Health care is a lucrative field, but some health care jobs pay much more than others. To command the highest earning potential in the medical fields, you will need to become a doctor.
How much does a surgeon make a year? The highest-paid doctors – most of whom are surgeons – earn as much as $600,000 to $700,000 or more per year. Doctors’ earnings depend on the medical specialty they practice.
The Average Salary of a Doctor
No one ever said becoming a doctor was easy. Medical school is competitive, rigorous and expensive. The training takes persistence. Even well into your career as a doctor, the work continues to be strenuous and demanding. Physicians and surgeons often work schedules with long, unpredictable hours. They may also work on-call.
Of course, there are upsides, too. The hard work yields a high-paying career – and the opportunity to provide hope and healing to patients of all ages.
If you’re going to invest time, effort and money to earn your medical degree, then you want your medical career to be rewarding enough – financially and otherwise – to make your work worthwhile.
For all types of physicians and surgeons, the median annual salary as of 2022 amounted to $229,300, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Many of the most popular and recognizable doctor specialties paid well above this amount, including:
- Orthopedic surgeons
- Emergency medicine physicians
For all of these medical specialties, the median wage reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics equaled or exceeded $239,200 in 2022.
Becoming a doctor requires going to medical school. In the United States, accredited medical schools award either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. Although MD-granting schools are more common, graduates from DO-granting medical schools are equally qualified.
If you’re concerned about a possible difference in MD vs DO salary, you should know that the type of medical degree alone has little direct impact on earnings. Doctors with both qualifications earn comparable salaries when adjusted for specialty and geographic location. MDs are generally more likely to pursue medical specialties that pay higher salaries. On the other hand, DOs tend to gravitate more toward family medicine and primary care. However, an MD who goes into family medicine generally earns the same as a DO in this field. A DO who undergoes the extra training to work in a high-paying specialty can make just as much money as their peers with MDs.
Within the field of medicine, doctors’ earnings vary substantially from one specialty to the next. In its 2023 Physician Compensation Report, Medscape concluded that specialists earned more than $117,000 per year above what primary care physicians made. Primary physicians reported earnings of $265,000, Medscape reported. For specialists, the average earnings amounted to $382,000. Specialists’ current average earnings represent a significant increase from the $284,000 per year on average salary Medscape reported in 2015.
The Highest-Paid Medical Specialties
Beyond the distinction between primary physician and specialist earnings, the biggest factor in how much doctors make is what specialty they practice.
Which are the highest-paying medical specialties? Our list of the top 15 highest-paying medical specialties draws upon current physician compensation data. Below, we delve into the data to identify which specialties pay the most money – and what to expect working in them.
Neurosurgery is the highest-paid specialty in the medical profession. Neurosurgeons aren’t just the highest-paid surgeons in the United States. They’re the highest-paid medical specialty, period. Their average earnings topped $700,000 per year in 2023.
Neurosurgeons diagnose and treat patients suffering from brain-related illness or injury. As such, neurosurgeons must have experience and expertise with the brain, spine, spinal cord and nervous system. Within this medical specialty, neurosurgeons can specialize in adult or infant and child treatment.
The work neurosurgeons do includes:
- Performing spinal surgery and brain surgery
- Removing tumors
- Caring for brain and spine infections and injuries
- Treating strokes and degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease
- Diagnosing and treating chronic pain, seizures and epilepsy
- Interpreting radiological studies
So, how much does the highest-paid doctor make? In its 2023 Physician Compensation Report, the professional medical network Doximity reported an average annual compensation amount of $788,313 for the specialty of neurosurgery.
Salary.com listed the average salary for this specialty as $666,401 in September 2023. The salary range for the neurosurgeons, Salary.com reported, was between $501,801 and $843,301.
Neurosurgery impacts the life of a patient because the nervous system affects all areas of the body. Though the training is extensive, a neurosurgeon provides a significant contribution to the medical field.
What they do: Brain, spine and nervous system surgery
Annual earnings: $788,313
Training: 1 year internship in general surgery, 5-7 years in neurosurgery residency program
2. Thoracic Surgery
Thoracic surgeon is another of the highest-paying medical jobs. Thoracic surgeons perform chest surgery. Though both open and minimally invasive techniques, they perform procedures such as:
- Tracheal resection
- Transthoracic esophagectomy
- Lung tumor removal
- Surgical repair of thoracic aortic aneurysm
- Heart valve repair
For the specialty of thoracic surgery, Doximity reported a 2022 average compensation amount of $706,775.
