Top 5 Highest Paying Medical Specialties in 2021

Top 5 Highest Paying Medical Specialties in 2021

Aug 26, 2021 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

Table of Contents

The global pandemic, COVID-19, nevertheless affected our daily lives, but it is obvious around the world that it has made a greater impact on the healthcare system. Despite the high demand for medical care, as paradoxical as it sounds, health institutions worldwide are enduring severe financial fallout under this circumstance. Hospitals and private medical practices are facing a steep decline in billings, as the pandemic brought out a wave of delayed and even canceled medical procedures and treatments. The World Bank projects that the global economic growth of the healthcare system is predicted to shrink by almost 8%, and the United Nations calculates that the global economy will lose around 2 trillion dollars this year. To sustain, hospitals have had to resort to paying cuts and furloughs of their administrators and medical professionals alike.

On the other hand, with all this shift in the healthcare system, COVID-19 has also brought a shortage resulting in a huge spike in healthcare expenses and growing demand for several medical specialists that remain the highest paying amidst the crisis.

According to this physician compensation report, roughly 44% of practitioners reported declines in patient volume, and nearly 1 out of 4 physicians saw a dip in hours. And while many physicians' salaries sustain steadily in 2020, the pandemic has a surprising impact on some specialists' income.

In this article, let's take a closer look at the top 5 highest-paying medical specialties that have always been in demand and have prevailed even during the global pandemic. Also cited below are the reasons that kept the specialties on top of the national average compensation in 2021. We'll also talk about the advanced training and medical residency tenure required to attain them.

#1 Neurosurgery

Average Annual Salary


Neurosurgeons are physicians that specialize in giving diagnosis and surgical treatment concerning our central and peripheral nervous system which includes, but is not limited to, trauma, tumors, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or other degenerative diseases of the spine.

What does it take to become a neurosurgeon?

The path to becoming a neurosurgeon is meticulous and extensive and includes the completion of the following:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education
  • Additional 4 years at a medical school for an M.D. or D.O. degree
  • 1 internship in general surgery
  • 5 to 7years in a neurosurgery residency program
  • May also need to join neurosurgery organizations after residency to specialize more in the area
  • Ongoing updates and education, attending annual meetings and conferences, keeping up to date with scientific journals and research to remain on track with the advances made in their respective field.

What makes them top earners?

Neurosurgery had far fewer active practitioners compared to neurosurgeons employed in facilities, which means neurosurgical coverage is unavailable to some rural areas. This shortfall is huge because it takes a longer time to finish a neurosurgeon's training. And taking into consideration that they are the ones who generate revenue for a hospital by performing prestigious and ground-breaking surgery, it's no wonder that they are the top earners with such high demand and high compensation.

Meeting Future Demands

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the demand for neurosurgeons is expected to increase 13% by 2026, which is a higher-than-average growth rate. A large part of a neurosurgeon's job entails performing surgical procedures on people who have common neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease. These problems are more common among the elderly, and the demand for neurosurgeons is expected to continue to rise to meet the demands of an aging society.

#2 Thoracic Surgery

Average Annual Salary


Thoracic surgeons refer to physicians that operate on the heart, lungs, esophagus, and the bony structures and tissues that constitute and support the chest cavity. They work hand in hand with cardiac or heart specialists for cardiothoracic surgery. Illnesses and complications such as lung cancer, diseases of the esophagus and chest wall are all treated by these surgeons.

What does it take to become a Thoracic Surgeon?

A thoracic surgery certification entails years of knowledge and training, including:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education
  • Additional 4 years at a medical school for an M.D. or D.O. degree
  • A 5-year general surgery residency

Residency options also vary, and doctors then choose a thoracic surgery subspecialty, such as:

Residents can choose from a variety of thoracic surgery subspecialties, including:

  • Cardiac surgery for adults
  • Pediatric or congenital heart surgery
  • Thoracic surgery in general

The duration of a surgeon's residency is determined by the medical school and residency program he or she attends. A thoracic surgeon's specialty training might last anywhere from 6 to 8 years before they are certified.

What makes them top earners?

In the United States, heart disease is the highest cause of death, with one person dying every 36 seconds. According to experts, a heart attack occurs every 40 seconds. Lung cancer is the third most frequent cancer in men and women and the main cause of cancer-related deaths. These figures emphasize the significance of heart and thoracic surgery in the healthcare system.

According to the authors of an American Heart Association (AHA) Journal in 2009 titled "Shortage of Cardiothoracic Surgeons Is Likely by 2020," by the year 2025, the demand for cardiothoracic surgeons will spike up by 46% based on population growth and aging if current healthcare use and service delivery patterns continue.

Meeting Future Demands

The predictions have come true, and the United States is currently experiencing a nationwide physician shortage, including cardiothoracic surgeons. Cardiothoracic surgeons can expect to make even more money undertaking locum work, which generally gives higher pay rates for holidays and shift work because this skill set is in such great demand, plus the fact that we are amid a global epidemic.

#3 Orthopaedic Surgery

Average Annual Salary


Orthopedic surgeons are one of the most in-demand in the medical field because of their specialty in the musculoskeletal system - the joints, bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons that are extremely fundamental to our movement and everyday life.

