What Physician Specialties Pay the Best

Posted on: September 30, 2021

written by

Tayla Holman

What Physician Specialties Pay the Best?

As a physician, deciding which specialty you want to choose can be a big decision. While it’s important to consider what interests you—for example, do you like working with children, or are you fascinated by the human brain and how it works—it’s also important to consider how much you will earn.

According to the 2021 Medscape Physician Compensation Report, physician salaries by specialty break down as follows:



Plastic surgery


Orthopedics and orthopedic surgery




















Surgery, general


Critical care


Emergency medicine


Pulmonary medicine




Ob/gyn and women’s health




Physical medicine and rehabilitation








Allergy and immunology


Internal medicine


Infectious diseases


Diabetes and endocrinology


Public health and preventive medicine


Family medicine




Between October 2020 and February 2021, Medscape surveyed about 18,000 physicians across nearly 30 specialties for their compensation report. Not only did they look at salary, but they looked at job satisfaction and challenges, hours worked, and impact due to COVID-19. So it is important to note that some of these salaries may have been affected by the pandemic. There may have been a decrease in elective procedures, or an increase in cosmetic procedures due to constant video meetings, according to Medscape.

Physicians may have also seen fewer patients or worked fewer hours during the pandemic—nearly 13% of physicians surveyed said they had months where they earned no income. More than a third of primary care physicians and specialists (39% and 42%, respectively) said they expect their income to return to pre-COVID levels in the next year, while 43% of PCPs and 41% of specialists said they expect it to take two to three years for their income to return to normal.

What Other Factors Should You Consider?

In addition to considering salary, you may also want to look at the supply and demand for your chosen specialty. According to new data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. is facing an estimated shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034.


Shortage range

Primary care (family medicine, general pediatrics, geriatric medicine)

17,800 to 48,000

Non-primary care specialties

21,000 to 77,100

Surgical specialties

15,800 to 30,2000

Medical specialties

3,800 to 13,400

Other specialties

10,300 to 35,600

Part of the reason for these shortages is that a large portion of the physician workforce is nearing retirement age, according to the AAMC. Not only that, but nearly half of practicing physicians felt burnt out at least once a week prior to the pandemic—and that burnout is likely to have increased since the pandemic.

Salary can also vary based on geographical location. According to Medscape’s compensation report, the top-earning states for physicians were:













The lowest-earning states were:









New York




How Can Locum Tenens Help with Salary?

If your chosen specialty doesn’t quite meet your preferred salary range, fear not. Taking on locum tenens assignments can help you earn more, especially if you live in or are willing to travel to an area that has a shortage of your particular specialty. You can take on as much or as little work as you want to meet your income goals. Conversely, you may decide to become a full-time locum tenens provider. Whichever path or specialty you are leaning towards, be sure to weigh the pros and cons first to make sure everything aligns with your goals and values.

Ready to begin your locum tenens career with Barton Associates? Take a look at our open jobs or fill out the form and one of our representatives will reach out to you!

About Tayla Holman

Tayla Holman is a Boston-based writer and editor, specializing in health and technology. She received her B.A. in print journalism and English from Hofstra University, and her M.S. in health communication from Boston University. You can find her at taylaholman.com or @TaylaHolman on Twitter.

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