Advancements in medicine, surgery, and medical procedures over the last 100-years changed human life expectancy rates in every country throughout the world. Today, diseases that would kill you only a few decades ago are no longer a threat to your health.
Doctors are a vital part of society, and without them, we would struggle to identify the cause of illness, and the necessary treatments to restore our health.
Every parent dreams of their child growing up to be a physician – but why? Doctors have a special place in society, and they demand respect from the general public for the work they put into their education. Address any doctor as Ms. Mr. or Mrs., and they’re likely to correct you and ask you to refer to them by their proper title.
Apart from the respect garnered by doctors in their community for their level of education, people also know that doctors earn an excellent salary package. Speak to any father, and they’ll tell you that they hope their daughter marries a doctor.
As a doctor, you’ll never struggle to find work. Physicians are in high demand in every state in the U.S, and in every country throughout the world. While the training to receive your Ph.D. takes the better part of a decade, once you have your license and practice, you can rely on a steady stream of income from patients.
So, how much do doctors make? We’ll look at the question in detail, and unpack what physicians earn across the United States.
What Is the Average Salary of a Physician?
Salaries in the medical community vary widely, with doctors earning the most money. However, various factors affect your salary packet, including your specialization, where you work, and your experience.
Data from research conducted by Medscape in its 8th Physician Compensation Report for 2018, shows that primary care physicians in the United States earn an average annual salary of $223,000. The same report shows that median annual salaries for medical specialists are $329,000. The same report also indicates that, across all specialties, the average annual salaries are $299,000.
These figures are a marked increase from the previous Medscape study that shows primary care physicians averaging $217,000 and average salaries for specialists being $316,000. Across all specialties, median salaries in 2017 were $200,00, showing a significant increase in the 2018 results.
Geographic Breakdown of Medical Salaries
Where you practice also plays a significant role in how much you earn as a doctor. According to the Medscape study. You might think that doctors working in the metropolitan areas of New York, LA, and Miami make far more than those in mid-western states like Minnesota.
However, the converse is true. Physicians based in the nation’s breadbasket, in states like Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and North Dakota earn an average annual salary of $319,000. Median salaries for those doctors practicing in North-eastern states like New York and Massachusetts is $275,000, or $44,000 less than their colleagues in the mid-western states.
These figures are not an outlier, and they are in line with the numbers in the 2017 Medscape study. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to earn as a doctor in regions throughout the United States.
- North Central States: $319,000
- South-eastern States: $309,000
- North-western States: $306,000
- South Central States: $303,000
- The Great Lakes: $303,000
- The Western Seaboard: $299,000
- Mid-Atlantic States: $281,000
- South-western States: $277,000
- North-eastern States: $275,000
If we take this a step further and breakdown doctors’ incomes by state, it paints a different picture. The top-5 states in the U.S for annual median salaries for physicians are the following.
- Indiana: $334,000
- Oklahoma: $330,000
- Connecticut: $329,000
- Wisconsin: $327,000
- Nevada: $323,000
The states paying doctors the least are the following.
- Maryland: $256,000
- New Mexico: $261,000
- Hawaii: $268,000
- Massachusetts: $275,000
- Michigan: $277,000
Physician Incomes by Specialty
There is also a discrepancy between medical specialties as well. The ROAD specialties (radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesia, and dermatology) have some of the highest-paid doctors. However, they fall behind high-end care practices, such as orthopedics and plastic surgery.
The 2018 Medscape study of physicians’ average annual salaries shows that the following specialties are the top-earning categories.
- Plastic Surgery: $501,000
- Orthopedics: $497,000
- Cardiology: $423,000
- Gastroenterology: $408,000
- Radiology: $401,000
- Dermatology: $392,000
- Anesthesiology: $386,000
- Otolaryngology: $383,000
- Urology: $373,000
- Oncology: $363,000
- Ophthalmology: $357,000
- Critical Care: $354,000
Why Certain Doctors Get Paid More
As with any other profession, external economic factors like demand and supply of physicians and patients play a significant role in annual salaries for doctors. Training, experience, and age are also factors that determine your pay packet as a physician as well.
Those doctors earning the highest salaries share some character and occupational similarities.
- Consulting with more patients – The more patients a doctor sees, the more hours they bill, and the more they earn. Doctors receiving the highest salaries will work tirelessly, even after they graduate from medical school.
- Diversification – Those doctors that provide services like medical consulting, working with the media, and providing legal testimony at trial, earn more than their peers.
- They continue to train and improve – Most doctors will study further after opening a practice, in the hope of moving into specialized care. A general practitioner might spend their evening studying toward qualifying as a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist, for example.
- Contract negotiations – Successful doctors that work in hospitals know how to negotiate increases in their salary. Those doctors working in hospitals that build large client bases, bring more money into the hospital, and they use this as leverage to increase their salary.
Key Medical Trends Impacting Income Potential
According to the results of data collected in the Medicus, 2017 Physician Practice Preference & Relocation Survey, the income satisfaction in the medical community is relatively balanced.
