Top 10 Highest Paying Medical Specialties

Last Updated on January 2, 2023

Medical students and those still considering their career track as physicians might be interested in the national average salary figures for certain specialties. Most people think about what terms like “intern” and “resident” might pay, but those days are behind you. You want to know what you can earn as a full-fledged physician. Here is a look at some of the highest medical specialties and how much they can earn once training is complete.

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Top 10 Highest Paying Medical Specialties -

Highest Paid Medical Specialties 2020

As if finishing medical school wasn’t already difficult enough, certain specialties are much harder to match into for residency compared to others. In a previous video, we went over the top 5 most competitive and difficult specialties to match into. Today, let’s cover the 6 easiest.

Getting into any residency program, regardless of the specialty, is no easy task. It requires completing 4 years of medical school, taking USMLE Step 1, writing a personal statement, doing interviews, and several other steps that are not to be taken lightly. That being said, your life becomes much easier if you apply to a less competitive specialty.

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If your specialty is not considered as competitive, this doesn’t make you a good or bad doctor. It’s just the facts, without any judgment, so please no butt-hurt comments.

We’ll be using the same methods from our previous video on the top 5 most competitive specialties. We’re taking into account the match rate, average Step 1 score, Step 2CK score, number of publications, percentage of matriculants who are AOA, and the percentage from a top 40 NIH funded medical school. The following 6 medical specialties are those that ranked lowest, and are therefore the easiest to match into, relatively speaking. Check out the data for yourself in the spreadsheet with all the calculations.

Family Medicine
Family medicine is by far the least competitive specialty to match into, scoring only 15 points in our dataset, with the runner up at 27 points.

Family medicine is the specialty devoted to the comprehensive medical treatment of patients across all ages. Think of them as the first-line defense when it comes to maintaining health. Family med doctors are central to routine checkups, preventive care, health-risk assessments, immunization, screening tests, and acting as the coordination hub to manage the patient’s big picture treatment across several specialties. While less common, some family medicine doctors also deliver babies and provide prenatal care to pregnant women, which is now more commonly performed by OB-GYN doctors.

Family medicine is a foundational specialty to medicine, with nearly one out of every four office visits being made to family med physicians — that’s 208 million office visits each year, with the next closest specialty at 83 million visits. They’re also the ones doing most of the heavy lifting in treating America’s underserved and rural populations.

After completing medical school, you must complete either a 3 or 4-year family medicine residency. If you’d like to specialize, there are multiple fellowship options to choose from, including geriatric medicine, sports medicine, sleep medicine, hospital medicine, and hospice and palliative care.

In terms of lifestyle, family physicians have predictable hours without unexpected calls in the middle of the night. In terms of compensation, however, they’re toward the bottom, making on average $231,000 per year.

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Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Physical medicine and rehabilitation, or PM&R for short, and also called physiatry, is the specialty focused on restoring functional ability, reducing pain, and enhancing the quality of life for individuals with physical impairments or disabilities.

PM&R doctors use non-surgical methods to treat conditions such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, stroke, limb amputation, chronic pain, and a variety of sports injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. When I visited the PM&R clinic as a medical student, we saw several cerebral palsy patients as well.

While it may be easier to get into PM&R residency, I would consider the specialty anything but easy. Dealing with this sort of patient population day after day can be highly taxing and discouraging without high degrees of patience, compassion, and optimism.

Treatment modalities, of course, include medication, but also physical modalities such as heat, cold, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation. PM&R doctors also make use of adaptive equipment and devices such as braces, artificial limbs, and wheelchairs, and also perform spine and joint injections, often under fluoroscopic or ultrasonic guidance.

Including intern year, PM&R residency is a total of 4 years. If you’d like to subspecialize further, you can complete a fellowship in musculoskeletal & spine, stroke, multiple sclerosis, neurorehabilitation, electrodiagnostic medicine, cancer rehabilitation, or occupational and environmental medicine.

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As for lifestyle, PM&R doctors have predictable hours, no crazy call, and make mid-range physician salaries at an average of $306,000 per year.

Next up is anesthesiology with 29 points. You may have heard of the ROAD to success, standing for radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, and dermatology. These are four specialties with good pay and fantastic lifestyles. Despite its high pay of $392,000 and a flexible lifestyle, anesthesiology is less competitive, likely a function of supply and demand, with many residency spots going unfilled each year.

