June 21, 2024

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Highest and Lowest Physician Salaries by Specialty

3 min read
A surgeon stands ready in an operating room

Medscape’s latest Physician Compensation Report comprises survey responses from 7,000 physicians across 29 specialties.

Physicians’ compensation in the United States rose by around 3% compared to last year. While primary care physicians (PCPs) saw an average 4% rise, specialists are earning around 44% more on average than PCPs.

Still, financial concerns such as inflation and salary disparities continue to affect physicians.

Medscape calculated compensation rates using physician’s full-time salaries, bonuses, and profit-sharing income. Self-employed physicians were included based on their earnings after taxes and deductible expenses.

Based on these measures, physicians in the following specialties had the highest average compensation:

    Specialty Annual Compensation Vs. 2023
    1 Orthopedics and orthopedic surgery $558,000 -10%
    2 Plastic surgery $536,000 -6%
    3 Cardiology $525,000 +4%
    4 Urology $515,000 +2%
    5 Gastroenterology $512,000 +2%
    6 Radiology $498,000 +3%
    7 Dermatology $479,000 +5%
    8 Anesthesiology $472,000 +5%
    9 Oncology and hematology $464,000 +0.2%
    10 Otolaryngology $459,000 -5%

    Orthopedics and plastic surgery top the list of highest earners for a fifth year. High incentive bonuses helped boost orthopedic surgeons’ income in 2024. According to Medscape, rising demands for cosmetic surgery also keeps plastic surgeons toward the top of the list.

    However, orthopedic specialists and plastic surgeons experienced an average salary decrease compared to the previous year.

    The 10 lowest-paid specialties

    According to the survey, physicians in the following specialties had the lowest average compensation:

    Specialty Annual Compensation Vs. 2023
    1 Diabetes and endocrinology $256,000 -4%
    2 Pediatrics $260,000 +4%
    3 Infectious diseases $261,000 -0.4%
    4 Public health and preventive medicine $263,000 +5%
    5 Family medicine $272,000 +7%
    6 Internal medicine $282,000 +3%
    7 Rheumatology $286,000 +2%
    8 Allergy and immunology $307,000 +9%
    9 Psychiatry $323,000 +5%
    10 Physical medicine and rehabilitation $341,000 +11%

    Salary satisfaction for physicians

    Despite some specialties seeing a pay increase, 61% of physicians surveyed agreed that, overall, most physicians are underpaid. When asked whether their own personal pay rates felt fair to them considering work demands, 51% of physicians answered “no.”

    Around 35% to 38% of physicians also reported taking on extra work outside of their principal jobs.

    Results from the study suggest that the specialists who tend to feel happiest about their compensation were not necessarily the highest earners overall. The specialists who felt the happiest on average about their pay were:

    • public health and preventive medicine physicians
    • dermatologists 
    • psychiatrists 
    • oncologists 
    • neurologists 

    Medscape suggests that satisfaction surrounding physician pay may depend on personal perspectives. While some physicians feel fortunate to be paid what they are for their work, others feel that their salaries aren’t keeping up with rising costs.

    Pay gaps in physician salaries

    Based on Medscape’s results, male physicians make 29% more than their female counterparts on average when working full-time in the USA.

    The gap between male and female primary care physician salaries was around 17%, a slight improvement from 2023’s 19% pay gap.

    However, male specialists earned around 31% more than female specialists this year, compared to 27% more in 2023’s survey.

    Race and ethnicity pay gaps also persist, with white physicians earning more than:

    • Asian American physicians
    • Latinx or Hispanic physicians
    • African American or Black physicians

    Pay disparities affecting Latinx and Hispanic physicians and Asian American physicians stayed at a similar level compared to 2023. Meanwhile, compensation rates and pay gaps seem to be improving more quickly for African American and Black physicians.

    Physician salaries continue to rise, with orthopedic specialists, plastic surgeons, and cardiologists currently outearning other specialties in 2024.

    Some physicians feel satisfied with their earnings, while others report challenges such as work demands and rising costs contributing to pay dissatisfaction.

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