[Founder's Note: This post addresses a topic I have spoken about several times in the past but brings some data to the discussion.]

By Chris Musto, Guest Writer

I am a fourth-year medical student who is just matched. I am fresh out of the process of deciding which specialty to practice. Many factors go into making the choice of specialty for medical students, but students are encouraged not to use money as a deciding factor. They are supposed to view medicine solely as a calling and pick a specialty based on the love they have for it. This is all well and good, but we are picking a career we are going to practice for our entire adult lives.

No other profession is told that they need to pick a job without considering the potential money they may make. I don’t think that this should be any different for physicians. Several factors need to be considered such as:

  • personality fit
  • passion for certain specialties
  • need to perform procedures, and
  • desired work/life balance.

However, money should not be left out of this equation. It would be unwise to borrow upwards of $80,000 a year without knowing your future earning potential.

I always thought that the salary you would eventually make would be directly correlated with the specialty you choose. I really only had looked at average salaries posted online and had a couple of conversations with attendings willing to discuss their salary.


Intra-Specialty Salary Differences

After reading The White Coat Investor blog, I noticed he often talks about how the difference in intra-specialty salary difference is greater than the inter-specialty salary difference. This means that two people in the same specialty can have much greater differences in salary than two people from different specialties. A pediatrician can make more than a cardiologist in the right setting. I set out to find out if this was true. This is not a scientific paper, so this isn’t a rigorous study. Holes can be poked in my methodology, but the intention of this post is to make you think.


Merritt Hawkins Job Board Search

salary differences

I searched each specialty on the Merritt Hawkins job board and found the job with the highest and lowest income potentials in each specialty. Not all of these jobs are the same. They will differ in vacation time, benefits, call schedule, etc. The point is, however, there are ways in each specialty to reach the highest income potential posted. This is just from one set of job postings on Merritt Hawkins and does not take into consideration negotiating. Sometimes the income differs because of location. I list the location of each of these job postings. This is simply to show you that people in each specialty are capable of making salaries well above average or well below average.

If you want to make more money, you might need to work more hours, move locations, take more call, or join a different type of practice. I’m not saying that everybody should do this because other considerations are important. I am simply trying to illustrate the White Coat Investor’s point that there are people in every specialty making more money than the average salaries within the specialty. To my fellow medical students, factoring salary into specialty choice may be much more about choosing the right practice type and location than it is about choosing the right specialty. This is good news for those struggling with choosing a specialty with a perceived low average salary.

For each specialty, I will post the jobs listed on Merritt Hawkins with the highest and lowest potential income and their locations. If some had more than one job posted at that salary, I listed each of them. This job search was completed on March 2, 2020. These job postings may change by the time you read this post. The point is not to show specific jobs or current salaries. It’s simply to provide examples of how salaries vary within a specialty. If you would like to do this yourself, you can search here. A table of the findings is listed below.

Merritt Hawkins Physician Jobs


For those of you who are interested, I chose Radiology as my specialty. I loved my rotations and went with my gut. I was happy to know that this specialty had one of the highest average salaries. I now understand that my salary will be better determined by what job I choose than by what specialty I picked. I am, however, looking forward to a rewarding career in a field I love.


To Medical Students

As you choose a specialty, go with what you love, talk to as many people about their salaries as you can, and frequent job postings to see how much people in the specialty can make.

To current attendings, always look for what other jobs are out there in your specialty. Consider a change, or use this information to negotiate at your own job. You should never feel that you can’t make enough money because of the specialty you chose.

What do you think of Chris's findings? Does the intra-specialty salary variation he discovered surprise you? Comment below!

[Editor's Note: Chris Musto matched at Geisinger for Radiology. This article was submitted and approved according to our Guest Post Policy. We have no financial relationship.]

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