What they do: Chest surgery
Annual earnings: $706,775
Training: 5 years of general surgery, 2-3 years of specialized cardiothoracic surgery residency
3. Orthopedic Surgery
Orthopedic surgeons are another of the highest-paying doctors out there.
These surgeons treat injuries of the musculoskeletal system. Treating the musculoskeletal system means working on the spine, extremities and related structures.
Orthopedic surgeons treat:
- Patients who suffered injuries in a trauma
- Congenital (from birth) conditions
- Degenerative (progressive) diseases
Even within the specialty of orthopedic surgery, there are numerous subspecialties. Some orthopedic surgeons work exclusively on procedures on the hand or foot and ankle. They may also focus on a particular type of condition, like cancer (oncology) or sports injuries (sports medicine).
Some of the specific work orthopedic surgeons perform includes:
- Setting broken bones
- Replacing damaged joints
- Repairing injured tendons
- Surgically removing tumors
Doximity’s report put the average annual compensation for orthopedic surgery at $624,043 for 2022. Salary.com reported a national average salary of $532,770 as of September 2023, listing a salary range between $418,850 and $689,230. Different sources cite different earnings for the specialty, but it consistently ranks high on the list.
What They Do: Surgical procedures on the musculoskeletal system
Annual Earnings: $624,043
Training: 5 years
4. Plastic/ Reconstructive Surgery
lastic surgeons are the physicians who devote their careers to medical aesthetics and reconstruction. These are also some of the highest-paying medical jobs.
Plastic surgeons may work on virtually any visual body part. The medical procedures they perform may seek to improve or alter aspects of a patient’s body like the following:
- The appearance of the skin
- The shape of the torso, breasts, and limbs
- External reproductive structures
The goal of cosmetic surgery is often to enhance the aesthetic appearance of the body. Some plastic surgery procedures are reconstructive. Through these procedures, plastic surgeons seek to repair damage done by an injury, congenital defects or disease. This damage may affects function as well as appearance. As such, plastic surgery may have functional as well as aesthetic effects on patients’ lives.
To achieve the appearance improvements desired by their patients, plastic surgeons use methods such as:
- Skin grafts
- Liposuction techniques
- Tissue transfers
As with other specialties, plastic surgery includes subspecialties. Examples of plastic surgery subspecialties include surgery on the head and face (craniofacial surgery) and plastic surgery treatments for serious burns.
The average plastic surgeon salary Doximity reported for 2022 amounted to $571,373. Salary.com reported a national average of $430,139 in September 202. The salary range for plastic surgeons, Salary.com reported, was between $359,592 and $533,755.
What They Do: Cosmetic procedures
Annual Earnings: $571,373
Training: 2 years
5. Vascular Surgery
Another of the best-paying specialty healthcare fields is vascular surgery. Vascular surgery is a specialty that encompasses surgery and other forms of treatment of disease of the veins and arteries. Vascular surgeons use minimally-invasive procedures and non-surgical methods of treating these disorders as well as more invasive methods of surgery. Types of procedures vascular surgeons perform include:
- Varicose vein treatment (surgical and non-surgical)
- Lower limb revascularization
- Carotid artery surgery
- Angioplasty and other stenting procedures
For the specialty of vascular surgery, Doximity reported a 2022 annual compensation amount of $557,632.
What they do: Treatment of and surgery on the veins
Annual earnings: $557,632
Training: 6-7 years of general surgery and vascular surgery training
6. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Another of the best-paying jobs in health care is oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform surgical procedures in the area of the jaw, mouth and face. Surgically removing impacted wisdom teeth is one routine procedure oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform. These medical doctors also perform oral reconstructive surgery for patients who have suffered facial trauma. They may insert dental implants, treat misaligned jaws and surgically repair cleft lip and cleft palate.
The average annual compensation for the specialty of oral and maxillofacial surgery was $556,642 in 2022, Doximity reported.
