Surgeons’ salaries depend on many factors, including the location in which they work and the medical specialties they practice. Becoming a surgeon requires years of study and training. Nonetheless, successful surgeons reap the dual rewards of earning a comfortable income while helping their patients live healthier lives.
Anatomy of a Doctor Salary
In the past, many surgeons earned their livings like small-business owners. They charged fees for their services and paid themselves from the profits of their businesses.
Present-day surgeons receive their pay from health care organizations, medical groups and hospitals. In many cases, organizations base the surgeons' pay on limits set by a code system called the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS).
The MPFS, established by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the American Medical Association, itemizes medical tasks and sets fees based on the number of minutes a physician typically needs to complete each task. For example, a surgeon might submit a bill for a 30-minute diagnosis, two hours of surgery and 15 minutes of postoperative patient evaluation.
The payment provider, which may be a private insurance company or Medicare, then decides the amount it to pay the surgeon for the time billed. In some cases, the surgeon receives payment for the time the payer decides is needed to complete the task, not the actual time the doctor spends performing the task.
The MPFS is the predominant method by which payers determine doctors’ pay.
To work as a surgeon, you must complete many years of education and training. First, you must complete a bachelor’s degree program to qualify for medical school admission. Some aspiring surgeons also earn a master’s degree before applying to medical school.
Medical schools employ a rigorous, competitive admissions process. To qualify, you must earn good grades in your undergraduate and graduate studies. Schools also require applicants to submit letters of recommendation and undergo interviews with admissions committees.
After graduating from medical school, you must complete a residency or internship program at a hospital, clinic or in a private practice. These programs give you the opportunity to explore the medical specialty you plan to practice and gain experience working with, diagnosing and treating patients. Typically, internships and residency programs take three to seven years to complete.
Surgeon Licensing and Certification
After completing a residency or internship program, you must pass the Medical Licensing Examination and obtain a license before you can practice. You also might decide to earn certifications in the specialty you practice, which can boost your career.
Surgeon Salary Per Year
Surgeons earn a median annual salary of about $252,000 per year or $21,000 per month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median salary represents the income in the middle of the surgeons’ pay scale.
The BLS median salary does not paint a complete salary picture. Surgeons earn varying amounts of income according to the type of medicine they practice. According to a 2018 study produced by Merritt Hawkins, a physician-recruiting firm, plastic surgeons earn $387,000 to $588,000. An orthopedic surgeon salary comes in much higher, about $500,000 to $680,000 per year.
The 2018 Physician Compensation Report produced by Doximity, a professional network for doctors and other health care professionals, reported that neurosurgeons earned an average income of around $663,000 in 2017. Vascular surgeons took home around $476,000, while thoracic surgeons earned about $603,000.
Location Makes a Difference
The amount of money a surgeon earns can depend on the location of his practice. A Doximity study of all physicians showed that doctors in Charlotte, North Carolina, earned an average income of about $402,000 in 2017, but their colleagues in Salt Lake City, Utah, made just $370,000.
Gender Pay Gap
Even in the 21st century, a substantial gender pay gap persists in the medical industry. In 2016, female doctors made 25 percent less than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap increased in 2017 to nearly 28 percent.
Job Growth Trend
Surgeons should see a 14 percent increase in employment opportunities from now until 2026, according to BLS estimates. Hospitals and clinics in inner city and rural areas should have the greatest demands for new surgeons.