How much do surgeons make?

Posted March 08, 2021

Becoming a surgeon could put you on the road to a highly satisfying and happy career. While being a surgeon takes extremely high levels of skill, it is ultimately extremely rewarding work. 

In fact, in 2019, more than 75% of surgeons and physicians surveyed in a MedScape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report described themselves as happy. Reported happiness levels range from 40% to 67%.

Some of the things that contribute to happiness within a particular surgical specialty include things like work hours, whether work hours are predictable or surgeons are on-call, how much surgeons earn. 

But equally important to happiness is what happens while a surgeon is at work, including the patient population they work with (healthy, unhealthy, happy, etc) and what types of conditions they are performing surgeries on, such as quick, non-invasive surgeries, or working on long-term conditions such as cancer. These things relate to how stressed a surgeon may be at work, thus directly affecting their level of happiness. 

But “happiness” is not always akin to job satisfaction, as surgeons tend to report a lot of satisfaction as they help people heal and resume their best lives. For example, dermatologists tend to rank highly in the happiness arena because their job is often less stressful than, say, a heart surgeon.

What’s the difference between a doctor and surgeon?

While surgeons are doctors, a doctor isn’t interchangeable with a surgeon. That’s because surgeons specialize in performing surgery to remove tissues or organs, or replace or repair diseased parts of the body. The surgeries physicians perform could be simple surgical procedures that take only a few minutes, or highly complicated, invasive operations that could take many hours. They may perform elective surgeries, emergency surgeries, semi-elective surgeries, therapeutic surgeries, cosmetic surgeries or exploratory surgeries. Thus, as you can imagine, surgeons, depending on their specialties, may work across a wide spectrum of the medical industry. 

“General surgeons perform many kinds of operations. Others specialize in one type of operation or one system or area of the body. Neurosurgeons, for example, operate on the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system, while thoracic surgeons operate on lungs and other organs in the chest cavity. Diseases of bones and joints, such as arthritis, as well as the treatment of broken bones, are the focus of orthopedic surgeons.” (

What is the job outlook for surgeons?

In 2019, 752,400 physicians and surgeons were employed across the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for surgeon jobs will continue to grow over the next several years. In fact, from 2019 through 2029, the projected growth for surgeon employment is 4 percent, which is as fast as average job growth. Over the next decade about 23,000 jobs a year will open for surgeons and physicians.

Qualities that make a good surgeon

Surgeons must be highly detail oriented, curious to both investigate and find answers. They should be able to work as part of a team, as successful surgeries depend on all medical professionals in the operating room working together. Surgeons must have good hand-eye coordination, and excellent motor skills, able to maintain a steady hand at all times. They are not only highly-critical thinkers, but deeply empathetic and compassionate people who must be able to convey bad news when surgeries are unsuccessful.

Some of the most brilliant minds of our (and other) times described the qualities and practices of a surgeon in ways that achieve the purposes of showing what a surgeon is without just spouting a list of qualities. 

“To be a good surgeon, you need to commit to being a good surgeon. It's as simple as that. You need to be meticulous in the small things, not just in the operating room, but outside. A good surgeon would want to redo this knot.” - Abraham Verghese 

“The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.” - Charles Darwin

“A surgeon is surrounded by people who are sick, discouraged, afraid, embittered, dying - but also courageous, loving, wise, compassionate and alive.” - Bernie Siegal

“The surgeon is a man of action. By temperament and by training he prefers to serve the sick by operating on them, and he inwardly commiserates with a patient so unfortunate as to have a disease not suited to surgical treatment. Young surgeons, busy mastering the technicalities of the art, are particularly alert to seize every legitimate opportunity to practice technical maneuvers, the more complicated the better.” - Stanley O. Hoerr

“To be great, a surgeon must have a fierce determination to be the leader in his field. He must have a driving ego, a hunger beyond money. He must have a passion for perfectionism. He is like the actor who wants his name in lights.” - Donald B. Effler

Where do surgeons generally work?

Surgeons can work in a number of settings, from dermatology offices, to hospitals, government institutions and academic institutions (though practicing surgeons will typically be employed in hospitals, and other settings where they can treat injuries and illnesses. 

How much do surgeons actually make?

In 2019, surgeons earned a median of $252,040.  A report from Doximity indicated that the highest paid surgical specialties were neurosurgery and thoracic surgery. Those working in these specialties could easily make more than $550,000. And while the highly specialized thoracic and neurosurgeon jobs tended to be the highest paying, they are not exclusive to the high pay that surgeons generally earn. Other high paying specialties include Orthopedic, radiation oncology and vascular surgery.