What they do: Dental surgery
Annual earnings: $556,642
Training: At least 4 years
7. Radiation Oncology
Radiation oncology is another of the best-paying health care jobs. Oncology is the field of medicine that refers to the treatment of cancer. Radiation oncology is a medical specialty that treats cancer through the use of ionizing radiation technology. Radiation oncologists play a part in creating treatment plans for cancer patients. They oversee the radiation treatments and assess the progress of radiation treatments on cancer.
Doximity reported an average annual compensation amount of $547,026 for the radiation oncology profession as of 2022.
What they do: Treat cancer with radiation therapy
Annual earnings: $547,026
Training: 5 years, including 4 years of specialized training in radiation oncology
If you don’t mind the pressure of holding a patient’s heart in your hands, consider another of the highest-paying medical jobs: cardiology.
Cardiologists specialize in heart health. They assess heart function and cardiovascular health through blood flow, blood pressure and other health indicators. The work cardiologists do include:
- Ordering diagnostic tests
- Performing procedures
- Prescribing medication to improve suboptimal heart health
These doctors may work with patients who are in the advanced stages of heart failure. Some of their patients may need transplants. Invasive cardiologists are surgeons who carry out procedures such as repairing damaged heart valves, inserting pacemakers or defibrillators and performing heart bypass operations.
As a whole, the specialty of cardiology reported an average compensation amount of $544,201 in 2022, according to Doximity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the median earnings for cardiologists at $421,330 as of 2022.
Cardiology in general is a rewarding career choice, but one subspecialty is particularly lucrative. Invasive cardiologists earned $611,000 per year as of 2021, Becker’s ASC Review reported. Those earnings eclipsed the average salary for noninvasive cardiologists – $446,000 – by $165,000.
What They Do: Heart health and surgery
Annual Earnings: $544,201
Training: 1 year of subspecialty training on top of 3 years of general cardiology training
Next on our list of high-paying medical jobs is urologist. Urology is the medical specialty that focuses on the health of the urinary tract of any gender and the reproductive system of male patients.
Several organs and structures fall under the domain of urologists. These organs include the:
- Male genitals
Urologists diagnose and treat:
- Urinary tract and bladder infections
- Difficulty urinating
- Kidney stones
- Enlarged prostate
- Male infertility
The field of urology paid an average annual compensation amount of $505,745, Doximity’s 2023 report concluded. Salary.com reported a national average salary of $413,880 for urologists, with a salary range between $363,220 and $482,710.
What They Do: Urinary tract
Annual Earnings: $505,745
Training: 5 years
Radiology is another of the best-paying health care jobs. This medical specialty revolves around the use of nuclear radiation for medical purposes. Applications of radiology range from diagnostic tests to radiation treatments. Radiologists work in hospitals, imaging facilities and other healthcare settings.
Diagnostic radiologists read and interpret diagnostic imaging tests such as:
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs)
Radiologists may also serve interventional roles. For example, they may facilitate image-guided therapy and administer radiation to cancer patients.
Often, radiologists specialize in imaging different regions of the body. Examples include specializing in chest and cardiac imaging, abdominal imaging and performing mammograms to screen for breast cancer.
For the medical specialty of radiology, Doximity reported an average compensation of $503,564 for 2022. The average salary for this medical doctor according to Salary.com was $452,890. The salary range stretched from $393,790 to $523,890.
What They Do: Diagnostic testing and radiation treatments
Annual Earnings: $503,564
Training: 5 years
Another of the highest-paying medical specialties in the healthcare industry is gastroenterology.
Gastroenterologists treat disorders that occur in every part of the digestive system. Their area of focus includes the:
- Other organs in the abdominal cavity
As part of the specialty of internal medicine, gastroenterology focuses on diagnosing and treating conditions like:
- Acid reflux
These specialists play a role in preventing and diagnosing cancers of the digestive organs, including esophageal and colon cancer. Gastroenterologists perform minimally invasive procedures and diagnostic tests like endoscopies, which allow doctors to see inside the gastrointestinal organs.
The average compensation for the gastroenterology medical specialty amounted to $496,667 in 2022, according to Doximity. From Salary.com, the average gastroenterologist salary was $414,300 in September 2023, with the larger salary range between $349,800 and $489,200.