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Most typically, anesthesiologists handle anesthesia for patients undergoing surgery or other procedures. This can be general anesthesia, where the patient is unconscious, sedation anesthesia, where the patient is somewhat conscious but not feeling pain, or regional anesthesia, such as a spinal, epidural, or regional nerve blocks.

While the surgeon is responsible for doing the surgical procedure, the anesthesiologist is the patient’s guardian angel, monitoring their vitals, ensuring they are comfortable, and keeping them stable on the operating table.

Anesthesia residency lasts four years, after which you can sub-specialize further with a fellowship in pain management, sleep medicine, cardiothoracic anesthesiology, pediatric anesthesiology, neuro anesthesiology, regional/ambulatory anesthesiology, obstetric anesthesiology, or critical care medicine.

There are two types of doctors working in the operating room – surgeons and anesthesiologists. I think anesthesia is an excellent field if you have the right personality for it. That means you’ll need to be comfortable being second in command and watching the surgery rather than actually doing it yourself.

Neck-and-neck with anesthesiology is pediatrics, scoring 30 points. This is the branch of medicine involving the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents. Think of it as the equivalent of internal medicine, but for patients who aren’t adults. Just like internal medicine, peds is a 3-year residency.

And just like internal medicine, there are dozens of subspecialties to choose from through fellowship training, like pediatric cardiology, emergency medicine, nephrology, oncology, infectious disease, and many more.

Working with kids is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s incredibly gratifying to help children in need. On the other hand, it can be tremendously disheartening to care for a child with cancer or another terminal illness. As a pediatrician, you’ll essentially have two patients — the child and their parents, and you’ll quickly become well versed in handling upset or crying babies as well as highly neurotic parents.

As a college student and first-year medical student, I was aiming for pediatric gastroenterology, but after working in the department for a few months, I realized working with kids and their parents every day wasn’t a challenge I was excited to take for the rest of my life.

In terms of lifestyle, pediatrics is so broad and varied that you can be anywhere on the spectrum. On average, however, pediatricians are one of the lowest compensated physicians, making on average $225,000 per year.

Psychiatry, not to be confused with psychology, is the practice of medicine devoted to the treatment and management of mental disorders. It wasn’t until I started doing YouTube that I learned of the negative stigma some people have against psychiatrists, which puzzled me.

It turns out this misplaced distaste of the profession arises from questionable and unethical practices regarding the use of lobotomy and electroconvulsive therapy in the mid 20th century. Since the 1970’s, however, psychiatry as a profession has tightened up ethical codes and addressed the misconducts of the past.

Psychiatry is a favorite rotation amongst medical students because it’s… well, chill. You won’t be working before 9 or after 5, and in fact, you’ll probably have many days shorter than that. On the other hand, while the subject material of mental illness is endlessly fascinating, the practice of psychiatry leaves many medical students feeling lethargic.

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You’ll be speaking to one patient sometimes for close to an hour, you’ll need to be incredibly patient, and sometimes it may feel like you’re just talking to them and not doing enough.

Psychiatry residency is 4 years, after which you can subspecialize in addiction, child and adolescent, forensic, geriatric, psychosomatic, and more.

In terms of lifestyle, you’ll be working at a slower pace and usually won’t have to deal with call at odd hours in the night. In terms of salary, the average psychiatrist is in the bottom quartile in terms of physician compensation at $260,000 per year.

Emergency Medicine
Last, we have emergency medicine, which received 42 points. If you like shift work and fast-paced exciting medicine, then emergency medicine might be a good fit. Emergency medicine physicians work in the emergency department, or ED, although most laypeople say ER for emergency room.

EM residency lasts 3 or 4 years in duration, after which you can subspecialize with a fellowship in palliative care, critical-care medicine, medical toxicology, wilderness medicine, sports medicine, disaster medicine, hyperbaric medicine, and more.

Emergency medicine physicians are essentially the first-line defense, dealing with acute conditions requiring immediate treatment. Or at least they’re supposed to. Given the high rates of uninsured patients in the U.S., the ED is often crowded with uninsured patients that can’t get care elsewhere. That problem, and the prospect of universal healthcare, is a topic for a future video.

TV shows portray the emergency department as exciting, fast-paced, and adrenaline-fueled. Truth is, during my multiple rotations on emergency, I was dealing with abdominal pain and chest pain more than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, when a patient comes in with cardiopulmonary arrest or tension pneumothorax, it is exciting. Just know that most of your time in the ED won’t be like that.

