While your passion for healing and dedication to improving lives guides your future, as you contemplate your future as a doctor, it’s natural to ask, “How much does a doctor make?” Understanding how much a doctor makes depends on many factors, from specialty to geographic location. These elements not only determine individual learning potential but also reflect broader trends in the healthcare industry. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the average salaries of doctors, examining the key factors that influence these figures. We’ll explore how education and training impact starting salaries, the role of specialty choices and demand, and how experience and seniority affect compensations. Furthermore, we’ll analyze how adjustments to geographic location and cost of living are crucial in determining earnings. Additionally, we’ll provide a detailed look at the salaries across different medical specialties and examine future trends in doctor salaries. Whether you’re contemplating a career in medicine or seeking to understand the financial landscape of becoming a doctor, join us and learn how these factors shape the doctor’s salary. 

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Understanding Average Salaries of Doctors


Doctor salaries are on the rise. Their average wage increased from $299,00 in 2018 to $352,000 in 2023. As per the 2024 Medscape Physician Compensation Report, primary care physicians earned an average of $277,000, while specialists earned an average of $394,000. The primary care physician’s salary is roughly 4% higher than the 2022 salary of $265,000. On the other hand, the pay rose by 3% for specialists, who had an average salary of $382,000 in 2022. 

But these numbers only tell part of the story, as doctors’ salaries depend on many factors. To better understand how much doctors make, let’s look at a breakdown of doctor salaries.

Factors Influencing Doctor Salaries

Doctor compensation can vary widely by specialty, experience, geographic location, and many other factors. Here are the four main factors currently affecting the salary of doctors. 

Education and Training 

The level of education and training can significantly impact your starting salary and long-term earning potential as a doctor. While you get paid during residency and fellowship training, your salary is considerably lower than that of fully practicing doctors. As a resident, you earn a salary of $67,400. Your salary also depends on your level of training. In your first year of residency, you can expect a salary of $61,000; by the sixth year, the pay can be up to $74,000.

As a fellow doctor, you can expect a salary of $66,364. This salary depends on the medical specialty, with specialties like cardiology, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, and gastroenterology leading with wages higher than $100,000. On the other hand, nephrology, rheumatology, infectious diseases, and pulmonary/critical care are on the lower end of the spectrum. 

Specialty Choice and Demand

Your salary as a doctor greatly varies depending on the specialty you choose. It’s no secret that some medical specialties are in more demand than others, significantly influencing your salary as a doctor. This impact is driven by the demand-supply dynamics. For example, the increased incidence of skin-related conditions and the desire for aesthetic procedures have increased the demand for dermatologists. 

Moreover, the aging population and the rise of chronic health conditions influence the demand for specialists in geriatrics and endocrinology, further influencing compensation trends in these areas. Lastly, with the growing emphasis on preventive care, specialties like family medicine can see an increased demand. 

Experience and Seniority in the Field

Another factor that is vital in determining your salary as a doctor is your experience. As you gain experience and seniority in the field, your salary as a doctor typically increases. In your early career, you usually earn less, but your earning potential increases as you gain experience and refine your skills. After displaying a long and successful track record, you may command a higher salary due to your established expertise and patient base. Furthermore, as you build a reputation for excellence in patient care and medical contribution, you open more doors to higher-paying opportunities. 

Geographic Location and Cost of Living Adjustments

Your earning potential as a doctor also greatly depends on where you work. The cost of living and demand for healthcare services in a specific area can influence your salary as a doctor. Besides the cost of living, the state economy and local market conditions can lead to significant disparities. Therefore, urban areas and coastal regions generally offer higher wages to offset the increased cost of living. However, the states where doctors earn the highest salaries are in the South and Midwest, such as Wisconsin and Indiana. This is due to the low number of doctors in rural areas driving up pay to attract doctors. 

Salaries by Medical Specialties

Here’s an overview of the average annual salaries for various medical specialties, from the highest to the lowest. 

Highest-Paying Medical Specialties

According to the 2024 Physician Compensation Report by Doximity, the highest-paying medical specialties include:

  1. Neurosurgery: $763,908
  2. Thoracic Surgery: $720,634
  3. Orthopedic Surgery: $654,815
  4. Plastic Surgery: $619,812
  5. Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery: $603,623
  6. Radiation Oncology: $569,170
  7. Cardiology: $565,485
  8. Vascular Surgery: $556,070
  9. Radiology: $531,983
  10. Urology: $529,140

This list shows that the top-paying medical specialties are typically surgical and procedural specialties that focus on treating adult patients. Additionally, these specialties are characterized by factors like:

  • Complexity of procedures: Neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons perform intricate and high-risk operations, requiring exceptional skills and precision, leading to higher compensation for these doctors.
  • Patient demographics: An aging population with a high incidence of musculoskeletal issues drives the demand for orthopedic surgery. Moreover, as the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases increases with age, so does the demand for highly skilled professionals in the field.
  • Lengthy training: Most specialties mentioned in the list require extensive training, including medical school, residency, and often fellowships, commanding higher compensation. 