It's also worth noting that just because orthopedic doctors are qualified to operate doesn't mean they would. Reputable orthopedic doctors with strong healthcare systems are more likely to restore lives through innovative non-surgical techniques, such as minimally invasive procedures, computer-assisted treatments, and the harvesting and development of your own cells for cartilage regeneration.

What does it take to become an orthopedic surgeon?

Orthopedic surgeons undergo years of rigorous education and training before operating on patients such as:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education in biology or similar field
  • Additional 4 years at a medical school for an M.D. or D.O. degree in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and/or biochemistry.
  • 5-year general surgery residency
  • Clinical rotations that expose them to a variety of medical disciplines, including surgery
  • 1 year of residency training in general surgery
  • And 4 years in orthopedic surgery

What makes them top earners?

It's a well sought-after specialization because, to begin with, the human body has over 200 bones. Joints that have dislocated, back or hip pain, arthritis are among common ailments that affect the joints (which afflicts half of the seniors age 65 and older). All of these prevalent illnesses, whether acute, chronic, or degenerative, belong under the umbrella of orthopedics.

While the quantity of orthopedic surgeons remains low, demand for these services is increasing, owing to the aging population. Every day, over 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, making this the fastest-growing demographic in the country. According to the US Census Bureau, the number of persons aged 65 and more is predicted to reach 83.7 million in 2050, up from around 44 million now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seniors account for 37% of diagnostic tests and procedures and 34% of inpatient treatments, although making up only 14% of the present population. Since Merrit Hawkins started keeping track of this information, orthopedic surgery has continuously been one of our most popular recruiting assignments, usually ranking in the top ten top earners for the majority of medical history.

#4 Plastic Surgery

Average Annual Salary


A plastic surgeon is a specialist who performs procedures to change the appearance or shape of a patient's body. These certified medical professionals undertake reconstructive procedures for patients with facial and bodily aberrations caused by injury, birth defects, disease, or age, as well as aesthetic surgeries such as facelifts and nose jobs.

Plastic surgery is reconstructive in nature and is meant to address malfunctioning aspects of the body. While many plastic surgeons choose to pursue extra training and conduct cosmetic surgery in addition to reconstructive surgery, reconstructive plastic surgery remains the foundation of their surgical expertise.

What does it take to become a plastic surgeon?

It can take more than 10 years of training and education to become a well-known plastic surgeon. Given the high skill level and risks associated with the profession, this extensive preparation is required:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education in biology or a similar field
  • Additional 4 years at a medical school
  • Obtaining a license
  • 3 years of a residency program in general surgery, including clinical rotations
  • Or, 3 years of residency in plastic surgery, requiring rotations through plastic surgery departments of several hospitals and practices.
  • 1 year of a fellowship program in subspecialty
  • Acquiring certification

What makes them top earners?

While plastic surgery is already in the demand even before the global pandemic, the first wave of surgical demand saw a surge in facial procedures in response to a significant increase in Zoom calls and downtime for discreet recovery at home. And according to the national survey results conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), tummy tucks and liposuction are among the top procedures asked mostly by women.

Also according to the survey conducted, 11% of women are more interested in cosmetic plastic surgery or non-surgical procedures now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, than ever before, and the figure is even higher among women who have already had surgery or a procedure that spikes up to 24%, respectively. In addition, 35% of women who have had at least one cosmetic surgical operation or minimally invasive procedure in the past year expect to spend significantly or slightly more in 2021 than they did in 2020.

#5 Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery

Average Annual Salary


Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons combine the skills of a dentist and a physician. For a variety of reasons, they operate on patients' mouths, jaws, and other related head and neck tissues. Procedures are frequently performed to remove impacted teeth, mend structural anomalies, or correct problems with a patient's jaw structure. They'll also do emergency procedures on people who have suffered a serious facial injury. Patients' minor cosmetic operations are also performed by them.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who work with conventional dentists, frequently enter a patient's care once a diagnosis has been made. They are frequently more willing to perform more extensive surgical work for complex conditions than a standard dentist. They administer anesthetics to patients to ensure that they do not experience pain during surgery, and they work using a variety of equipment. They frequently have to execute procedures for several hours at a time.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons can also operate in a variety of settings. They can work in hospitals providing emergency care or specialized cancer treatment, in a dental practice aiding a general dentist with complex surgical procedures, or they can open their own clinic if they can obtain enough patients recommended to them by general dentists and doctors.

What does it take to become an oral & maxillofacial Surgeon?

It requires a lot of education to become an oral or maxillofacial surgeon, this includes:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education in biology or a similar field
  • Additional 4 years at a medical/dental school
  • 4 to 6 years residency training including 2 additional years for acquiring a medical degree

After secondary school, the average length of time spent in education and training to become an oral & maxillofacial surgeon is 12 to 14 years.

What makes them top earners?

Dental services are in high demand, and because oral and maxillofacial surgeons rely on general dentists for some of their work, this field has a bright future. The demand for surgical treatments is predicted to grow as the population ages, which is good news for this profession. People are increasingly requesting more cosmetic surgical operations, which will benefit oral and maxillofacial surgeons as well.

The ability to advance in this field is determined by whether or not a person wishes to manage their own practice, which is frequent among oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Starting a practice necessitates knowledge of marketing and the ability to network with local medical experts in order to get patients referred to them. If you don't want to work for yourself, you can specialize in certain procedures while working in a hospital or private clinic, which is usually more lucrative than general practice.