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In terms of lifestyle, emergency medicine physicians are unique in that they have shift work, meaning they clock in and clock out at a predefined time, and you have flexibility in choosing your shifts such that you could have several days off in a row. Emergency physicians are well paid, at an average of $353,000 per year, but they do unfortunately experience very high rates of burnout.

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Don’t let the data fool you. Just because these are the six least competitive specialties doesn’t mean they aren’t hard to get into! Every specialty in medicine is competitive, just some more so than others. Particularly if you want to get the best training at a top program, you’ll have to be a stellar candidate.

Dr. Kevin Jubbal graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles magna cum laude with a B.S. in Neuroscience and went on to earn his M.D. from the University of California, San Diego as the sole recipient of the top merit scholarship for all 4 years.

He matched into Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He has authored more than 60 publications, abstracts, and presentations in the field of plastic surgery.Dr. Jubbal is now a physician entrepreneur, and his passion for medical education and patient care led him to found the Blue LINC Healthcare Incubator and Med School Insiders.

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Through these and other projects, he seeks to empower future generations of physicians, redefine medical education, and improve patient care through interdisciplinary collaboration.

Becoming a doctor is no easy feat. Medical school is competitive, grueling, and heavy on the pocket. If you’re going to invest a significant amount of time and resources to earn your M.D. or D.O., then you want to ensure that the medical career that lies ahead is fulfilling and rewarding–financially and otherwise.

As of 2019, there are more than eight hundred sixty thousand active physicians in Canada of which 52% are family physicians and 48% are specialists of other disciplines. Having a satisfactory doctor lifestyle is dependent on multiple factors such as your day-to-day lifestyle, work hours, remuneration, work stress, and more. Being a part of the healthcare industry can sometimes take a toll on some of the best doctors and negatively impact their work-life balance.

Having the right information regarding the complete list of doctor specialties and medical subspecialties, students who are still deciding on their medical field can pick doctor specialties with the best lifestyle and make an appropriate decision for their desired career path. After all, each specialty demands time and resources to master it.

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4 Factors Affecting The Work-Life Balance Of A Doctor
As if the medical profession wasn’t arduous enough, choosing one of the most satisfying doctor specialties to maintain a good work-life balance is an important decision that medical students, interns, and residents often stress out about. As a medical professional you often work under a lot of pressure that can wreak havoc on your mental and physical wellbeing.

Therefore, when trying to find out which areas are the happiest doctor specialties, consider the following factors to ensure a good work-life balance:

The Perfect Personality Alignment
Efficiency at any job is directly proportional to work satisfaction. Your personality trait plays a crucial role in the selection of your medical specialty. The Internet offers numerous quizzes to help you analyze your perfect match.

However, while not all of them are totally reliable they are a good starting point. Finding a specialty that compliments your personality can have a direct impact on the quality of service as well as your happiness quotient as a doctor.

You should take the time to explore your interests, like analysing what courses you’ve enjoyed in school or what type of work you’re comfortable with (i.e. emergency, surgery, etc.) to help choose a speciality that best suits your personality.

The Financial Aspect
A healthy bank balance is a major part of job satisfaction. Doctor specialties that pay well also determine the quality of your overall lifestyle.

However, it’s important to note that just because a specialty offers good monetary benefits, it doesn’t promise great emotional and physical well-being. For example, plastic surgeons and cardiologists get paid slightly more compared to family physicians and pediatricians.

However, the latter are less stressed as compared to the former. While a particular specialty promises financial stability, it does not guarantee a high happiness quotient at work.

Which Medical Specialty Earns The Highest Salary

While being a doctor is a busy job, a few specialties do offer a good work-life balance. The best ones normally include regular working hours, a good social life, and good compensation.

Pathology, dermatology, and family medicine are often considered to be relatively less stressful than the other doctor specialties.

The Long-Term Plan
Before picking a specialty, you must know what your future goals are and what you’re working towards.

Choosing and sticking with a doctor specialty, in the long-haul, demands commitment and dedication. It’s crucial that your vision for your future is aligned with the specialty that you’ve chosen to ensure long-term job satisfaction.

Top 10 Medical Specialities With The Best Lifestyle
Irrespective of the doctor specialty you choose, you’ll always have to put your patients first. This is why it’s important to choose an area that makes you and your future life happiness a top priority.

