The Highest Paid MD Specialties

Nancy Burgess

In general, physicians report that they are earning less and worrying more than they have in the past.

A surgeon in his O.R.

Physicians are well paid, whether they are in a private practice or employed directly by a major hospital or healthcare system. Doctors are earning some of the highest medical profession salaries in the past twenty years.

There is one qualification to this salary discussion. In general, physicians report that they are earning less and worrying more than they have in the past.

According to a recent survey, 46 percent of practicing physicians report that, given the choice to reselect a career path, they would not choose to be a doctor.

Why Worry?

There are many issues that cause physicians anxiety:

  • Declining annual income due to health insurance reimbursement changes
  • Resentment towards physicians in other specialties who earn a higher annual salary
  • Changing government regulations that mandate how a medical practice operates
  • Increased mandatory documentation to insure the maximum health insurance reimbursement
  • Reduced fulfillment in practicing medicine due to the evolving regulations and accountability at all levels of the healthcare system

In this legally conscious healthcare climate, physicians must practice defensive medicine, according to the popular medical information website, WebMD, in order to avoid malpractice lawsuits. The looming potential of a medical malpractice lawsuit is on the mind of physicians with every patient for whom they care.

A Quick Glance from the Top

These salaries are based upon 2011 earnings as reported by the Medical Group Management Association, a professional association for healthcare administrators and medical practice managers.

In descending order of maximum salary compensation, here are the top-paying physician specialties:

  • Orthopedic surgery, specializing in spine, joint replacement, trauma, sports medicine, general orthopedics, pediatrics, hand or foot and ankle: $469,000-$714,000
  • Neurological surgery: $702,000
  • Cardiovascular surgery: $681,000
  • Neurological surgery, specifically pediatric: $656,000
  • Cardiology, specifically electrophysiology, invasive-interventional or invasive cardiology: $314,000-$601,000
  • Dermatology, specifically general dermatology or Mohs surgery: $283,000-$586,000
  • Surgery: cardiovascular, pediatric, thoracic or plastic surgery $270,000-$567,000
  • Radiology, specifically diagnostic-invasive, diagnostic-noninvasive or radiation oncology: $315,000-$513,000
  • Anesthesiology, specifically pain management and pediatrics: $482,000-$502,000
  • Obstetrics and gynecology, specifically maternal and fetal medicine: $473,000
  • Urology: $461,000

It is important to note that orthopedic surgeons dominate many of the top salary slots. They are ranked according to a precise area of expertise like spine, joint replacement, trauma, sports medicine, general orthopedics or pediatrics.

Cardiology is another specialty in which an area of expertise like electrophysiology, invasive interventional cardiology, cardiovascular surgery or invasive cardiology positively influences a physician’s salary.

Entering the Profession

The fact that a large majority of medical students are choosing a medical or surgical specialty has created a shortage of primary and family practice physicians across the U.S. This is a change from the 1990s, when primary care medicine was the most popular residency. This is an evolving concern in the healthcare profession and a subject for further discussion.

The educational pathway to become a doctor takes over ten years, depending upon the selected specialty. It is important to have a focused goal and to be aware of the projected healthcare trends before committing to a specialty. While the bottom line salary should not be the determining factor for a physician’s specialty, it certainly helps to be aware of the earning potential.