A Junior Doctor's Salary

For many years of practice, physicians earn barely more than minimum wage.
More
Medical and Dental Red Book (1899)/Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

In April, Medicare spewed out some schismatic physician-payment numbers. The blast of decontextualized data said that one ophthalmologist received $12 million in payments. Another 4,000 physicians took in over $1 million in 2012 just from Medicare Part B. The New York Times' number generator let readers type in a doctor's name and get a dollar amount. In a lot of cases, physicians came off looking seriously flush with cash.

Those numbers and the accompanying "Go to medical school, you can make more than Lebron" implications were misleading in that they represent revenue, not profit. Like so many doctors, knowing there's a difference between revenue and profit is around the upper limit of my financial acumen. Most of what I know comes from Shark Tank, but I do know that. According to Medscape, right now the average pediatrician makes $173,000, the average neurologist makes $217,000, general surgeon $279,000, radiologist $349,000, and, at the highest end, the average orthopedic surgeon makes $405,000.

So doctors are earning very solid salaries, once they are done with their training. Of course, medical school is expensive. The average graduate carries a debt of $169,000. Less talked about is the salaries doctors make during their first years after finishing medical school, before they begin independent practice, known as residency and fellowship. Today Medscape published its annual results of a national survey of how much doctors are making during that time.  


Physician Salaries After Graduating Medical School

Medscape

Doctors are spending more and more time in residency and fellowship programs—sometimes up to a decade—but their salaries during those years (accounting for inflation) haven't increased in 40 years. Factoring in time spent in school and residency, one study from economists at Yale recently found that the average female primary care physician would have made more money over the course of her career had she been a physician assistant.

Most people know that going into medicine to get rich is a mistake in multiple dimensions. Unless you're into writing ethically dubious diet books or making ethically dubious TV shows. But in the face of a potentially staggering physician shortage—the Association of American Medical Colleges warns of a deficit of 130,600 doctors by 2025—people who want to go into medicine (particularly primary care) have to envisage financial viability in their grand mission. At $51,000 before taxes, a doctor working 80 hours per week for 48 weeks per year earns $13.28 hourly. Not everyone is working 80-hour weeks regularly—the recently imposed maximum allowed—but in specialties like surgery, many residents and fellows are. A lot of those hours are on weekends and overnights, under extreme stress at extreme stakes. 

Doctors aren't struggling to feed their families, and of course they don't care about money. But the overall lifestyle isn't as Rick Ross as a glance at Medicare payments or mid-career salary might imply.

Jump to comments
Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

 
 
More

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In