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Here is our list of the top 10 happiest doctor specialties according to work-life balance and personality:

Family Medicine
Family medicine is the primary care specialty in Canada that focuses on caring for the community as a whole. It is one of the most fulfilling specialties especially if you like interacting with people.

It also offers normal work hours and a good social life. Not only can you join other doctors at an already established office but you can also buy or set up your own medical practice for even more flexibility.

Diagnostic Radiology
Radiology is considered to be one of the less stressful doctor specialties. Your primary role here would be to use imaging techniques to diagnose a disease and act as a consultant to other physicians.

If you prefer working alone and don’t like a lot of interaction, then this could be a good field for you.

A dermatologist focuses on the problems of the skin, mouth, external genitalia, hair, and nails.

This specialty, like family medicine, offers a fixed number of office hours and an opportunity to interact and form long-term relationships with your patients.

As an Anesthesiologist, your job is to provide pain management, critical care, and perioperative care. You may have to work long hours, but you’ll have better control. This is considered to be one of the less stressful specialties. Moreover, if you’re an introvert then this doctor specialty can be great for you since there’s very little to no patient interaction.

As an Ophthalmologist, you’ll be involved with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and issues that are associated with the eye. This field of medical specialty gives you good control over your working hours and is not deemed as too stressful. The specialty offers the opportunity to build patient-loyalty over a period of time.

If you love kids, then this will be one of the most satisfying and fulfilling medical specialties for you. As a Pediatrician, your primary focus would be on the physical, emotional, and social health of infants and kids. The only caveat is you may not have a lot of control over your work hours.

Not only does psychiatry as a medical specialty pay well, but it also offers a shorter work week than other specialties and it’s perfect for those who have an extrovert personality and like helping people.

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Clinical Immunology/Allergy
As a clinical immunologist/allergist, you’ll be dealing with some of the atypical responses of the body’s immune system. This medical field helps generally healthy patients with small medical problems. This field is not deemed very stressful and offers regular working hours most of the time.

General/Clinical Pathology
A Pathologist (general or clinical) is primarily involved in learning about the causes, forms, and diagnosis of a disease. Similar to radiologists, they work as a consultant to other physicians and advise them of a possible course of treatment. It’s a great specialty for doctors who are introverts and don’t prefer a lot of patient interaction.

A nephrologist treats diseases and infections of the kidneys and urinary system. It’s one of the less grueling medical specialties that offer decent working hours with relatively less work stress. As a nephrologist, you have the option to work at a hospital or open your own medical practice.

Highest Paid Medical Specialties In The Future

Helping patients, saving lives, high wages, and respect among your peers and society are some of the great reasons to pursue a career in medicine. However, when it comes to choosing a specialty, you must keep your personality and your life’s long-term goals in mind. To be efficient at your job, you need to feel fulfilled and happy.

You know you’ve chosen the right specialty when the study of it excites you and you’re just as happy going to work as you are after you’re done for the day. That’s where the ‘work-life balance’ really comes into the picture.

Being satisfied in your career is a crucial aspect to consider when exploring your medical specialty options. The way you feel at work will often spill over into your personal life and can affect your health and relationships.

What’s it like to be a physician? Different images come to mind for different people. For some, it means financial freedom, an easy work-life balance, or a luxurious lifestyle. For others, it’s about intense workloads and an even more intense commitment to helping others.

Doctor Under Stress
The doctor with the highest income isn’t necessarily the one with the most stress. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite.

Reality often falls somewhere in between. When it comes to finances, physicians largely live up to widely held expectations about above-average incomes. According to U.S. News and World Report, the median physician salary in 2018 was $194,500a number that varies by specialty and location, but was more than triple the median US household income of $61,937 that year.

A large income doesn’t mean an absence of stress, though, nor is it a clear indicator of financial health. In 2020, the average medical student debt was roughly $232,000, which experts say takes about 13 years to pay down, even with a $200,000+ annual income.

Beyond financial stress lies the stress of the job. The number of patients you’re expected to see, the diseases you treat, the setting where you treat them, and whether you’re employed or self-employed all depend in part upon your specialty. Each of these aspects also plays a part in determining how much stress you’ll face as a physician.

In this article, we’ll outline the most and least stressful physician specialties.

Measuring physician stress
Between 23% and 48% of physicians experienced burnout depending on their specialty, with an average 42% burnout rate in 2018, which was down from 51% the year prior. In other words, being a physician means coming to terms with a high likelihood of being stressed out regardless of specialty.