Mid-Range and Lower-Paying Specialties

Among the mid-range and lower-paying specialties, Doximity lists:

  1. Pulmonology: $410,905
  2. Emergency Medicine: $398,990
  3. Occupational Medicine: $317,610
  4. Infectious Disease: $314,626
  5. Internal Medicine: $312,526
  6. Pediatric Emergency Medicine: $309,124
  7. Rheumatology: $305,502
  8. Family Medicine: $300,813
  9. Endocrinology: $291,481
  10. Geriatrics: $289,201

While these specialties don’t command a high salary as the ones mentioned above, these specialties often provide significant non-monetary rewards, such as:

  • Job satisfaction: Specialties like family medicine and geriatrics often allow for long-term relationships with patients, which can be deeply rewarding, as they enable you to see the impact of your care over time. Moreover, specialties like family medicine offer various medical cases, which can be intellectually stimulating if you enjoy solving complex problems.
  • Work-life balance: Most mid-range and lower-paying specialties offer more predictable and regular hours than high-paying, high-stress fields like neurosurgery or cardiology. This allows for a more balanced life outside of work. 

Specialty earnings are influenced by various factors, including economic shifts and healthcare policy changes. Economic downturns, like recession, may lead to decreased treatment for non-life-threatening diseases. For example, plastic surgeons may see a temporary decline in earnings during an economic downturn. 

Government policies and legislation are also critical in shaping the healthcare industry and doctor salaries. Changes in healthcare policies, such as adjustments to reimbursement models or reforms in insurance systems, can impact how much a doctor earns. For example, as we shift toward a value-based care model, primary care and specialties focusing on chronic disease management may benefit from increased incentives and higher reimbursements.

As the medical landscape evolves, so does the demand for doctors in response to medical advances and new ways healthcare is delivered. Among the emerging specialties poised to influence salary trends as they gain prominence and address evolving healthcare needs are nocturnists, lifestyle medicine physicians, cancer immunologists, and medical virtualists. 

While there’s room for the unpredictable, over the next decade, doctor salaries are expected to be primarily influenced by:

  • Advancements in technology: The rise of telemedicine and digital health tools has the potential to impact salaries. As new treatments, procedures, and diagnostic tools emerge, the demand for specific specialties changes, potentially affecting compensation. For example, the latest developments in gene therapies may create new opportunities for medical geneticists, leading to a higher salary.
  • Demographic changes: As the U.S. population is aging faster than ever and there’s a growing prevalence of chronic diseases, there will be a need for chronic disease management and long-term care specialties. For example, geriatrics, oncologists, and orthopedic surgeons will be in high demand.
  • Shifts in healthcare delivery: The shift toward value-based care will continue. This transition from the fee-for-service model can impact the reimbursement landscape and shape your earning potential. As the shift continues, you can set yourself up for success by focusing on patient-centered care, preventive medicine, and managing chronic conditions. This means family medicine and primary care specialties can be great options.

As an aspiring doctor, it’s crucial to approach your career decisions with a long-term perspective. Therefore, you should stay informed about current trends and projections for different medical specialties. Make sure to research the demand for various specialties, projected growth areas, and potential factors that may affect your future compensation.

It’s also crucial to embrace technology and gain proficiency in telemedicine and digital health tools. This not only enhances your competitiveness in the field but also has the potential to increase your earnings. Additionally, consider working in underserved areas, as they can offer unique career prospects and potential financial benefits, such as loan forgiveness programs or higher salaries. Lastly, weigh the trade-off between salary and work-life balance. While high-paying specialties like orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery may be tempting, they often come with demanding work schedules and intense patient care responsibilities. Therefore, assessing your priorities and determining if your career aspirations can coexist with personal well-being and family considerations is important. 


Doctor salaries are shaped by complex factors, including education and training, specialty choice, geographic location, and experience. For example, neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery tend to pay better than pediatrics and internal medicine. However, these lower-paying specialties often offer significant non-monetary rewards like job satisfaction and work-life balance. 

Understanding doctors’ salaries is crucial not only for current and aspiring doctors but also for the broader healthcare system and patients. This knowledge is vital for healthcare systems in planning and allocating resources more evenly across specialties and regions. On the other hand, understanding these dynamics can lead patients to appreciate the value and challenges in different areas of medical care. 

Doctor salaries will likely evolve in response to demographic changes, shifts in healthcare delivery, and technological advancements. As an aspiring doctor, you should stay informed about these trends to navigate your career effectively and leverage opportunities for growth and advancement. Now that you’re equipped with insights and trends on the most recent doctor salaries, you can start your journey to becoming a doctor by checking out our M.D. program to learn how it can shape your future. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Are there differences in salaries between private practice and hospital-employed doctors?

There are notable salary differences between private practice and hospital-employed doctors. According to 2024 Doximity data, single specialty groups ($461,368), multi-specialty groups ($447,546), and solo practices ($443,274) command higher compensation than hospitals ($422,146).

Can a doctor make $1 million a year?

The salary of doctors depends on several factors, like location, experience, medical specialty, and education. So, while it’s uncommon for doctors to earn a $1 million salary, it’s still possible. 

What is the highest-paid doctor?

According to the 2024 Doximity Physician Compensation report, the highest-paid doctors are neurosurgeons, with an average salary of $763,908.

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