Most people already know that physicians and surgeons can earn a lot of money. But when they specialize in a branch of medicine, such as orthopedic surgery, earnings usually improve. If they choose to take on a subspecialty, which is where hand and upper extremity falls, salaries jump again. In fact, orthopedic surgeons of the hand and upper extremities can earn twice the salary of the “average” surgeon.
Give 'Em A Hand
On average, surgeons earned $230,540 in 2012, notes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But this figure doesn’t reflect specialty -- a factor with great bearing on earnings. A survey by the Medical Group Management Association gives a better idea of what orthopedic surgeons can earn when specializing in certain procedures. As of 2011, those specializing on the hand averaged closer to $572,945, while those specializing on other joints besides the ankle averaged $675,156 a year. Another MGMA survey revealed that orthopedic surgeons of the hand brought home $475,370 annually, but this number only accounted for surgeons working in hospital-owned practices.
Midwest Pays the Best
Though information is limited on how location affects salaries of “hand and upper extremity surgeons,” the MGMA survey does break out earnings for orthopedic surgeons as a whole. The highest reported salaries were found in the Midwest, at an average of $556,342 a year. Those working in the Southern states ranked second, averaging $490,950, while orthopedic surgeons in the Western United States were a close third, averaging $468,142. Eastern-based orthopedic surgeons were the lowest paid in this specialty, with an average salary of $441,304 a year.
Long Road to Riches
The six-figure salaries are likely the result of skill and schooling. As with any surgeon, it takes roughly four years to complete an undergraduate degree, and then another four years to get through medical school. From there, graduates interested in orthopedic surgery must complete a residency program in this branch of medicine, which takes around five years. To specialize within orthopedic surgery, aspiring surgeons must usually go through a fellowship program. On average, fellowships in hand surgery and upper extremity last one year.
The Future is Bright
The BLS anticipates employment opportunities for both physicians and surgeons will grow by 24 percent from 2010 to 2020. Compared with the national average of 14 percent for all U.S. occupations, it’s hard not to see the strength of the market for either occupation. In fact, a 2013 survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician’s consulting firm, found that orthopedic surgeons just missed the list of the top 10 most-recruited physician specialties, coming in at 11th behind nurse practitioners, neurology and general surgery.