However, over the last year, in 2020 specifically due to Covid, the healthcare industry has experienced some changes. For some specialties, that has meant a decline in income, while for others, such as those working with high-risk or elderly patients, income (and demand for their services) has increased.

Types of surgical specialities

General Surgeons

Neurological surgeons

Orthopedic surgeons

Plastic surgeons

Cardiothoracic surgeons

Highest paying surgeon specialties

According to The Do, the top-ranking surgical specialties (and the ones that earn the most each year) are the following:

RankSpecialtyAverage compensation
2Thoracic surgery$584,287
3Orthopedic surgery$526,385
4Radiation oncology$486,089
5Vascular surgery$484,740
8Plastic surgery$433,060

But while specialties can determine pay grades, location also matters when it comes to how much surgeons can earn. Some of the cities that pay surgeons the most, in 2019, were the following:

RankCityAverage compensation
2New Orleans$384,651
3Riverside, CA$371,296
5Charlotte, NC$368,205
8Los Angeles$356,390
10Hartford, CT$352,129

Educational requirements for becoming a surgeon

It’s no secret that medical school and becoming a physician or surgeon requires quite a bit of time. Firstly, you will need to work toward an undergrad degree in pre-med, which will give you the best chance at getting into a quality medical school. 

Secondly, you’ll need to plan to take (and of course, take and pass) the MCAT. This test is often viewed as “one of the most difficult tests in the professional world” (UniversityHQ) as well it should be. After all, you are studying to enter a profession where life and death is quite literally in your steady hands. Therefore, you’ll need to prepare well in advance for this test. 

The third step, after passing the MCAT, is to enter medical school. You can expect to allocate about four years to complete medical school, after which you will need to prepare for your residency. As you approach the end of medical school,  you’ll need to select your specialty, which will inform the residency program you will enter to gain the experience to set you on the road to becoming the surgeon you want to be.

Finally, you’ll need to obtain your medical license. And just like that (okay, probably about a decade after you’ve begun your journey), you’ll be a surgeon!

Top surgical schools and how it might impact surgeon salaries

Surgeon salaries are dependent on a number of things, including the type of surgeon, the state they’re in, the demand for their specialty. Of course, while the school you attend isn’t everything, attending a great surgical school may help you get a great job that pays a higher salary.

Some of the best global medical schools, according to US World News report, are: 

  • Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Medical School in Boston Massachusetts)
  • Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland
  • University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada
  • University of California in San Francisco, California
  • University of Washington in Seattle, Washington

Find surgeon jobs on Careerbliss

At CareerBliss, we’re dedicated to helping people around the nation find the jobs and career opportunities that bring out their ultimate job happiness (and job satisfaction and happiness is connected to overall wellbeing and life happiness!).

Are you excited yet about the possibilities? Now that you know how much surgeons can earn (or maybe you’re a new surgeon looking for a job) you’ll definitely want to check out our thousands of job listings on the CareerBliss job board. 

Here is just a sampling of the surgeon jobs listed on our job board!

  • Veterinary Surgeon - Chattanooga, Tennessee - Compensation $150,000 - $250,000
  • ENT Surgeon - Wilmington, North Carolina - Compensation $400,000 - $500,000
  • Orthopaedic Surgeon - Loma Linda, California
  • Oral Surgeon - Kansas City, Kansas
  • Acute Care Surgeon - Loma Linda, California
  • Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon - Loma Linda, California
  • Cornea Surgeon - St. Louis, Missouri
  • Retina Surgeon - Bakersfield, California / St. Louis, Missouri
  • Maxillofacial Surgeon - Santa Clara, California
  • Plastic Surgeon / Cosmetic Surgeon - Portland, Oregon - $450,000 - $750,000

What are you waiting for? Whether you want to just explore different positions, check out salaries and company reviews, or read up on how to get the job of your dreams, you’ll want to visit 

The CareerBliss Team

Your career happiness is our #1 priority here at CareerBliss. To help you succeed in your career, we offer a wide variety of tools and resources to help you out along the way. Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

Sign up for Job Alerts!
Show me more jobs

Resume Writing Services

Free resume evaluation from career experts
  • Guaranteed interviews in 30 business days or get a free rewrite
  • All staff writers are Certified Professional Resume Writers (CPRWs)
Learn more
We noticed that your web browser is outdated!

Update your browser to have a more positive job search experience.

Upgrade My Browser