Which Medical Professionals Earn the Most Money?

FT Contributor  | 

You have your heart set on entering the medical field — but which positions have the most lucrative opportunities? Before you decide which course of action is right for you, understand that these positions are highly competitive and require specialized knowledge. However, they do offer the biggest salaries. That’s because there is always a need for professionals in the medical field. In addition, the amount of schooling required to become a medical professional and the equipment and experience necessary to provide the best care are contributors as to why medical careers pay so highly. Read on to discover how you can become a medical professional and what kind of salary you’re likely to earn.

The Top 10 Highest-Paying Medical Jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14% job growth is expected in the healthcare industry until 2028. The Bureau estimates about 1.9 million job opportunities during that time. An average salary for someone in the medical field was reported to be over $66,000 in 2018. Below, we break down the specific careers that earn the most on average in the medical field, as well as the education required to break into each.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists provide patients with mental health care, diagnosing and treating mental illness through personal counseling, psychoanalysis, medication, and sometimes hospitalization. Psychiatrists prescribe treatment that includes changes in a patient’s behavior, exploring their past, or group therapy sessions. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists can prescribe patient medication to combat chemical imbalances.

  • Psychiatrists are generalists, but they can become specialists in certain mental health areas.
  • Median pay: $220,380        
  • Education and experience required: A bachelor’s degree, four-year medical degree, four-year residency, and board certification are required.
  • Number of jobs: 25,630        
  • Job outlook: According to the BLS, psychiatry jobs are expected to grow by 11% between 2016 and 2026, with more opportunities in rural areas.

Anesthesiologists

Anesthesiologists administer anesthesia to patients who undergo surgery. This can be just as risky as the surgery itself, which is why anesthesiologists are one of the highest-paid professions in the medical industry. During surgery, anesthesiologists constantly monitor a patient’s vitals and make adjustments to their medication as needed. After surgery, anesthesiologists help a patient regain consciousness smoothly. They can also administer post-op pain medication to ease patient discomfort.

  • Anesthesiologists can be generalists or specialists.
  • Median pay: $267,020
  • Education and experience required: A doctoral or professional degree, then an internship or residency is required.
  • Number of jobs: 31,060
  • Job outlook: According to the BLS, jobs are expected to grow by 15% with 5,100 new jobs for anesthesiologists by the year 2026.

Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Obstetricians and gynecologists are physicians who provide medical care related to pregnancy or childbirth. More specifically, obstetricians work with pregnant women and help deliver babies. Gynecologists cover a range of conditions as they relate to the female reproductive system. These medical professionals can also diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases associated with women’s reproductive systems, as well as general medical care to women.

  • Obstetricians and gynecologists can be generalists or specialists.
  • Median pay: $238,320
  • Education and experience required: A bachelor’s degree before and four years of medical school are required.  After graduating, a residency program needs to be completed for three to four years. Completion of the United States Medical Licensing Examination is also required.
  • Number of jobs: 18,590
  • Job outlook: According to Career Trend, the number of jobs in this career is expected to grow by 16% by 2026.

Surgeons

Surgeons are physicians who treat diseases, injuries, and deformities by invasive, minimally-invasive, or non-invasive surgical methods. Using specialized equipment and a careful hand, surgeons are able to remove tumors, conduct plastic surgery, and even provide emergency surgical repair. Because of the high level of skill required, surgeons are paid handsomely.

  • Surgeons can be generalists or specialists.
  • Median pay: $255,110        
  • Education and experience required: Aspiring surgeons need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college and a medical degree, and then a residency that can last five years or longer, depending on the type of surgeon. Surgeons also have to be licensed and certified, with fees varying depending on specialty.
  • Number of jobs: 34,390
  • Job outlook: According to Learn.org, surgeons can expect a 20% job growth between 2014 and 2024.

Family and General Practitioners

Family and general practitioners diagnose, treat, and prevent common diseases and injuries. They typically operate out of a medical office or primary care practice, seeing patients of all ages. Primary care doctors take care of all kinds of minor ailments, from strep throat to annual exams and vaccinations. Many insurance companies require annual visits to a general practitioner in order to maintain coverage, where the patient’s weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood cell count are examined.

  • Family and general practitioners are generalists. They refer patients to specialists if they need care outside of their scope.  
  • Median pay: $208,560
  • Education and experience required: A bachelor’s degree and four-year medical degree are required. After that, you must complete a three-year residency. Additionally, you have to take a standardized, national licensure exam to get a license (requirements vary from state to state).
  • Number of jobs: 126,440
  • Job outlook: According to RaiseMe, the projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026 is 15%.

Internists

Unlike general practitioners, internists treat a variety of conditions, but only in adults. Primary care physicians treat people of all ages, but internists only treat adults and older adolescents. Like general practitioners, internists treat common medical issues in patients, from sprains to low blood sugar. If an internist cannot treat a patient, they will refer them to a specialist for further care.

  • Internists are generalists.
  • Median pay: $196,490
  • Education and experience required: A bachelor’s degree, then a medical degree followed by a three-year residency. After that, a state license and board certification are required to become an internist.
  • Number of jobs: 37,820
  • Job outlook: Like general practitioners, internist jobs are expected to increase by 15% by 2026.

Orthodontists

Orthodontists are specialists in the dentistry industry. They diagnose, treat, and prevent malpositioned teeth and jaws. Because an orthodontist deals with misaligned teeth, overcrowded mouths, and other issues that require the repositioning of the teeth and jaws, they typically earn more than a traditional dental professional.