The study shows that 35.8% of doctors claim satisfaction with their salary, while 32.5% remain unsatisfied, and some 31.8% of doctors are neutral on their position about their income.
The survey also shows key areas where doctors have concerns about how these following factors impact their earnings.
- Reimbursements Are an Issue – According to the Medicus study, the reimbursement deductions from government programs like the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Medicare, some 32.2% of all physician’s state reimbursement declines being the significant issues that are reducing their income.
- The Need for Productivity – Around 44% of all doctors in the Medicus survey state that quality care plays less of a role in their income than how many patients they see every day. The more patients they see, the higher the bonuses and incentive performance packages they receive.
- Perks – a staggering 99% of doctors state that they believe medical malpractice insurance is the top perk in the industry, along with retirement planning and health care insurance.
- Debt Forgiveness on Student Loans – Despite politicians calling for the scrapping of all student loans, only 26% of all doctors think that they deserve to qualify for debt forgiveness programs linked to student loans.
According to data in the Medscape study, throughout their career, general practitioners can expect to earn more than $6.5 million in wages, with medical specialists earning up to $10-million.
This amount works out to a sizeable salary that provides doctors with financial security throughout their careers. Most doctors claim to enjoy their work, and they feel comfortable with long hours and plenty of paperwork that comes with the job.
What Does It Cost to Go to Medical School?
Training to be a doctor is not cheap by any means. The costs of tuition, textbooks, and housing can cost a fortune, especially considering doctors study for a minimum of 4-years getting their undergraduate degree, and then train for a further 3 to 7-years in residency.
The costs of studying and training to be a doctor add up fast. So, what can you expect to pay for your education and training?
Calculating the Costs of Attending Medical School
According to research from the AAMC, the average cost of attending medical school for one year at a public institution, including fees, tuition, and health insurance, work out to $34,592 for those students attending medical school in-state, and $58,668 for those students attending from out-of-state.
Those students attending private medical schools can spend well over $50,000 per year on the same expenses. These figures come from a 2017-2018 study and have since increased substantially.
Furthermore, these costs do not include food, housing, and other expenses relating to the cost of living. The cost of living is a significant factor for both students and qualified doctors. For instance, those qualified physicians living and working in New York, not only receive lower salaries than those working in the mid-west, but they also have to deal with a higher cost of living as well.
Searching for Affordable Tuition and Fees
However, if you search around, it’s possible to find affordable medical training at universities in the South-western states.
According to research from the U.S. News & World Report’s list of affordable medical schools, Texas A&M Health Science Center only costs in-state student’s tuition fees of $16,432.
U.S. News & World Report also includes the following schools on its list as well.
- University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio.
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
- University of North Texas Health Science Center.
- The University of New Mexico.
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
If you can’t find your way to Texas to study your medical degree, then consider attending an affordable private medical school, such as the Baylor College of Medicine, which costs students around $31,663 a year in tuition fees.
Other private medical schools offering affordable degrees include the University of Pikeville, charging students $41,320 per year, and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, charging students $32,985 per year.
Medical Schools with the Highest Tuition Costs
Considering the costs of an education at a medical school, going to the schools mentioned above will save you a ton of money on the costs of your education over the 4-year duration of your schooling.
However, if you want the best education you can find, a degree issued by a private medical school will land you a foot in the door at any job interview. Therefore, if you’re thinking about attending a private medical school, and you want the best education money can buy, consider applying to the following private medical schools.
Tufts University is the most expensive private medical school in the United States, charging students an outlandish $61,436 per year in fees and tuition, and these figures come from a 2013-2014 study, so you know that the school had to have increased its tuition and fees since then.
Rounding off the top five most expensive private medical schools in the country, we get the following schools.
- Columbia University.
- Dartmouth University.
- Northwestern University.
- Case Western Reserve University
While a degree from these schools is undoubtedly worth the additional premium over the more affordable medical schools, you’ll have to take into account the costs, and how you intend to pay for your education.
Wrapping Up – Ways to Pay for Medical School
In today’s economy, there are far fewer scholarships available. If you want to obtain a scholarship, you’ll compete for the award with the brightest and most talented medical minds in the country.
However, a scholarship is not the only method of funding your education. Federally-backed student loans are readily available from lenders to support your studies. According to research by the AAMC, average student loan debt for medical students was $176,348 in 2014, with 43% of medical students getting into debt for amounts of $200,000 or more.
You also have the opportunity of applying for financial aid at your student loan office, as well. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), allows you to apply for two types of federal loans, the Direct PLUS Loan (7.21%), and the Direct Unsubsidized Loan (6.21%).
Other sources of finance for your medical education include the following programs.
- The NHSC scholarship program.
- HPSP and military scholarship programs.
- The Professional Exchange Student Program.
If you do take on student loans to fund your education, make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the implications involved with paying off your loan. Federal loans require you to pay back the money to the government.
These loans do not dissolve in bankruptcy, and defaulting on your student loans can ruin your financial position for the rest of your life.