Doctor salaries span a wide range depending on the specialty, work hours, and ancillary sources of income generated. It is unfortunate that many of us in the lower end of the income spectrum command less than many other professions with less involved training and risk. Many doctors actually make their career decision from limited financial knowledge or an adequate understanding of the financial consequences of their decisions. While you probably shouldn’t choose your career or specialty based on money alone, it is good to understand where the ranges are. Furthermore, realize that choosing a medical specialty isn’t as easy as picking an ice cream flavor either. Becoming a neurosurgeon is MUCH more difficult than becoming a family practitioner, no matter how you spin the argument. If you know of someone who ended up choosing family medicine over neurosurgery, please let me know.
Below is a list of various levels of physician income, with running commentary:
Many physicians in this income range are in the charity field, some of whom are working at nonprofit centers or abroad in international hospitals. Those doctors who I’ve known in this income level working at nonprofits full time all have a compassion for helping others at a different degree than most of us mere mortals. A few that I know are also crazily independently wealthy (think private jets, boarding schools during childhood, multiple generations of wealth).
Most other physicians in this income range are likely working part-time. They may have spouses who are the primary breadwinners and are working to maintain their clinical skills. I once met an ophthalmologist working 3 days a week earning less than $100,000. Ouch.
$100,001 – $200,000
A large portion of all physicians have belonged and are in this salary range. Many internists and specialists within their first five years of practice also fall in this range. The unfortunate aspect of doctors who remain in this income level their entire careers is that other jobs that required much less education and stress command a similar salary. Think physician assistants, dentists, optometrists, financial advisors…etc.
$200,001 – $300,000
You are now entering an upper tier of income compared to the general professional population. The majority of doctors are in this salary range. You make good money, but you do work hard. There is no free lunch in this world. You also fall into a high income tax bracket and get hit by taxes at higher levels. This is also a generous income level to have a relatively luxurious doctor lifestyle if you are single, and nearing that if you have a family.
$300,001 – $450,000
I would expect doctors in this income range to be busy. Think ER doctors, ENTs, cardiologists, dermatologists and surgeons to be in this range. These are typically procedural specialties that can generate relatively high RVUs. This is a good income for anybody, and as long as you don’t go crazy with your expenditures, you should be able to live comfortably.
$450,001 – $600,000
You are in the upper echelon of earning potential. Trauma surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and vascular surgeons typically fall into this range. Other specialists who have vested options in real estate or ancillary income streams (read: medical supplies) will also fall into this income range.
Any of the aforementioned specialties can have income in this range as well, depending on how fortunate and busy your referral stream is. Doctors I know in this income range tend to forget to pay their bills because they are so busy. I’ve seen doctors whose nonworking spouses and kids are the ones that end up enjoying their earnings. If you are okay with working 80+ hour weeks bringing in $1 million a year but only enjoy it through your fancy car and two weeks of vacation in an exotic place, good for you. Just remember that as long as you’re doing something you enjoy, that is what counts.