According to data reported by the American Medical Association pulled from a survey of more than 15,000 physicians across 29 specialties, some specialties are much safer from burnout than others.

Least stressful specialties by burnout rate
Plastic surgery: 23%. According to the American College of Surgeons, plastic surgery is constantly changing, so those who specialize in this field will encounter new opportunities and smarter strategies almost every day. On top of that, they can design practices that fit their lifestyle goals and reap the rewards of helping patients feel safe and secure through deeply emotional life changes. Plastic reconstructive surgeons earn an annual median income of $408,841 including salary and bonuses.

Dermatology: 32%. As reimbursements have dwindled, many dermatologists are making ends meet by seeing more patients—as many as 100 per day. Still, those who choose to own their own practices earn a chance to make their own hours, with many running half days for surgeries, taking full-hour lunch breaks, and prioritizing free time with family and friends. Dermatologists tend to earn well, with a median compensation of $366,400 including salary and bonuses.

Pathology: 32%. This field typically attracts thinkers and problem-solvers—those who like to tackle diagnostic mysteries and provide critical expertise. Pathologists who interact with students and trainees are seen as role models. There’s also an optimistic forecast for job availability, solid work-life balance, and good compensation, with a median income of $286,600 including salary and bonuses.

Ophthalmology: 33%. Eye specialists enjoy a solid combination of office-based care and surgery, which offers new challenges and an agreeable work-life balance. What’s more, many ophthalmologists work together in group practices, so they share responsibility for treating trauma patients who have ocular emergencies. Their annual median pay, including salary and bonuses, is $301,200.

Orthopedics: 34%. Between involvement in trauma care and elective reconstructive surgery, orthopedic surgeons spend lots of time working on the kind of procedures that can help breathe new life into patients’ mobility and independence.

At the same time, these procedures challenge orthopedists to continually leverage their cognitive and physical abilities to tackle unique problems—the kind patients often thank them for. According to, orthopedic surgeons earn a median of $531,590, with even the lowest 10% earning a substantial $314,429 including salary and bonuses.

Most stressful specialties by burnout rate
Emergency medicine: 45%. When these doctors show up to work, the only thing they ought to expect is the unexpected. Hours vary widely, and night, weekend, and holiday shifts are a guarantee.

Expectations are high and interruptions are frequent. But for those who love a challenge and thrive in chaos, there’s nothing quite like it. Emergency medicine physicians earn a median income of $299,836 including salary and bonuses.

Internal medicine: 46%. These doctors tend to work with older and sicker patients, who have multiple medical problems and often significant social and psychological challenges. There’s no such thing as a typical day, so internal medicine doctors should be prepared for complicated challenges and be good listeners.

The flip side of that is that it’s never boring, and internists enjoy long-lasting relationships with their patients. Average compensation, including salary and bonuses, falls around $228,643.

Obstetrics and gynecology: 46%. Like internal medicine, there’s no typical day in obstetrics and gynecology. For some, that’s a stressor. For others, it’s a gift. Typical work weeks can include three or four days of in-office care, plus one 24-hour call day, in addition to remaining on call for patients delivering babies in the hospital. While there are many joyous moments, OB/GYNs may see a lot of tragedy as well. Average income, including salary and bonuses, is about $300,590 annually.

Family medicine: 47%. For family medicine physicians, there’s always an element of uncertainty because patients rarely present with textbook symptoms. Over the years, patients have become more complex because of earlier hospital discharges, emphasis on avoiding nursing homes, and aging of the population.

But if you’re a people person who enjoys lifelong relationships with patients and their families, family medicine can’t be beat. While there are signs that primary care compensation is finally rising, these doctors still have the lowest average income on the list at roughly $214,620 including salary and bonuses.

Neurology: 48%. Neurologists are expected to provide compassionate care to patients, many of whom have diseases with no reliable cure and few treatments. On top of that, these physicians need to manage patient caregivers, who reflect an important aspect of their patients’ well-being. Average compensation for neurologists is about $266,700 including salary and bonuses.

Critical care: 48%. An ICU doctor sees people die almost daily, which can be extremely difficult to handle. Many of these doctors need to find ways to cope with anxiety and depression and help families of deceased patients move through trauma.

Despite these stressors, helping families understand what’s happening to their loved ones and cope with death can be rewarding. The COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified the important work they do. Median income for a critical care physician is around $342,700 including salary and bonuses.

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