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What are the Highest Paid Medical Specialties?


As a healthcare recruiter, your core threat is probably the increasing shortage of medical specialties in the United States.

If recent projections by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) hold, the US could face a shortage of primary and specialty care of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.

That includes a shortage of surgical specialties of up to 28,700 physicians and medical specialties of up to 17,800 professionals.

The shortage coupled with high turnover rates put the negotiating power in favor of the candidates – and put you in a tough spot.

It's therefore essential for you to learn what these candidates want: diversity, good career prospects, and high annual wages, as overviewed in this post. (In the form of highest-paid medical specialties.)


The Ten Highest Paid Medical Specialties

Calculating the average annual compensation for a US-based medical specialist is difficult. That's because the compensation is based on multiple factors, including state of practice, employment status, doctor's specialty, etc.

Moreover, the US healthcare landscape is evolving thanks to new laws, bills, and other institutional changes.

Here's a quick overview of variables influencing physician compensation in the US.

Employment status

Data shows employed medical specialists make less than their self-employed counterparts.

That may sway medical professionals to open their practice. And make it hard to persuade the self-employed ones to accept salaried positions.

To sway the situation in your favor: try changing the compensation approach. That is rewarding medical professionals for their labor and passion: quality and efficiency.

Compensation disparities by state

States with high populations don't usually have the highest compensation for medical specialists.

The reason is: such states have multiple healthcare choices, resulting in fewer patients per physician. That, in turn, translates to lower average compensation per physician.

Compensation disparities by specialty

In the US, specialists make more than primary care practitioners.

The reason is: some medical specialties require in-depth expertise, hence more training.

Specialists require additional training after medical school. They may also require post-residency specialized training, hence the need for high compensation.

(See our list of top ten highest-paid medical specialties below.)

Demand and supply of medical specialists

While compensation is often capped by incentives and remuneration packages set by healthcare institutions, it's also influenced by the demand and supply of medical specialists.

Demand for specialty depends on factors such as:

  • Increased incidence of the illness like vascular disease, cancer, and heart disease
  • Quality of patient care
  • Accessibility of the specialist
  • Number of patients treated
  • Demographic profile of the US population
  • Dietary and lifestyle habits of the population
  • Inflation
  • Evolving healthcare regulations
  • Popular fads in vogue, especially in regards to plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes

Supply, on its end, depends on:

  • Graduating specialists into specific streams
  • Number of specialists in a particular discipline
  • Transfer of specialists to an area
  • And other factors

Overall: surgical disciplines command higher rates than chronic disease treatment and other general physician disciplines.

Let's explore how they fare.

The Highest Paying Medical Jobs

We scoured through different sources – LinkedIn, Indeed, Medscape Physician Salary Reports, etc. – to bring you a comprehensive list of the highest-paid medical jobs in the US.

We also leveraged the fourth Domixity's Physician Compensation report involving 44,000 full-time and part-time doctors. And the fifth annual Domixity's compensation report, including 46,000 responses from medical professionals.

Here's that list.

1. Neurosurgery

Neurosurgery is the highest-paying medical job in the US.

That's hardly surprising, seeing that neurosurgeons are also the most trained medical staff. They study for at least 15 years to gain extensive expertise in the nervous system, spinal cord, and brain.

So what are the figures?

Indeed estimates that US-based neurosurgeons earn an annual salary of $430,000-$746,000.

Salary.com estimated their average annual compensation at $631,901 as of December 2021. (With the range between $475,801 and $799,501.)

The fourth Domixity's compensation report noted an average annual salary of $746,544 in 2020. (And $773,201 in 2021.)

The range of compensation depends on the experience and expertise of a neurosurgeon.

Additional skills and certifications may also contribute to higher pay.

Overall, your entry-level compensation should be above $476,000 to remain competitive in a candidate-led job market.

2. Thoracic surgery

Thoracic or cardiothoracic surgery is the second highest paying medical job for reasons.

One: heart disease is a leading cause of death, as lifestyle disorders like obesity increase the risk of developing the disease.

That, in turn, increases the need for thoracic specialists, making them one of the highest-paid surgeons.

BMJ reported that these surgeons earned an average annual salary of $584 287 in 2018.

Domixity's, in their fourth annual compensation report, estimated the surgeons to earn a mean of $668,350 in 2020.

And their fifth annual report found the figure to have shot to $684,663 in 2021.

Entry-level thoracic surgeons make at least $ 311,000 a year, so your lowest compensation should be higher to remain competitive.

