How Much Do Doctors Make?

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If you’re like many doctors, your paycheck doesn’t have quite as many zeros on it as you’d hoped when you started med school. According to Medical Economics, average physician salaries are declining. It’s a trend that will likely continue.

And yet, doctors aren’t going to get a lot of sympathy from the average American. Doctors still account for the majority of six-figure positions in the U.S.

The chart below shows the average pay for family physicians, including bonuses and profit sharing:

Average pay for family physicians

Average pay for family physicians (Source)

But what those figures don’t show is that for many of you, especially young physicians, your minimum student loan payments are so high that even with a higher-than-average salary, you’re still barely breaking even.

But enough with the generalities. Exactly how much do doctors make?

10 surprising stats about how much doctors make

Let’s break it down. First, I want to share some stats that may surprise you:

Infographic: How Much Do Doctors Make?

Now let’s explore the trends impacting doctor take-home pay.

Trend 1: Medical school is getting more expensive

No one needs to tell you medical school is expensive. Tuition and fees for the 2016-2017 school year ranged from $19,650 (Baylor University) to $87,152 (Michigan State University) per year for schools in the U.S. News and World Report 2018 Best Medical Schools research and primary care rankings.

The average medical school graduate carried $183,000 in debt across the stage with them in 2015 according to The Association of American Medical Colleges. Add that burden to their average undergraduate debt ($24,000) and the total average student loan balance for a doctor is $207,000.

That number is no doubt higher today as undergraduate tuition rate increases vastly outpace inflation every year.

The skyrocketing cost of attending college

Tuition costs (Source)

In recent years it’s become more and more expensive to become a doctor. Assuming it takes you 30 years to repay your student debt at a 7.5% interest rate, in the end that credential will actually cost you $419,738.

CBS News points out that it also takes at least 11 years (and for some specialties 14 years) to become a physician. So while the typical doctor earns six figures, they don’t earn anything close to a full-time salary until after the typical college graduate has been making money for a decade.

Assuming just a $50,000 annual salary, doctors forego half a million dollars by going to graduate school and doing their residency.

Trend 2: Increasing demand for physicians

As the U.S. population ages and demand for healthcare increases, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for physicians and surgeons is only going up.

Bureau of Labor and Statistics: Number of Older Americans 1960-2040

The U.S. population is aging (Source)

The BLS projects that between 2016 and 2026, the number of new jobs for physicians and surgeons will increase by 15%, which is much faster than the average growth rate for new jobs in other fields.

Trend 3: Salaries are getting cut

Primary care physicians earn only slightly more than their debt. Annual median pay for physicians and surgeons is around $187,000.

One study found that physicians who go into internal medicine are the least satisfied with their jobs. Internists work an average of 54 hours per week, see two patients every hour, and spend 23% of their work day completing paperwork. One-fifth of internists have seen their pay decrease since they began practicing. When asked if they would choose the same specialty if they had to do it over again, only 19% said yes. Two-thirds said they wouldn’t go into medicine at all.

One more thing to consider: Specialty matters

Your choice of specialty has a big impact both on your salary and your job satisfaction.

How much do physicians earn overall?

How much do physicians earn overall? (Source)

The best-paid doctors are orthopedic surgeons, who take home an average of $443,000 annually.

Despite their lower pay, neurologists are the most satisfied—66% say they’d choose the same specialty, and 53% say they’d go into medicine again. They earn an average of $241,000, while working an average of 55 hours per week.

Radiologists are the most likely to have had a pay cut, with almost half reporting a decline in salary in the past six years. However, radiologists are still among the best-paid doctors, earning an average of $375,000. More than half would choose to be a doctor and choose the same specialty again.

Emergency doctors are least likely to have had their salary slashed, with just 19% having suffered a cut within the last six years. They earn an average of $322,000. However, only 41% of emergency doctors say they would go into medicine or emergency medical care again.

So, how does your salary stack up?

Are you earning the average for your specialty? Have you seen your pay go down in recent years? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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About the Author

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Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.

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Almost everyone in a vast number of industries talk about the good old days. Medicine is no different. New people coming into the field do not know about the way things were a long time ago in medicine, technology, banking, etc. Becoming a doctor is still one of the few ways to have a promising career while earning 6 figures without having to climb the corporate ladder before earning good money and an upper middle class to wealthy lifestyle.

This was a good article but it could have offered more information on the malpractice insurance doctors are expected to pay. Many people want to know what is the annual take home pay for a doctor after malpractice insurance. Lastly, it would also be good to share with readers what fields doctors would select if they had a chance to start all over and would not select medicine.

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Good analysis Cathy. You showed a clear pictures specially for young Doctors who just started careers in the medical world. Given the cost of a medical education is high and climbing, it’s probably not surprising to learn that many physicians borrow a lot of money to finance their education. Physician pay is high and varies widely by specialty and that likely attracts many people to study medicine.

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Nice article but it fails to point out that you will have to work for someone seeing an enormous amount of patients per day for average pay. You may think you will be able to open your own practice someday but unless you are a large group, the insurance companies will not allow you to join their network of physicians. If you can’t get on these networks, you wont have patients, period. The only insurance you will be able to take is Medicare but most Medicare plans have been replaced by Medicare Advantage and HMO’s for which the doctor must be “in network”. So after you pay your student loan for the month and your medical malpractice insurance, license fees, continuing medical education requirements (around $2000/year) and taxes, you’ll be lucky to be able to pay your apartment rent. Medicare also micro-manages everything you must do to receive the smallest of payment for your services and it reads like the tax code. As soon as you think you are getting the hang of it, they change it. So don’t be surprised if 1/3rd of your claims are denied . I love the reward of knowing I truly made a difference in someones life but would not do it again because there is never any financial peace of mind or work/life balance.. Remember it is not what you bring in, it is what you bring in after overhead, and the latter is hefty! You will be doing paperwork on the weekends and evenings to keep up with the never-ending government requirements and patient notes. If you really want to be a doctor and don’t mind working for someone else for 20 years you might be happy . Doctor pay has plummeted while overhead has sky rocketed. Just do it for the humanitarian rewards, because it certainly will not be a monetary one for a very, very long time. Talk to more doctors before taking the leap and make sure they are ones that have been practicing for 5 years or less. Those who got in early, are doing much better due to conditions that existed prior to managed care.

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