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Doctor Pay: Where The Specialists Are All Above Average

Making a living practicing medicine is more complicated and frustrating than ever. But it still pays. And pretty well.

A survey of more than 24,000 doctors conducted online for Medscape, a doctor-oriented information service of WebMD, finds that their average annual pay ranges from $156,000 for pediatricians, the lowest-paid specialty, to $315,000 for the top earners.

Who makes the most? Specialists who do things to you. Orthopedic surgeons and radiologists top the earnings chart at an average income of $315,000 a year. Right behind them are the cardiologists and anesthesiologists at $314,000 and $309,000, respectively.

Medscape says the order of the top earners is the same as the last survey, though annual compensation fell 10 percent for both radiologists and orthopedic surgeons. General surgeons saw their pay drop the most — by 12 percent since 2010. Ophthalmologists saw the biggest increase — 9 percent.

Who makes the least? After the pediatricians, it's family practitioners and internists at $158,000 and $165,000, respectively. Other doctors who do a lot of talking rather than performing procedures, are on the lower end of the pay scale, such as psychiatrists at $170,000.

Kaiser Health News points to other groups' findings on doctors' pay with slightly different results. A Medical Group Management Association report based on 2010 data, found the median compensation for radiologists was $471,253 and $192,148 for pediatricians.

The Medscape survey asked doctors if they consider themselves rich. Overall, just 11 percent said yes. High debts may be one factor.

But Americans generally take a different view, according to a 2011 Gallup poll. Most people say anyone with an annual income of $150,000 or more is rich. And the U.S. Census Bureau pegs the median household income at just shy of $50,000 in 2010. So even the pediatricians are looking pretty prosperous.

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Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.