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Doctors who help premature infants survive, or volunteer their services in conflict-torn regions, will usually find an audience for any work-related stories they care to tell. Colorectal surgeons don't have that luxury, but their work is equally crucial. Patients with cancers, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis and many other conditions rely on colorectal surgeons to save their lives, or restore their quality of life. Their salaries aren't as high as those of some other surgeons, but they're still well-compensated for their skills.
Colorectal surgeons enjoy a higher income than many other physicians and surgeons, beginning with their first year in practice. Medical recruiting firm Profiles, which specializes in placing newly trained doctors, reported a median salary of $290,000 a year for first-year colorectal surgeons in its 2011/2012 salary survey. That's lower than the figures for orthopedic, cardiac or neurosurgeons, but higher than most other specialties. At the six-year mark, when the majority of surgeons have passed their exams, Profiles reported an average salary of $389,700.
Various other industry sources provide salary data for colorectal surgeons. In a 2012 survey of the 125,000 physicians employed by its members, the American Medical Group Association reported a median salary of $405,000 a year for colorectal surgeons. A similar study performed a year earlier by the rival Medical Group Management Association provided comparable figures, reporting an average salary of $407,273. These salaries place colorectal surgeons at a higher income level than most non-surgeons, though below many of their surgical peers.
The AMGA salary survey includes a long list of median salaries for other physicians, providing a useful point of comparison. For example, neurologists responding to the survey reported a median salary of $249,250, while pathologists earned $363,559 and anesthesiologists earned a median salary of $377,375. Among surgeons, general surgeons reported a median salary of $370,024 a year and oral surgeons earned the same $405,000 as colorectal surgeons. Most others, including neurosurgeons, cardiac surgeons and orthopedic surgeons earned more. The highest earners in the AMGA survey were orthopedic spinal surgeons, at $710,556 per year.
Colorectal surgeons begin their careers with a four-year undergraduate degree and four years of medical college, like other physicians. After graduating, they spend five years in a general-surgical residency, learning the skills to operate on a wide range of patients and conditions. After passing their board examinations in general surgery, surgeons spend one more year in a specialized fellowship program where they can acquire the additional knowledge and skills needed in colorectal surgery. Colorectal surgeons must pass a second set of board examinations in their specialty, then maintain their certification through continuing education.