According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 816,900 Americans were working as physicians or surgeons as of May 2022. In 2022, the median annual wage for physicians and surgeons was $229,300, according to the BLS. This was nearly five times more than America's general median wage, which was $46,310.
The work is intense, but the professions are growing. The BLS estimates 24,200 new physician and surgeon jobs will open each year over the next decade as population growth, an aging population, increasing rates of chronic illnesses, and retirement create added demand for doctors. But the investment in training and time has a solid return; while salaries do vary by location and specialty, physicians are some of the most well-compensated healthcare practitioners, and the highest-earning Americans in general.
How does doctor pay compare to that of other medical professions?
There’s a difference between what physicians and surgeons can expect to earn and the average wage for non-physician healthcare practitioners, which includes dentists, therapists, and nurses. This larger group of occupations earns a median annual wage of $106,230, less than half that of physicians and surgeons.
About a third of this group non-physician healthcare practitioners (3,072,700) are registered nurses who make a median annual salary of $81,220. (The highest-paid 10% of registered nurses earn $129,400 annually, while the lowest-paid 10% average $61,250.)
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Which specialties are the highest-earning?
The BLS identifies 17 specialties among physicians and surgeons, from orthopedic surgery to neurology to pediatrics. Among all specialties, cardiologists have the highest average annual wage of $421,330, followed by non-pediatric orthopedic surgeons ($371,400) and pediatric surgeons ($362,970).
The BLS does not publish median annual wages above $239,200, so average wages are used to demonstrate specific earnings for many of these professions.
Among physicians and surgeons, pediatricians ($203,240), family medicine physicians ($224,460), and general internal medicine physicians ($225,270) have average yearly earnings below the median for all doctors. But even the lowest-paid physicians and surgeons still make more than twice what non-physician practitioners make.
How do doctors’ wages vary nationwide?
Physicians and surgeons are some of the most well-compensated occupations in the country, but salaries do vary between states. Across the 17 specialties BLS tracks, the highest and lowest average wages can vary by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In four states, physician and surgeon salaries top $500,000 a year. The highest-paid specialists are non-pediatric orthopedic surgeons in Hawaii, with an average yearly wage of $554,520. Specialties in three other states also cleared $500,000: general surgeons in Louisiana ($534,920), cardiologists in Idaho ($521,690), and dermatologists in Minnesota ($514,330).
Three states — Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin — pay the highest annual average wages to at least two different specialties.
Where do they make the least?
West Virginia pays the lowest annual average wages to four specialties: general internal medicine physicians, non-pediatric orthopedic surgeons, pathologists, and neurologists. West Virginia neurologists have the lowest average annual wage of any specialty in the country, $89,600. Oklahoma and Nebraska also have the lowest average annual salaries for multiple specialties.
The BLS also tracks wages in US territories. Physicians and surgeons in five specialties — family medicine physicians, general internal medicine physicians, general pediatricians, obstetricians and gynecologists, and physicians not listed separately among BLS categories — are paid lower wages in Puerto Rico than in any US state.
Despite disparities in salary across states and specialties, physicians and surgeons' high earning potential means that the investment required to enter these professions — the time, expense, and energy — remains an attractive trade.