By Joe Dyton, WCI Contributor
Income is thought of often in the medical profession—in terms of how much people think doctors earn and the amount physicians believe they can earn as they begin their careers. There’s a good reason for this—physicians can earn a good salary. However, there can be some expensive checkpoints on the way to a lucrative income, including medical school student loans. Additionally, physicians’ financial concerns aren’t necessarily over once their career begins as malpractice insurance can cut into that high salary.
A physician’s specialty also plays a key role in their potential earnings. While doctors are typically well compensated across the industry, there are big gaps between what a family medicine physician earns and what a cardiologist does.
Orthopedists are on the higher end of the physician earning spectrum, according to Medscape. The organization gathered data from more than 10,000 physicians in more than 29 different specialties and created the 2023 Compensation Report for Orthopedists and many other medical specialties. Orthopedists shared information about their compensation, whether they supplement their salary with other income, and their overall outlook on the field. If you're a medical school student investigating orthopedics, this can provide helpful data to understand what you can expect. If you're already in ortho, you can use this information to see where you fit among others in the field.
Orthopedist Average Salary
Orthopedists earn an average annual salary of $573,000, according to the Medscape report. This is an almost $20,000 increase from last year’s report ($557,000) and second only to plastic surgeons.
Is Orthopedists’ Income Rising?
Orthopedic doctors saw their salaries increase 3% on average from the year before, according to the Medscape report. “Specialties that are more involved with procedures continued to see more volume as the pandemic eased, which helped drive up their compensation,” the report said.
Additionally, orthopedists have seen their compensation rise about 36% on average since Medscape’s 2015 report. Salaries held steady between the 2020 and 2021 reports, which covered data from the 2019 and 2020 calendar years. The steadiness wasn’t the case for other specialties, whose average compensation decreased amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Do Orthopedists Have Incentive Bonuses?
Based on the medical specialties shown, orthopedic physicians earn the highest average incentive bonuses by a wide margin—$134,000 compared to the second-ranking cardiologists' incentive bonuses of $88,000. How much they have to work to earn that bonus is another matter, however. A lot of physicians said they have to work longer and harder to receive their bonus, according to the Medscape report.
Do Self-Employed Orthopedists Make More Money?
This year’s Medscape Orthopedist Compensation report did not include data on self-employed vs. employed orthopedists’ earnings, but the 2022 report revealed that employed orthopedic physicians earned 8% more on average than their self-employed counterparts. This includes orthopedists employed by hospitals, health systems, or other organizations.
Self-employed physicians overall earned 20% more than employed physicians overall in 2022, however.
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Do Orthopedists Feel Fairly Compensated?
Less than half (49%) of orthopedists surveyed felt they are paid fairly for their talents and time, putting their specialty in the middle of the pack. The result is an increase from last year’s report, where orthopedics was in the bottom third in the compensation satisfaction category.
Interestingly, some of the lower-paying medical specialties were the most satisfied with their income.
“Often physicians with a high salary are part of a large organization, so there’s probably some heartburn,” Mike Belkin, divisional vice president at Merritt Hawkins, said. “They know what reimbursements are, but the organization takes a large part.”
The Medscape survey is a solid, comprehensive source for physician salary data, but it’s not the only one. Our recommended contract review firms use additional sources to help ensure you are getting paid what you’re worth. Other average orthopedist salary numbers that are available from surveys taken around the same time as the Medscape survey include:
- MGMA: $670,721
- AAMC: $586,000 (this survey only includes academics)
- Doximity: $632,620
- Merritt Hawkins: $400,000
- AMGA: $626,297
Increasing Your Physician Income
One of the most important things that you can do to earn more for your work is to negotiate your pay and the terms of your contract. Many doctors wind up with bad contracts that leave them improperly compensated and facing high costs while non-compete agreements restrict their future opportunities. If you’re negotiating a new contract, The White Coat Investor has a list of vetted attorneys and law firms to work with to make sure you get a good deal.
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