3. Orthopedic surgery

There's a surging demand for orthopedic surgeons in the US as a greater portion of the population ages. The demand could be associated with their expertise in treating and preventing muscle and bone disorders prevalent in older adults.

When it comes to training: certified orthopedic surgeons complete over ten years of formal education to, at least, grasp the vast discipline.

The high demand plus the extensive formal education justifies the high compensation rates.

BMJ estimated that orthopedic surgeons earned a mean of $526,000 in 2018. Domixity reported that these surgeons made an average of $605,330 in 2020 and $633,620 in 2021.

Typically, the range lies between $393,570 and $643,370.

4. Plastic surgery

Being driven by lifestyle choices and those popular fads in vogue: plastic surgery is experiencing increasing demand.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2018 report, US citizens spent over $16B on plastic surgery. The high demand (especially among beauty and entertainment industries) and extensive training requirements make plastic surgery a top-salaried discipline.

Different platforms report an average annual salary of $526,000. Domixity reported even higher averages, $539,208 in 2020 and $556,698 in 2021.

5. Oral & maxillofacial

Oral & maxillofacial surgeons treat anatomical areas of the face, skull, neck, mouth, jaws, and associated structures.

Since they perform procedures to improve the function or appearance of the said areas, these surgeons are in high demand. That coupled with at least four years of study after medical schools make oral & maxillofacial a top-salaried discipline.

According to Domixity, their salary averaged $538,590 in 2020 and $545,471 in 2021.

6. Vascular surgery

A vascular surgeon addresses medical issues relating to blood vessels. They undergo extensive training, including years in medical school and medical residency.

Their increasing demand only serves to make their salary more competitive.

BMJ reported an average annual salary of $484 740 in 2018 among vascular surgeons. Domixity report showed a 4.9 increase in the average compensation: from $509,335 in 2019 to $534,508 in 2020. Domixity's fifth annual compensation report showed an additional increase in compensation to $552,313 in 2021.

7. Cardiology

Cardiologists are in high demand as their fellow thoracic surgeons. That's following increasing cases of heart diseases.

Domixity estimates that cardiologists earned an average of $453,515 in 2019, $527,231 in 2020, and $537,777 in 2021.


8. Radiation oncology

Radiation oncologists are in demand as the cancer menace continues to plague America.

Theirs is extensive training to harness radiation to kill cancerous cells without overly damaging healthy cells. After completing medical schools, these specialists complete a one-year internship and at least four years' specialty training. (All of which justifies the high pay.)

Doximity estimates that radiation oncologists made $486,089 in 2019, $516,016 in 2020, and $544,313 in 2021.


9. Gastroenterology

The gastroenterologist treats disorders occurring in the digestive system.

And seeing that approximately 11% of Americans have chronic digestive diseases, there's a high demand for these professionals.

The high demand combined with extensive specialized training explains their competitive compensation.
Indeed estimates their annual salary at $419,000.

Medscape reported that gastroenterologists made an average of $406,00 in 2019. (With North Dakota offering the most competitive entry-level salary.)

Domixity, on its end, reported that gastroenterologists made an average of $431,767 in 2019, $485,817 in 2020, and $500,400 in 2021.


10. Radiology

Radiologists diagnose patients, conduct radiation treatments, and analyze and interpret medical imaging results. Their average annual compensation is competitive.

According to Domixity, they earned $428,572 in 2019, $485,460 between in 2020, and $495,451 in 2021.

What Will be the Highest-paid Medical Specialties in the Future?

The pandemic has generated a higher demand for specific medical specialists, especially those catering to older adults and severe respiratory complications. As America ages, the prevalence of chronic ailments among older adults will drive the demand for specialists dealing with endocrinology issues, gastrointestinal issues, neurologic conditions, and cancer diagnoses.

Preventive medicine specialists will also experience increasing demand as more people prioritize preventive health amid and after the pandemic.

Psychiatry is also coming to the forefront.

That can be attributed to high-stress levels amid the pandemic: pay cuts, job losses, deaths in the family, and other effects of COVID-19.

Physicians are in Demand: Stay Informed!

As our list of the highest-paid medical specialties shows, surgical disciplines command higher rates than chronic disease treatments.

But the compensation rates are often on a rotating scale as different disciplines gain demand.

Hence the need to stay informed.

Overall, the high and increasing compensation rates signify a shortage in the industry. That calls for you to revamp your hiring approaches, build credibility and engage the "right" candidates.

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