You Want to Be a Doctor? Here is the Average Salary for Each Medical Specialty

Monday, January 04, 2021

Are you a high school student with dreams of becoming a doctor? Did you know physicians can make much money, especially those in high-demand or challenging medical specialties? However, whether you are still a high school or even a pre-med student, it is essential to be careful when making a life decision. Refrain from basing those big decisions on money alone. It takes a lot of time, hard work, and capital just to get there.

There are many important factors to consider when exploring a medical specialty, such as the competitiveness of the field, length and type of training, work setting, and work-life balance. And yes, the money you can make becoming a doctor is an important factor, too. But it is not just the money; it is considering the entire scope of the field itself.

Here are some helpful tips to guide your early decision-making.


Doctor Salaries in 2020

According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020, physician incomes are rising. Primary care physicians (PCPs) earned an average of $243,000 in 2020, while specialists earned an average of $346,000.

MedSchoolCoach, a personal coaching service that provides pre-med and medical school admissions consulting services and tutoring, compiled data on the specialties that pay the most.

Average Annual Physician Compensation, 2020

Orthopedic surgeons are at the top of the list, earning $511,000 annually on average, with plastic surgeons coming in second at $479,000 annually. Public health and preventative medicine professionals are at the bottom of the list, making closer to $200,000 per year. 

These differences are more than sizable; they are critical.  

Note: Just because you’re going into ortho does not mean you will make five hundred thousand. And just because you are going into pediatrics does not mean you will earn two hundred thousand. There is a significant fluctuation in compensation based on various other factors, ranging from location to healthcare setting.


Considerations When Choosing a Career as a Doctor

While salary cannot be ignored, there are other important considerations, such as work-life balance. In addition to being a doctor, you still need to find time for family, friends, and hobbies. Here are some factors to remember when choosing a medical specialty:

  • Medical Training – Consider the length and type of training required for your desired medical field. Residencies such as pediatrics require a three-year commitment, whereas neurosurgery requires a seven-year training program. So, consider how many years you will trade for the necessary education and training. 
  • Medical Specialty Competitiveness – There are only 136 annual openings in the United States for interventional radiology. Compare that number to the 1,804 anesthesiology openings per year!
  • Access to Patients – Most physicians practice some form of clinical medicine. A lot of that time is spent seeing patients, charting patients, and the mental strain of thinking about your patients. Not to mention that being ‘on-call’ is a big part of the job; certainly an imperative factor to consider. However, not all specialties are equally as demanding.
  • Location, Location, Location – Where do you want to live? Do you want to work in a busy hospital at a major medical center or a cozy office in a rural clinic? Would you prefer a high-stress operating room or a quiet exam room? Where you live and work contributes significantly to your work-life balance, and the environment you work in every day contributes to that balance tenfold. 
  • Research Opportunities – Have you ever considered pursuing academic research? This decision will impact the number of publications, presentations, conferences, and papers you are involved with throughout your career. This is another factor to consider when weighing your work-life balance against your yearly salary.


Managing Your Healthcare Education Finances

When you leave medical school, you will have undergraduate and medical school debt to consider for your financial future. Most students are known to defer that debt while still in school, so they don’t start paying it off for a while. As premeds become residents, they “only” earn between $40k to $70k.

According to MedSchoolCoach, electricians will accumulate a higher net income than doctors for the first 26 years of their careers after high school.

Electrician vs physician salary 2020

Still, for those who are patient, determined, and willing to work, a doctor will earn up to $12 million more over their entire career. Here are the annual salaries of the most common medical specialties:

  • Allergy & Immunology – $301,000
  • Anesthesiology – $398,000
  • Cardiology – $438,000
  • Critical Care – $355,000
  • Dermatology – $411,000
  • Diabetes & Endocrinology – $236,000
  • Emergency Medicine – $357,000
  • Family Medicine – $234,000
  • Gastroenterology – $419,000
  • Infectious Diseases –$ 246,000
  • Internal Medicine – $251,000
  • Nephrology – $306,000
  • Neurology – $280,000
  • Ob/Gyn – $308,000
  • Oncology – $377,000
  • Ophthalmology – $378,000
  • Orthopedics – $511,000
  • Otolaryngology – $455,000
  • Pathology – $318,000
  • Pediatrics – $232,000
  • Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation – $308,000
  • Plastic Surgery – $479,000
  • Psychiatry – $268,000
  • Public Health & Preventive Medicine – $232,000
  • Pulmonary Medicine – $342,000
  • Radiology – $427,000
  • Rheumatology – $262,000
  • Surgery, General – $364,000
  • Urology – $417,000

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a physician, download the free guidebook: The Pre-Med Journey: What it Takes to Get into Medical School.