Students frequently ask me about the average physician salary. With the current discussion about our expensive healthcare system, physician salaries can be somewhat of a controversial issue. This is an important aspect of any career, and all students considering medical school should have a somewhat realistic idea of how much money they can expect to make.

This is overall a very difficult question to answer. Physician salaries vary greatly depending upon the specialty, the physician's experience level, business acumen and overall goals. Medscape recently released their physician compensation report for 2013. This is one of the more comprehensive reports on how much money doctors make.

Across all specialties, one third had an average income of over $300,000 annually. The current top three earning specialties are orthopedics, cardiology and radiology. Average salaries ranged from $170,000-$400,000, depending on specialty. Across-the-board, average salary for specialties tended to increase over last year.

One important consideration that is not included in this study is the number of hours worked per week and the relationship to salary. This is something that students need to consider carefully. Although dermatology had a median salary of $306,000, it is important to consider that they work significantly less hours than the average general surgeon with a median salary of $279,000. I personally think dollars per hour is a more realistic way to look at your future physician earning potential. About half of the doctors surveyed said they felt as if they were fairly compensated.

Business acumen also plays a strong factor in your future financial success. There are family medicine physicians who have built multimillion dollar practices and there are orthopedic surgeons filing for bankruptcy. It is also very important to factor in student debt, although this is an entirely different topic altogether. Practice setting also determines how much money you take home. Academic positions continue to pay less than partnership-based practices. If you plan on going the MD/PhD route and staying as faculty with a medical school, keep in mind this is in fact a very significant pay cut.

I continue to advise students that there are much better ways to make money. An intelligent highly motivated premed student could easily become a leader in any other business field, possibly making a significantly higher salary for a significantly less amount of training and work. Your primary interest for going into medicine shouldn’t be for the money however you should feel reassured that there is a 50% chance you will feel fairly compensated. With proper planning all specialties should be able to offer a secure and comfortable financial life.

For a more detailed discussion of physician salaries visit