In 2017, the American Medical Association asked doctors and medical students why they decided to enter the medical field. Among the respondents, 73% chose this career path before age 20. About a third made the choice while in adolescence.
Young people rarely think about salaries, health insurance, retirement accounts, and the other perks of a steady job. If you've always wanted to work in healthcare since your younger years, a passion for helping others probably drove your choice. If you don't play your cards right, that passion won't cover your grocery bills, and it certainly won't help you pay back your student loans.
Your salary as a medical professional can — and often will — provide you with financial security, but you'll need to choose the right career and the right position to make that happen.
In this guide, we'll outline salaries for common health care careers, and we'll help you understand what's next for people entering this field.
Doctors: Salaries Vary by Specialty
An aspiring doctor takes classes about anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and more while surrounded by hundreds - or even thousands - of similar students. At the beginning of this educational journey, all these students are the same. But by the time these doctors begin their careers, they've chosen a specific field of medicine. That choice has a profound impact on your salary.
The Medscape Physician Compensation Report from 2018 makes that disparity clear. For example, a primary care doctor, also referred to as a PCP, fits our standard definition of a medical professional. This doctor is the first point of contact for anyone facing an illness or injury, and if it can't be handled here, the PCP creates referrals to specialists.
The role of PCP is a crucial one, and it comes with an average salary of $223,000.
Compare that to the salaries attached to specialist positions:
Experts suggest that these high salaries can sometimes reflect a changing demand in the marketplace. As Medscape points out, cosmetic surgery is moving from the fringe to the mainstream and more people are accepting surgical help. That creates a demand for doctors, and that can raise salaries.
But in general, the more specialized the practice, the higher the salary. If you're hoping to make the most money possible as a doctor, you'll likely need to choose a specialty focus.
Nurses: How Much Can You Make?
Nurses are sometimes considered a doctor's supporting cast. But a nurse’s job can be a lot more technical and a lot more rewarding than you might imagine. The skills you bring to your work and the location of your work can impact your salary.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says registered nurses have a mean annual wage of about $75,500, but as the following data points make clear, where you work matters in terms of your money:
Doctor's office: $67,790
Skilled nursing facility: $67,370
Home health care: $71,850
Nurses are often available around the clock and your salary can shift depending on your work hours. If you work overnight, helping ill patients to stay well until the sun comes up, you'll make more money than your colleagues who work during the day.
Support Staff: Expectations Vary
Caring for patients is a team effort, and doctors and nurses rely on a large group of professionals to help them get the work done. Some of these careers require intensive learning and training, while others begin after just a bit of on-the-job work. The more you need to know to do the work, the more money you can expect to see in your paycheck.
We've listed quite a range of salaries here, and that's typical for jobs in the medical field. Just as each career comes with unique responsibilities and educational backgrounds, it also comes with a different financial payout.
Where Are the Best Places to Live for Medical Professionals?
Every human on the planet needs medical care at some point or another. If you work in the medical field, you're almost guaranteed some form of job security. But the number you'll see on your paycheck can vary depending on the location of your work.
Becker's Hospital Review made this clear with a comparison of salaries for physicians and surgeons in the United States:
New Hampshire: $275,050
Medscape took a step back from this data and looked for trends. The East Coast is home to some of the most top-earning states, analysts said. But rural areas tend to need doctors more than urban areas, and that means rural states tend to offer higher salaries to attract more qualified staff.
Medscape also performed a similar analysis for nursing staff, and interestingly enough, the numbers shifted. Nurses working in urban areas made more than did those in rural areas. Smaller communities need their nurses just as much as do larger areas, but the salaries don’t shift to meet that need.
Healthcare Job Projections
The highest salary means little if it's attached to a gig that fades away after a year or two. The best positions pay well and stick around for decades. There are many jobs just like this in health care, but there are a few trends that can impact your ability to keep your spot.
Physician positions are, in general, among the most secure. As Fierce Healthcare points out, we're dealing with an extreme deficit of qualified doctors in the United States. By 2030, the organization says, the shortage could hit 120,000.
The issue is most acute in rural areas, and in some communities, it's almost impossible to find specialist care. If you have a significant orthopedic break, for example, you'll likely need help from:
In some parts of the country, it makes sense to head to a larger city to get this help. The number of times this help is needed doesn't support the expense associated with setting up a staffed hospital, but some experts have another solution to suggest.
Telemedicine, they say, could reduce the need for in-person visits. The concept of telemedicine allows patients to chat with a doctor via video. In addition, your doctor could confer with a specialist via this technology, all while you stay in your local area.
If this trend takes off, it's possible that specialists could do more work from one location, and that could reduce the demand for some specialist positions. Despite these technological advances, this is still a new trend that hasn't quite gained widespread acceptance yet.
Meanwhile, some organizations like Walmart are requiring their employees to travel to big cities to get care. They know that complicated procedures performed in small hospitals tend to come with bigger price tags, so they're forcing people to head to larger metropolitan areas to meet with their teams. This practice is another trend that could keep jobs in rural areas from proliferating.
Missoula Bone and Joint and Surgery Center in Montana
Swedish Medical Group in Washington
There are 150 organizations on this list, and all of them have something to offer you if you're considering a career in the medical field. As long as we're human, our bodies will need management from caring professionals who can help us get better. That makes health care a safe career path for almost anyone.
Looking for more information on great health care jobs? We can help. We pull listings from across the internet, and we've got careers in your state and city. Search our database today and find the job you've been searching for.