Highest Paying Physician Careers

These medical specialties earn the most

Most doctors do make a nice living, but some medical careers are much more lucrative than others.

For example, the median income in 2019 for primary care physicians, the general doctors who see patients for a range of care and check ups, was $273,427. The pay for specialists who work in a particular field was $448,353, according to a report from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

Median income means that half of physicians make less than this amount and half make more.

If you are considering a physician career, and if money is a key factor in your decision, these top-paying medical specialties may be of interest to you.

Keep in mind, these figures are based on a 2012 report, based on 2011 earnings from physicians reporting data to the Medical Group Management Association.

Surgeons analyzing report together in clinic
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Top-Paying Physician Careers

In addition to the current compensation information, you should also consider current and projected trends in healthcare to determine what may be the most lucrative (and most in-demand) physician careers when you finish training.

Changes in medical insurance are having a significant impact on medical careers, and those changes are increasingly difficult to predict.

Some of the top-paying careers are also the most demanding. Non-invasive cardiologists, for example, make less than cardiac surgeons. Not surprisingly, of the top eight medical professions by salary, half are surgeons.

According to the MGMA, the highest earners in the medical profession are:


Depending on the type of cardiology one practices, cardiologists earn anywhere from $418,000 to over $537,000 annually. Cardiologists diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the heart and circulatory system.


Radiologists use medical imaging technology to diagnose, and sometimes treat, medical conditions, disorders, and illnesses.

General, diagnostic radiologists earn over $473,000 annually, and interventional radiologists, who have completed additional training and can perform certain procedures on patients, earn over $559,000 annually. Electrophysiologists earn $572,000 on average annually.


Oncologists specialize in the treatment of cancer. Demand for oncologists is increasingly rapidly; therefore a shortage of oncologists is predicted.

Radiation oncologists, who treat solid tumors using radiation, earn over $529,000 on average. Hematology-oncologists, who treat solid cancers and cancers of the blood with chemotherapy, infusions, and bone marrow transplants, and other methods, earn about $465,089.


Gastroenterologists earn an average of $529,000. Gastroenterology, like oncology and cardiology, is a sub-specialty of internal medicine.

Gastroenterologists specialize in the treatment of digestive and gastrointestinal disorders and diagnosis of cancers and disorders of the digestive tract. Also, most gastroenterologists also treat diseases of the liver, with additional training in hepatology.

Cardiovascular Surgeons

Cardiovascular/cardiac surgeons earn about $590,000 on average. Cardiovascular surgeons perform open-heart surgeries such as bypasses and other complex cardiac surgeries of the heart and circulatory system.

Orthopedic Surgeons

Orthopedic surgeons earn anywhere from $554,000 for pediatric orthopedic surgery, to a high of over $800,000 for spine surgeons. Orthopedic surgeons specialize in surgeries of the bones and joints, including sports-related injuries, trauma, and arthritic deterioration. General orthopedic surgeons earn about $569,000 annually, on average.

Other Surgical Specialties

Several types of surgeons are among the highest-earning physicians. Transplant surgeons and pediatric surgeons also rank among the highest paid surgeons.

Again, keep in mind that due to the intricacies of how physicians are compensated, physician compensation is affected by a variety of factors including supply and demand, geographic location, overhead costs, and insurance reimbursement rates.

Disparities in Gender Pay

Sadly, careers near the bottom of the pay scale include pediatrics and family medicine; these are careers that have (perhaps not surprisingly) become increasingly popular among women. Even in the highest-paying specialties, however, women may make less than men.

According to a study from the University of Wisconsin, female doctors in U.S. hospitals made an average of $14,581 less per year than their male counterparts with the same education, qualifications, and experience.

Part of the disparity is explained by the lower number of female doctors in hospitals coupled with the fact that male doctors tend to prioritize pay more.

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  1. Medical Group Management Association. New MGMA research finds physician compensation increased in 2019. Updated May 20, 2020.

  2. Weaver AC, Wetterneck TB, Whelan CT, Hinami K. A matter of priorities? Exploring the persistent gender pay gap in hospital medicineJ Hosp Med. 2015;10(8):486-490. doi:10.1002/jhm.2400