Choosing a specialty can be a daunting task for physicians. According to an article published in The White Coat Investor, everything from duration of training to a specific required skillset can affect this decision. Many physicians also strongly consider whether certain specialties fit best within their desired lifestyle. As such, a major contributing factor is salary, which is so influential that it may even serve as an impetus for some physicians to consider switching specialties.
Surgical specialties, in general, are most lucrative. According to Doximity’s 2023 Physician Compensation Report, the six highest-earning specialties all pertain to surgery: neurosurgery at $788,313, thoracic surgery at $706,775, orthopedic surgery at $624,043, plastic surgery at $571,373, vascular surgery at $557,632, and oral and maxillofacial surgery at $556,642. Although a Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery study of more than 400 neurosurgeons found that 20.4% displayed symptoms of burnout, but 77.6% reported being satisfied with their careers. Nonetheless, those considering a career in surgery would be wise to consider all facets of the job, for despite its potential as a satisfying and well-paying field, surgeons must undergo a grueling 5-year residency and prepare for the gravity inherent in many surgical procedures.
After accounting for these six surgical specialties, radiation oncologists were the second highest paid physicianaccording to Doximity’s report at an average of $547,026 per year. According to radiologist Dr. Sheila Rege, MD, those considering a career in radiation oncology benefit from being caring, intuitive, tech-savvy, and knowledgeable in physics. Dr. Rege urges aspiring radiation oncologists to keep in mind that the most rewarding aspect of her job is forming long-term relationships with patients, but doing so often requires personal sacrifices and flexibility when it comes to unforeseen changes.
Cardiology, with an average annual salary of $544,201, ranked third in Doximity’s report. Based on the 2022 Medscape Cardiologist Compensation Report, the mean cardiology salary rose around $54,000 over the past year. Despite the high earnings afforded to cardiologists, only 57% reported that they feel fairly compensated. Nonetheless, 88% responded that they would opt for cardiology if given the opportunity to start anew. Authors of Medscape’s report note that the abundance of rules and regulations, as well as long hours, pose the most significant challenges for cardiologists.
Fourth ranked in Doximity’s report is urology, at a mean annual salary of $505,745. According to Medscape’s 2022 Urologist Compensation Report, that’s a near $44,000 increase from 2021. While only 59% of urologists reported that they feel fairly compensated, an impressive 90% reported that they would opt for the same specialty if given the chance to choose again.
Radiologists ranked fifth in Doximity’s Report, with an average annual salary of $503,564. According to radiologist Dr. Loralie Ma, MD, radiologists must work well with colleagues, should be highly intelligent, and need to have a solid work ethic. Based on Medscape’s 2023 Radiologist Compensation Report, like urologists, 90% of radiologists would choose the same specialty if given the chance to begin anew.
Ultimately, any chosen MD specialty will afford a physician at least two to three times the mean US household earnings. Current and aspiring physicians would benefit most from weighing not only compensation but also from weighing personal strengths and interests, as this is the most likely way to build a long-lasting career filled with personal satisfaction and robust financial health.