What They Do: Digestive health
Annual Earnings: $496,667
Training: 3 years of subspecialty training on top of 3 years of internal medicine training
12. Otolaryngology (ENT)
Of all the well-paying medical jobs in the healthcare industry, otolaryngology may be among the biggest mouthfuls to say aloud. This medical specialtiy is better known by the abbreviation ENT, for ear, nose and throat. ENTs provide medical and surgical care of the head and neck. Medical conditions an ENT might address include:
- Hearing disorders
- Speech disorders
- Swallowing disorders
- Breathing disorders
- Sinus disorders
For the field of otolaryngology, Doximity reported a 2022 average compensation amount of $488,536 per year.
What they do: Ear, nose and throat medicine and surgery
Annual earnings: $488,536
Training: 5 years, including 1 year of surgical training and 3 years of general otolaryngology training
One of the best-paying jobs in health care is dermatologist. A dermatologist is the medical doctor who diagnoses and treats skin disorders of all kinds, from acne to cancer. As the largest organ of the body, it’s no wonder skin gets its own specialist.
Dermatologists perform routine skin examinations to screen for signs of melanoma or other forms of skin cancer. During these exams, they track any changes in the appearance or location of moles.
Another job duty for dermatologists is performing diagnostic tests like biopsies on unusual skin conditions and changes. Dermatologists treat skin allergies, infections, eczema and other conditions. Many dermatologists also perform cosmetic procedures. These cosmetic procedures range from laser surgery and excisions of unwanted skin conditions and markings to liposuction, chemical peels and injections of dermal fillers like Botox.
The average compensation Doximity reported for the specialty of dermatology for 2022 was $468,509 per year. That’s well above the $327,650 average salary the BLS listed based on 2022 data.
What They Do: Skin health
Annual Earnings: $468,509
Training: 4 years
Anesthesiologists are the doctors responsible for keeping patients pain-free, sedated or unconscious during surgical procedures. The important job comes with a great deal of responsibility and a high earning potential that makes anesthesiologist one of the highest-paying jobs in the health care industry.
Though not surgeons themselves, anesthesiologists work primarily with patients undergoing surgery. They prepare the patient for diagnostic procedures and operations that would be painful or uncomfortable by administering anesthetics. Anesthetics are pain relief medications.
During surgery, anesthesiologists observe the patient for any signs of pain or stress and adjust pain medications accordingly. They pay attention to indicators like the patient’s:
- Blood pressure
- Body temperature
- Other vital signs
Anesthesiologists also monitor patients after surgery and contribute to postoperative care.
Outside of surgical applications, anesthesiologists also use their expertise in pain medications to help patients find effective and safe pain relief. The patients to whom anesthesiologists provide services include:
- Patients suffering from chronic pain
- Patients in the intensive care unit (ICU)
- Mothers going through childbirth
According to Doximity, the anesthesiology profession reported an average compensation amount of $462,506 per year for 2022. Salary.com reported an average salary of $424,600 for the profession in September 2023, with a salary range between $367,900 and $481,400.
What They Do: Pain relief during surgery
Annual Earnings: $462,506
Training: 4 years
15. General Surgery
Many of the specialties on our list of high-paying medical jobs are, well, highly specialized. Prospective doctors may be wondering “How much does a general surgeon make?”
General surgery rounds out the top 15 highest-paying medical specialties. Many other specialties – including some among the highest-paying, like orthopedic surgery and invasive cardiology – practice surgery. These surgeons are not general surgeons, however.
A doctor who specializes in general surgery has a broad base of knowledge. This knowledge allows them to treat a wide range of medical conditions through operations with specialized tools.
Most general surgeons perform procedures that involve the skin, neck, breasts, abdomen and arteries. Typically, general surgeons refer patients with orthopedic, neurologic, cardiac and similar conditions to surgeons in the appropriate specialties. General surgeons work with their patients throughout the surgical process, from diagnosing the medical condition that requires surgery and prepping them for the procedure to providing postoperative care.
So, how much do general surgeons make? Doximity put their average compensation at $451,489 per year for 2022.
