crop unrecognizable male doctor with stethoscope
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

“The average U.S. physician earns $350,000 a year. Top doctors pull in 10 times that,” Andrew Van Dam writes over at The Washington Post. “When those simple data points were first presented in 2020, a small subset of physicians came unglued on the microblogging site formerly known as Twitter, slinging personal insults and at least one deeply unflattering photo illustration of an economist. We couldn’t understand why. The figures are nigh-on unimpeachable. They come from a working paper, newly updated, that analyzes more than 10 million tax records from 965,000 physicians over 13 years. The talented economist-authors also went to extreme lengths to protect filers’ privacy, as is standard for this type of research. By accounting for all streams of income, they revealed that doctors make more than anyone thought — and more than any other occupation we’ve measured. In the prime earning years of 40 to 55, the average physician made $405,000 in 2017 — almost all of it (94 percent) from wages. Doctors in the top 10 percent averaged $1.3 million. And those in the top 1 percent averaged an astounding $4 million, though most of that (85 percent) came from business income or capital gains. In certain specialties, doctors see substantially more in their peak earning years: Neurosurgeons (about $920,000), orthopedic surgeons ($789,000) and radiation oncologists ($709,000) all did especially well for themselves. Specialty incomes cover 2005 to 2017 and are expressed in 2017 dollars. Not all doctors breathe that rarefied air. Even in these peak years, family-practice physicians made around $230,000 a year. General practice ($225,000) and preventive-medicine ($224,000) doctors earned even less — though that’s still enough to put them at the top of the heap among all U.S. earners.” Andrew Van Dam, “The average doctor in the U.S. makes $350,000 a year. Why?” The Washington Post.

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...