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Doctors are among the best-paid professionals in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But what about doctors who want to serve their country as well as their patients? The U.S. Army pays physicians on the same scale as other commissioned officers, but offers them incentives based on their skills to help close the potential pay gap.
Civilian Pay Scale
According to the BLS, the nation's 611,650 physicians and surgeons earned an average salary of $190,060 as of May 2012. This made the overall average for doctors the highest of any category in the survey. In addition, individual medical professions held nine of the top 10 average salaries in the survey, led by anesthesiologists at an average of $232,830 a year.
Basic Army Pay
Doctors in the Army are commissioned officers, and as such are paid according to the table established each year by the federal government. Basic military pay is determined by two factors: rank in the military and time in the service. Thus, a doctor who has just enlisted would be paid as a new second lieutenant: $34,517 a year as of 2013. Even the maximum base pay falls short of the civilian average. A lieutenant general with 30 years of service earned $179,701 as of 2013.
One way the Army tries to make up for the salary gap is through special pay incentives for medical personnel. These are available based on a variety of factors, including reenlistment for additional years of service. For instance, all active duty doctors are eligible for an additional $1,200 to $12,000 a year in special pay. Further, once doctors have completed their residency in a needed specialty, they may be eligible for a $75,000 bonus payable over three years. The Army also offers doctors retention bonuses ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 annually depending upon their service time and the term for which they agree to reenlist.
Paying for Medical School
The Army offers a different type of financial incentive for doctors and prospective doctors: money for medical school costs. Medical students who enlist may be eligible for a full-tuition scholarship plus a $24,000 a year stipend and $20,000 enlistment bonus, while those already in residence may be able to earn a $45,000 a year grant plus a $24,000 stipend. For those who have already completed medical school, the Army offers up to $120,000 toward loan repayment.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
- U.S. Department of Defense: Active Duty Pay -- January 2013
- U.S. Department of Defense: Special and Incentive Pay Index
- U.S. Army: Army Medicine -- Physician Careers & Jobs
- U.S. Army: Army Medicine -- Physicians' Benefits
Eric Strauss spent 12 years as a newspaper copy editor, eventually serving as a deputy business editor at "The Star-Ledger" in New Jersey before transitioning into academic communications. His byline has appeared in several newspapers and websites. Strauss holds a B.A. in creative writing/professional writing and recently earned an M.A. in English literature.