What They Do: Operations
Annual Earnings: $451,489
Training: 5 years
The Medical Specialty With the Highest Compensation Growth: Emergency Medicine Physician
For emergency medicine physicians, Doximity reported a 2022 average compensation amount of $385,554. Although this income isn’t enough to rank emergency medicine among the highest-paying specialties, it does represent a 6.2% growth in compensation compared to 2021, which marks it as the specialty with the greatest compensation growth.
Emergency medicine is what it sounds like – the specialty that focuses on caring for and stabilizing patients during medical emergencies.
In a medical emergency, doctors have to act fast. Making the wrong decision could endanger the patient’s life or leave them with permanent disabilities, but so could waiting too long to take action. Specialists in emergency medicine work in both emergency departments and pre-hospital settings to recognize and treat acute diseases and severe injuries. Quick and accurate decision-making is essential to saving the lives of emergency patients. These physicians need a strong background in clinical and technical skills and a breadth of medical knowledge to draw from when evaluating patients and planning patient care.
What They Do: Emergency care
Annual Earnings: $345,000
Training: 3 years
The Highest-Paying Jobs in Health Care Without a Medical Doctorate
Doctors are the health care professionals with the highest earnings. However, there are plenty of other high-paying jobs in the health care industry for those who don’t want to invest the time and money into medical school. Some of the best-paying health care jobs without an MD or DO degree include the following.
Advanced Practice Nurse
One of the best-paying health care jobs is advanced practice registered nurse. Advanced practice registered nurses have a master’s degree and advanced training. This education and clinical training qualifies advanced practice registered nurses to provide primary and specialty healthcare, prescribe medications and make diagnoses.
Types of advanced practice registered nurses include:
- Nurse practitioners in a variety of medical specialties
- Nurse midwives
- Nurse anesthetists
The median salary for an advanced practice registered nurse was $125,900 in 2022, the BLS reported. Nurse anesthetist was the highest-paid APRN role, with a median wage of $203,090. For nurse practitioner, the median salary was $121,610. Nurse midwives earned a median wage of $120,880.
Physician assistant is another of the best-paid jobs in health care. Physician assistants, or PAs, provide direct care to patients in clinical settings. They can prescribe medications, order tests and diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. Physician assistants work under the supervision of a fully credentialed and licensed doctor who has a doctorate in either allopathic or osteopathic medicine.
Like nurse practitioners, physician assistants can qualify for the position with only a master’s degree. A physician assistant can also choose to work in one of any number of medical specialties.
The median annual salary the BLS reported for physician assistant in 2022 was $126,010
Another of the best-paying health care jobs is physical therapist. These health care professionals provide therapy to improve patients’ physical strength, range of mobility and function. Over time, physical therapy can also reduce or alleviate pain that accompanies movement.
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Some of the methods physical therapists use include:
- Hands-on therapy
- Use of mobility aids and other equipment
A physical therapist needs a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, as well as a license to practice.
The median salary the BLS reported for the physical therapist occupation in 2022 was $97,720. Physical therapists in the home healthcare services industry made the most, with a median salary of $105,130. Nursing homes and hospitals are other environments where a physical therapy career paid a median wage above $100,000. The near six-figure median salary makes this one of the best-paid jobs in health care.
Like physical therapists, occupational therapists are healthcare professionals whose work allows patients to live fuller and healthier lives. This is another of the medical jobs in the healthcare industry that you can earn with a master’s degree. An occupational therapist helps people with injuries, illnesses or disabilities develop the skills they need for day-to-day tasks of living and working.
Occupational therapy encompasses exercises through which patients can gain and strengthen skills. Occupational therapists also teach patients workarounds, like using eating and mobility aids and implementing labeling systems, that allow them to cope with physical or cognitive limitations. Some of the patient populations that can benefit from occupational therapy include:
- People with cognitive and developmental disabilities
- Survivors of traumatic brain injuries, strokes and spinal cord injuries
- People with chronic disabilities or medical conditions
- Elderly patients with dementia
The median wage for the occupational therapist as of 2022 was $93,180, the BLS reported.
Editor’s Note: The earnings, training requirements and responsibilities listed in this article are meant as a guide only for aspiring doctors to do their own research into the medical specialties that interest them. As noted in the article, even credible publications may report vastly different wages for physicians of the same specialties. Training information presented in this article comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges, does not include time spent in medical earning an MD or DO and is subject to change.
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