  • Orthodontists are specialists.
  • Median pay: $229,380
  • Education and experience required: Most orthodontists obtain their bachelor’s degree, but you only need an associate’s degree to get into dental school. After that, you have to take the Dental Admissions Test to get into dental school, which lasts two years. Then, an additional two years in a graduate program is required, followed by passing the board certification and obtaining a license.
  • Number of jobs: 5,080
  • Job outlook: RaiseMe projects a 17% growth in orthodontist jobs by 2026.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are dentists who specialize in oral surgery. They perform surgery on the hard and soft tissue of the mouth to treat disease, injury, or defects. They can also diagnose problems in the mouth or maxillofacial regions, like cleft palates. While it requires a lot of education to become an oral surgeon, job satisfaction is quite high.

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are specialists.
  • Median pay: $242,740
  • Education and experience required: Training can take four to eight years to complete. A bachelor’s degree in science will help you get into dental school and obtain a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. After that, you’ll need to pass the dental boards and complete a residency. Final steps include passing certification exams and becoming board-certified to obtain the licenses required by your state.
  • Number of jobs: 4,800
  • Job outlook: Study.com anticipates a 19% growth in oral and maxillofacial surgeon jobs by 2026.

Dentists

Dentists diagnose patients and treat problems found with their teeth, gums, and other areas of the mouth. Dentists also provide advice on how to properly care for teeth and gums. They can also take dietary recommendations to patients, depending on the state of their oral health. To treat patients, dentists must be trained to use equipment like drills, x-ray machines, and scalpels. Some dentists may use lasers and other advanced technologies, depending on their practice.

  • Dentists are generalists, but they can choose an area of specialty, like dental anesthesiology.
  • Median pay: $156,240
  • Education and experience required: Dentists must graduate from an accredited dental program with a doctorate degree, then pass written and clinical exams to obtain the licenses required by their state.
  • Number of jobs: 155,000
  • Job outlook: According to the BLS, dentistry jobs are expected to increase by 7% by 2028.

Prosthodontists

Prosthodontists are dental specialists who restore and replace teeth. The treatments they provide can help patients aesthetically or functionally, depending on the problem. Like dentists, prosthodontists can diagnose oral concerns and advise a patient as to the best course of action.

  • Prosthodontists are specialists of dentistry.
  • Median pay: $191,400
  • Education and experience required: Two years of pre-dental college or a bachelor’s degree are required before applying to dental school. After the four-year dental program, an additional three years of specialized training is required to become a prosthodontist.
  • Number of jobs: 380
  • Job outlook: According to the Learn.org, prosthodontist jobs are expected to increase by 18% by 2024.

Pediatricians

Pediatricians provide medical care to children and teens under the age of 21. They are responsible for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating health issues commonly found in children. Additionally, pediatricians must advise their patient’s parents on the best course of action. Routine checkups, interpreting lab results, recommending specialized treatment, and prescribing medication are all responsibilities pediatricians assume.

  • Pediatricians are specialists of medical care.
  • Median pay: $187,540
  • Education and experience required: Pediatricians typically complete their bachelor’s degree and a pre-medical degree during their undergraduate. After that, they complete four years of medical school and obtain their license to practice medicine. Finally, a three-year residency is required prior to opening a practice.
  • Number of jobs: 28,990
  • Job outlook: ONET Online estimates that pediatrician jobs will only increase 2-3% by 2028.

Nurse Anesthetists

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia and other medications to patients. Like an anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetists monitor patients while they undergo anesthesia. It is the nurse anesthetists’ responsibility to understand any medications or underlying conditions a patient has so that they can safely administer anesthesia. CRNAs work with patients undergoing surgery of all kinds, including emergency surgery.

  • Nurse anesthetists are specialists in medical care.
  • Median pay: $113,930
  • Education and experience required: CRNAs obtain a master’s degree in anesthesia as well as extensive clinical training. Then they are required to pass a certification exam approved by the National Boards of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
  • Number of jobs: 240,700
  • Job outlook: The BLA estimates a 26% growth in nurse anesthetist jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Becoming a Generalist vs. a Specialist

As you may have noticed, the highest-paying jobs are highly specialized. Does this mean that it’s best to specialize in the medical field rather than becoming a general practitioner? Not necessarily! Below, we’ll compare and contrast generalists and specialists.

The Pros and Cons of Generalizing

In the medical industry, a generalist is a “jack of all trades.” Their medical abilities aren’t limited to one particular area, so they can treat a variety of patients. There are pros and cons to generalizing your medical career. Consider the following benefits and pitfalls of becoming a generalist.

Pros of Generalizing

  • A broader approach to medicine helps you better diagnose your patients.
  • Your role is loosely defined and no two days look the same.
  • You have flexibility within your career. If you choose to specialize down the line, it will be easier to do.
  • Generalists are typically better at navigating through uncertainty.

Cons of Generalizing

  • You never truly gain an in-depth understanding of a particular medical aspect.
  • Your role is loosely defined, which means you don’t know what kind of problems your day-to-day will involve.
  • Generalizing could present problems for job security.
  • Patients value general practitioners, but other medical professionals put more value in specialists.

The Pros and Cons of Specializing

Specialists focus on a particular area of medical care. If you prefer routine, specializing in a particular medical field is the option for you. Similar to becoming a generalist, being a specialist also has certain advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Specializing

Cons of Specializing

  • Becoming a specialist requires more schooling.
  • There is less career flexibility.
  • There are less job opportunities.
  • It’s difficult to convince others you know anything outside of your specialty.

The medical profession that you choose really comes down to your interests. You may place a lot of value in the money you stand to make, but enjoying your job is something you can’t put a dollar value on. To choose the medical career that’s right for you, consider the pay, but also daily tasks, the location of the job, and the people you’ll be working with.


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This post was updated December 12, 2019. It was originally published December 12, 2019.