieth 4 years ago from NYC

      Thanks for the info. I wonder if those stats are across the board average, or after so many years in practice, or new doctors? I know one pediatrician that works for a private clinic and makes only about $90K, but she is only in her 5th year out of residency. While another 20 year veteran peds doc I know makes about $400k with a private practice. Interesting topic for sure.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      From your highest paid people hubs to now...the lowest. Interesting way to approach the this case, doctor salaries. Am sure the amounts vary from state to state and even region to region. But this gives people some idea of what they make. Most of them well deserve these salaries and even more with all of the expenses that they have. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • NicktheNurse profile image

      NicktheNurse 5 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Alocsin, you are right. I have heard the same thing. Don't get me wrong, we need insurance companies and doctors need to get paid, but things need to change.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      A lot of doctors complain that they spend too much time and money dealing with insurance rather than practicing medicine, NicktheNurse.

    • NicktheNurse profile image

      NicktheNurse 5 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      That is pretty amazing. I thought some of them would make more but that makes sense. They also have to pay for malpractice insurance. Almost makes me think that it would be better to be a nurse practitioner so you can play doctor without having to go through all of the extra schooling. I am applying to an NP program and hopefully I get in. Looking forward to making a higher salary. Excellent and informative article. Thanks for hubbing!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      These are from the Association of American Medical Colleges as stated in the intro to the article. I appreciate the additional info resource, however. You can't have too many links for this type of info. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      Surgery Resident 6 years ago

      This is a much more representative survey:

    • profile image

      Surgery Resident 6 years ago

      I'd love to know where you got those numbers. They seem overly optimistic to me, especially as "minimums" or starting salaries. For example, I know for a fact that one of my attendings started at $220,000/yr for general surgery, which is almost $65k less than you've cited above. And this wasn't a low-ball offer, they were being given a competitive salary.

      Physicians in rural areas tend to make more, but those living in larger cities or on the coasts are unlikely to make as much as you've cited here. The figures you state here seem more like medians or averages for mid-career doctors.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 6 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      This is a wonderful hub, even though my doctor is a neurologist I need him to stay alive. I won't go into details, but some of the things politicians are talking about scare me.

      Thank you for such a wonderful hub. Gave you a thumbs up!

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 6 years ago

      What would we do without Dedicated Doctors...who are not paid well, especially in the Medicare system. This was a very Interesting Hub Alocsin. I worked for an Internal, Cardiologist for many years, he was such a devoted Doctor to his patients.

    • gingersmaltese profile image

      gingersmaltese 6 years ago from 27597

      Voted up, useful, and now following. Great hub!!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Not sure if they differ by state, Stigma31. Most likely it does.

    • Stigma31 profile image

      Stigma31 6 years ago from Kingston, ON

      Interesting, voted up! Does it change by state?

    • GracieLake profile image

      GracieLake 6 years ago from Arizona

      It's too bad, really, that docs who are most utilized as first responders for medical care get the least amount of money. Thanks for sharing good information.

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Well done. I was not aware of the salary ranges between these specialties. Voted up.