The medical profession is well-known for offering some of the highest salaries to be found outside of the corporate executive suite. Most doctors earn an enviable income by any standard, but within the profession some specialties out-earn others by a wide margin. For example, orthopedic surgeons enjoy some of the highest annual incomes in the medical world.
Orthopedic surgeons specialize in treating the skeleton and its connecting tissues of tendons, ligaments and muscle. They correct birth defects, and deformities caused by injury or chronic illnesses. They also treat patients whose musculoskeletal system has been damaged through accident, violence or repetitive stress injuries. Through traditional open surgery or laparoscopic surgery using miniature instruments, they repair broken bones, remove bone spurs or calcium deposits from joints, repair torn ligaments and cartilage, or replace worn-out hip joints. Successful orthopedic surgery can restore or sharply improve a patient's mobility and quality of life, and surgeons are compensated accordingly.
General Orthopedic Surgery
Industry magazine "Modern Healthcare" performs an annual review of major physician salary surveys. In its 2012 special issue, 14 of the surveys included an average salary for orthopedic surgeons as a group. The lowest reported average salary was $369,905 a year, while the highest reported average was $610,188. In its own 2012 study recruiting firm Jackson & Coker reported an average salary of $520,475 for orthopedic surgeons, with an additional $104,095 in benefits. Data reported the previous year by the Medical Group Management Association gave an average salary of $539,354 for general orthopedic surgeons.
The MGMA's study also provided a breakdown of salaries by orthopedic sub-specialty. For example, pediatric orthopedic surgeons averaged $559,422 a year while hand surgeons averaged $572,945. The highest-paid were spinal surgeons, at a reported average salary of $760,782. A 2012 salary survey by the rival American Medical Group Association provided median salaries, rather than average salaries, for several of the same specialties. The AMGA survey reported a median salary of $509,030 for pediatric orthopedic surgeons, and $507,750 for hand surgeons. Spinal surgeons were highest on this survey as well, with a median salary of $710,556 per year.
Orthopedic surgeons begin their careers with a four-year undergraduate degree and then four years of medical or osteopathic college, the same as other doctors. After graduation they "match" into an orthopedic residency, where they'll spend at least five years learning their profession under the supervision of experienced orthopedic surgeons. At the end of the residency period each surgeon can take a set of examinations administered by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, and become board-certified. Those who want to specialize in spinal surgery, hand surgery or any other sub-specialty must complete another year of training in a fellowship, then pass a second set of board exams.